It’s cold outside. Across town someone is waiting for a bus. The print schedule says it arrives at 10:05, but it is now 10:20 and no bus in sight. Just four blocks away, the bus has been re-routed due to an earlier accident. Dispatch knows the bus is off-route because the driver radioed in, but the agency can’t get that information to the passenger waiting in the cold. Even if the passenger calls to find out where the bus is, dispatch can only give an estimate and best-case scenario. No one is happy, especially the frozen, angry passenger.
This scenario is played out every day across the country. With today’s fast-paced environment and expectations for instant information, agencies know how important it is to meet passenger demands for information in real time. The following case study outlines the challenges and changes of one agency’s service through computer-aided fleet management and real-time passenger information implementation.
MTD Gets ITS and Real-Time Information
Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) operates a combined fixed-route and paratransit fleet that services the cities of Champaign, Urbana, Savoy and the University of Illinois campus. MTD has won numerous awards, including two Outstanding Achievement Awards from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for best small transit system in America.
Despite its size, (just over 100 vehicles), MTD provides service to more than 10 million riders annually, a significant portion of which consists of the more than 40,000 students at the University of Illinois.
In 2002, the agency partnered with two smaller agencies in the state to install an integrated ITS solution from INIT, Innovations in Transportation Inc. The computer-aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location (CAD/AVL) system included all major GPS functions to support vehicle location, timetable adherence, real-time busarrival and departure information, and onboard next-stop displays and announcements.
“Implementing an ITS and real-time passenger information system requires planning and patience,” says Karl Gnadt, MTD’s director of market development. “Understand that during implementation you will experience some bumps as the new system is put in place. There is also a learning curve for your staff and your passengers.”
Control Center Goes Proactive
On the dispatch side, Tom Conrad, lead dispatcher for MTD, noticed an immediate change. The new system instantly gave him and other dispatchers the ability to provide timely responses to delays or incidents by means of service restoration actions, connection protection, transfers and headway control. “Before we had the system,” Tom explains, “we would just respond to the radio calls as they came in. Now, if we see a vehicle running early we tell them to slow down; if we see they are running late, we start another vehicle on time; if the vehicle has a maintenance problem and the bus is not in service we know exactly where they are before they even tell us.
“We no longer call this department ‘dispatch;’ we now call it The Control Center. The best feature of the system is that we are in control of all of the vehicles. Knowing this gives our drivers a sense of security because they know we are assisting them all the time by monitoring the system.”
RTPI by Phone, Web and at the Stops
One of the most important components of the system was the integrated real-time passenger information system which included wayside passenger signage displaying next bus departure times. The availability of real-time bus departure information through phones, by Web and through the traditional signage at the stops created a frenzy of activity from MTD passengers and ultimately increased MTD’s ridership numbers.
For instance, the use of MTD’s real-time text messaging feature grew exponentially after its inception in 2006. In fact, the total monthly average of texts for real-time information in 2006 was 2,492, but in 2010, that soared to 58,117. And, an all-time monthly high of 104,929 texts for real-time bus arrival and departure information (RTPI) was recorded in October of 2010.