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Computer Aided Dispatch & Scheduling
Fact Sheet: Transit Overview

Technology Overview

CAD dispatch center

CAD Dispatch Center

Computer aided dispatch and scheduling (CADS) is software that incorporates transit routes, schedules, trip orders and vehicle assignments to allow dispatchers to know where their agency’s transit vehicles are located. Many transit operators deploy CADS in order to manage their demand responsive transit (DRT) services. DRT services are provided by transit operators to dispatch vehicles to pick up passengers and transport them to their destinations on demand. These transit vehicles do not operate on a fixed route or schedule. The transit vehicle may pick up or drop off several passengers during the same trip.

CADS information enables dispatchers to more efficiently dispatch trip requests, better maintain service, and respond to disruptions, emergency situations and other issues such as a disabled bus. A CADS system is often integrated with advanced vehicle location (AVL) systems, geographic information systems (GIS), and mobile data terminal (MDT) technologies to provide advanced real-time system capabilities.

The capability and interoperability of CADS systems may vary by agency based on their specific needs and the availability of supporting technologies. Smaller fixed-route bus agencies may utilize basic CADS as a stand-alone technology without additional systems or integration with field equipment. Medium and large transit agencies utilize CADS for real-time operations, dispatch optimization, scheduling, advanced planning and trip planning. It provides a vital tool for transit agencies to organize and expedite dispatching and scheduling.

Many transit operators use CADS to assist in the management of their services, including:

  • Demand responsive transit (DRT) services,
  • Managing and monitoring large volumes of data,
  • Ensuring that services meet or exceed service quality standards, and
  • Improving the quality of service for users.

All of this results in more cost-efficient transit systems. CADS systems deliver a wealth of data pertaining to the performance of a transit fleet, but these systems can result in information overload for dispatchers. Dispatchers need assistance in prioritizing their workloads and discerning patternsof operational problems.

Common Combinations

CADS systems can be combined with many technologies and are particularly important to consider alongside a comprehensive vehicle management system. CADS systems are commonly integrated with AVL, GIS, automatic passenger counters (APCs) and data management systems. CADS may also be integrated with traveler information systems (TIS) such as trip and itinerary planning. This benefits customers by providing real-time information similar to what is available to dispatchers. CADS may be implemented as a stand-alone system serving such functions as basic dispatching and scheduling services. More advanced CADS systems can be implemented and utilized to communicate with all ITS systems as mentioned above, and will react to real-time scheduling changes and dispatching needs.

Factors to Consider

A CADS system is a useful tool that any transit agency can benefit from. Regardless of an agency’s size, scheduling and dispatching vehicles can be a time-consuming task for dispatchers. Implementing a CADS system to automatically manage simple scheduling and dispatching enables dispatch personnel to focus on more immediate needs. Smaller agencies may require only basic CADS capabilities, sometimes combined with a basic mapping system or basic data management system. Larger agencies will benefit from advanced CADS systems that can handle multiple complex schedules and associated dispatching needs. CADS can serve as the cornerstone for a comprehensive transit management system. CADS systems enable agencies to expand into other areas with regard to maintaining communications and functionality.

CAD Block Diagram

CAD Block Diagram


  • Develop a structured procurement plan and performance-oriented requirements and specifications.
  • Visit transit agencies providing similar transportation services and discuss their CADS systems and related technologies.


Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) Special Transportation Service (STS) Vehicle

Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS)
Special Transportation Service (STS) Vehicle

  • Perform rigorous testing of the entire system prior to implementation by developing comprehensive test and acceptance plans.
  • Consider installing a backup system at a remote location to ensure uninterrupted CADS services in case there is a power failure in the main network.
  • Develop standard data-exchange protocols between the field and the transit operations center to ensure that equipment from multiple vendors is compatible.
  • Ensure all hardware is installed with virus and firewall protection.
  • Expect a learning curve as drivers and dispatchers develop efficient communications and dispatching techniques.


  • Develop specifications to allow open standards.
  • Agencies should specify a modular implementation plan to allow for less costly maintenance activities. This will also help to simplify technology upgrades.
  • CADS systems should operate on a communications backbone with sufficient bandwidth.

Benefits and Costs


  • Improved fleet situational awareness
  • Schedule adherence—maximum on-time performance
  • Supervisors and dispatchers are proactive in addressing operational issues
  • Text messaging can improve dispatch efficiency
  • Alarm monitoring to notify dispatch of emergencies
  • Single point for operator log in
  • CADS with AVL can provide real-time, next-bus predictions
  • Comprehensive historical data collection and incident reporting


Equipment and Implementation

CADS systems need the following technologies:

  • Software
  • Hardware platform (server, displays, printers)
  • GIS/mapping
  • Voice and data communications with drivers/vehicles and with operations support personnel

Depending on the size of the transit fleet, a CADS/AVL system can cost from $100,000 to over $1 million to purchase, install, customize, implement, operate and maintain. Transit agencies can reduce vendor costs by reducing the amount of customization in their CADS systems.

Operations and Maintenance (O&M)

Policies and procedures need to be well developed and documented, and fully consistent with the software platform. An adequate number of dispatchers are needed, which depends on the size of the transit fleet. It is recommended that an operational plan and a maintenance schedule be implemented with any CADS systems.

Training and Staff

Selection and training of dispatchers is extremely important. CADS systems do not run themselves; they require significant operator input. Dispatchers need clear task-oriented objectives to keep them involved as active participants in the CADS system and not just passive observers.

Agency Deployments

Agency Contact Information Number of Vehicles Context / Success of Deployment

RYDE (Reach Your Destination Easily) (serving mid-Nebraska)

16 West 11th
Kearney, NE
(308) 865-5675
(877) 335-6422
15 paratransit vans Introduced as the first step in ITS architecture, reducing costs and call-ahead time and accommodating rapid growth.
Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) (serving Charlotte, NC metro area) Old Criminal Courts Bldg.
700 East Fourth Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
70 bus & rail routes; 323 buses; 20 light rail vehicles; CATS STS: 84 vehicles; 228,000 rides/yr. Enhanced CADS added to existing AVL and Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs), resulting in improved scheduling.
Santa Clara Valley Transit/Outreach 3331 N. First St.
San Jose, CA
100 light rail vehicles; 450 buses; 3.7 million rides/month Added to new GIS and CADS systems, simplifying and improving communications among the control center, passengers, and management.
(serves 6 northeastern counties of Illinois)
550 West Algonquin Road
Arlington Heights, Illinois 60005-4412
(847) 364-PACE (7223)
209 bus routes; 807 fixed-route vehicles; 45 million trips/year CAD/AVL system

Additional Resources


Jonathan Walker, P.E., Ph.D.
Chief Policy, Architecture, and Knowledge Transfer, ITS Joint Program Office
U.S. Department of Transportation
(202) 366-2199

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