Regional Transportation Authority - Chicago

IL: RTA Takes Transit Technology to the Next Level

Two Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) employees are getting national attention for taking the agency’s geographic information system (GIS) technology platform to the next level and creating solutions that benefit RTA staff and transit customers.

The work of RTA’s Manager of Data Services Brad Thompson and Strategic Analyst Hersh Singh is featured in the summer, 2013 issues of ArcUser magazine and the ESRI Transportation Newsletter, two GIS industry trade journals.

As the planning oversight agency CTA, Metra, and Pace Suburban Bus, RTA warehouses planning and financial information for the northeastern Illinois transit system on a public-facing website called the Regional Transportation Authority Mapping and Statistics (RTAMS). This comprehensive website allows the public to perform “geospatial analysis” on specific transit-related data, making it possible for users to interact with the data via easy-to-use and understand maps. In addition to the public facing maps, Thompson and Singh developed solutions for two specific challenges they saw colleagues having every day; they used this technology to increase staff efficiency and reduce RTA's paper map production process, saving time and money.

Challenge 1: The RTA administers the region’s ADA Paratransit Certification Program, which a shared ride origin-to-destination public transportation service for individuals whose disabilities prevent them from using the fixed route transit system. RTA staff directs customers interested in applying for ADA Paratransit eligibility to one of the five interview and assessment sites in the region. When someone calls to schedule an appointment to apply for eligibility, the appointment is scheduled at the closest interview and assessment site based on their home zip code. Staff used to use paper maps showing the more than 300 zip codes in the region and the customer’s assignment to one of the five interview and assessment site locations. If one site began experiencing long wait times, staff had no good way to evaluate the impact of moving a zip code assignment from one site to another, both in terms of the volume of potential applicants being shifted and the difference in travel times for applicants; or re-draw the boundaries for the areas served by each site.

Solution 1: Thompson and Singh found a way to use RTA’s GIS system to make the process more efficient and customer friendly. They create a URL that has a map that’s color coded by zip code and interview and assessment site area. The interactive map allows staff to shift customers from one site to another between zip codes and instantly see the difference in volume for each site. It also allows staff to easily identify travel times to the newly assigned site to make sure the changes made assure a convenient trip for the customer as well as shorter lines once they get to the site.

Challenge 2: RTA staff is responsible for interviewing perspective participants of the RTA Travel Training program, which assists persons with disabilities with using the region’s mass transit system. Staff assigns customers to a travel trainer and helps them understand transportation options in their community. Before working with Thompson and Singh, staff utilized multiple websites to understand the topography of the community where the customers lived and to learn what other transportation services were available for the customers throughout the RTA’s six-county service area.

Solution No. 2: Thompson and Singh created a one-stop URL that contains all the resources needed in one place. Now staff visits on site, RTAMS, to determine the customer’s ability to use fixed route and/or other transportation options all in one screen view. This improves staff efficiency, often cutting customer service time in half.

The RTA currently serves more than 550,000 reduced fare, ride free and ADA Paratransit customers.