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Traveler Information
Fact Sheet: Transit Overview

Technology Overview

Use Traveler Information Systems to:

  • Make a wide range of transit information readily available to the public
  • Improve communication between public transportation providers and passengers
  • Enable travelers to select travel options based on quality travel information
  • Make transit travel easier to navigate and less stressful, hopefully translating into higher ridership levels

Traveler Information Systems (TIS) are vital for both customers and transit agencies. They enable transit customers to receive travel information regarding various modes of transit or other types of transportation that the traveler may take. They also enable an agency to lessen the burden on staff that provides customer information. TIS include a broad range of computer and communications technologies, ranging from a customer service phone line to an automated trip planner to real-time transit and traffic information provided over a variety of media.

Data provided by TIS can range from a transit system map to simple schedule and fare information to more dynamic information such as estimated wait or arrival times, route delays, traffic information, weather information, and emergency information. Detailed local information may also be provided to assist travelers in trip planning, such as landmark names and locations, street names, alternative names, addresses, transportation options available, road maps, information on paths, and other local information.

TIS includes several types of technologies utilized at various points in a traveler’s trip. These points are:

  1. pre-trip,
  2. in-terminal/wayside, and
  3. in-vehicle (en route).
Images of traveler information systems

Image Source: Photographs courtesy of TranSystems Corporation

TIS can also be directed to provide personalized traveler or transit information and multimodal travel information directly to a laptop, tablet, cell phone, smartphone or other personal information system (PIS). One information collection and dissemination process involves using an automatic vehicle location-global positioning system (AVL-GPS) to communicate with transit operations servers. The server passes selective information along to the transit website, which utilizes geographic information system (GIS) software to display the received information in a user-friendly spatial format. Location and schedule information is disseminated through wireless devices, kiosks or signage, automatic voice announcements, landline, cellular phone, smart phone applications and websites.

Common Combinations

Traveler information systems integrate with nearly all aspects of operations and the various associated technologies. Different technologies may be implemented to provide traveler information at various stages of the traveler’s trip, depending on an agency’s or traveler’s needs.


Pre-trip information systems can be either static or dynamic. They may include transit routes, maps and schedules, fares, parking information, park-and-ride lot locations, transit trip itineraries, paratransit information, special events, security advisories, and service disruptions and revisions. Various technologies utilized in pre-trip planning include: call centers with call screening/queuing software; 511 traveler information systems; smart phone applications; websites; and trip-planning tools. Trip planners use vehicle location systems (e.g., AVL-GPS), GIS, and scheduling software accessible via an agency’s website to provide interactive maps, routes, and other trip-planning tools. Open standards for transit information allow transit agencies to share their schedules and associated geographic information in a common format known as the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). The GTFS “feeds” allow public transit agencies to publish their transit data and developers to write applications that utilize that data in an interoperable way. GTFS has made the development of universal, global transit services real.


At stops and stations, various information devices are available, which may range from simple signage providing location, wayfinding, or transit system information to dynamic message signs (DMS). In-terminal systems generally provide arrival and departure information and may be accessible via video monitors, DMS, sign boards, passenger information displays, and infrared signage. Wi-Fi networks within terminals or stations enable access to transit website information and provide another outlet for traveler information.


In-vehicle annunciators and electronic signs or video monitors provide information on next stops, major crossroads, transfer points and landmarks; additional information such as public service and safety or security announcements may be given at other times. A growing number of agencies now have wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet access onboard their buses, trains and ferry boats, enabling travelers to obtain en route access to dynamic trip information from an agency’s website.

Factors to Consider

Traveler information systems are implemented at nearly every transportation agency and are key components to an agency’s customer satisfaction and ultimately its success. Whether a small agency uses a simple call center for customers to dial in and receive transit updates or a large agency utilizes automated information systems to update electronic signage, real-time itineraries, text-based alerts and more, current transit information is vital for customer satisfaction.

As with many advanced transportation technologies, the size and needs of a specific agency will dictate how sophisticated a system may need to be. Open data standards for transit information are reducing costs to transit agencies. Web-based applications like Google Transit import a transit agency’s data into GTFS standard format to provide a portal for transit trip planning by the general public using Google Maps. Bing Maps also include transit routing and real-time information using GTFS standards. Some transit agencies, faced with shrinking budgets and limited staff, are considering leaving the responsibility of customer communication to third party providers.

More sophisticated TIS systems may be required to communicate multiagency and multimodal traveler information for larger transit agencies working with other smaller agencies in the region to potentially integrate with a regional TIS network. Transit agencies should link to any 511 system available for their state or metropolitan area. 511 systems offer free real-time traveler information to customers via phone, text, and web. Deployments of 511 networks have been very successful. The current 511 system serves more than 181 million Americans or 66 percent of the population of 36 states.

Benefits and Costs


Riders expect pre-trip traveler information (both static and real-time) to be available and accurate. Improving knowledge of the transit system and enabling real-time options could result in increased ridership and help lower congestion levels and travel time in a region. Operating savings would be generated by automating existing customer service tasks and websites that would enable faster access to service information for users. This would reduce incoming phone calls from customers seeking travel information. It would also result in more directed and shorter call times with staff, fewer e-mails for the staff to respond to, and greater customer satisfaction.

  • The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (CU-MTD) in Illinois implemented a real-time bus information system called “STOPwatch.” It uses on-street electronic screens and kiosks, the Internet, an online trip planner, mobile phone text messages, web-enabled mobile devices and Google Transit. The program has helped the agency reach high levels of customer satisfaction.
CU-MTD 60-foot articulated bus on Route 26.

CU-MTD 60-foot articulated bus on Route 26.

  • The greater Seattle, Washington area implemented a set of tools that provides real-time transit predictions on a full range of platforms. It is credited with creating significant shifts in riders’ satisfaction with transit, their perception of safety, and their frequency of ridership. The real-time information tools, OneBusAway, are now used by over 100,000 users per week.
  • The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District in Oakland, California has provided open data services to third-party developers since 2007. These now power 36 separate applications on more than 20 platforms including Google and Google Maps, iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Palm Pre, Mac OSX, Twitter, Facebook and more. There are more than 1,200 BART developers subscribed to BART’s opt-in list, and some BART apps, such as iBART for iPhone, have nearly 150,000 users.


Traveler information systems are comprised of many different devices and communication networks. The most common TIS tools include call centers, 511, smart phone applications and the web. Costs begin to vary depending on the additional features a call center or website offers. Call centers, for instance, typically provide interactive voice response (IVR); voice recognition systems; or automated call screening. A transit website may offer a trip planner; however, many transit agencies are leaving this to third party developers such as Google Transit. Costs will also vary depending on what dissemination networks and devices are used to provide information to customers at terminals and on transit vehicles. Transit agencies can offset costs by selling advertising to support their traveler information systems.

A call center or 511 IVR system usually costs between $100,000 and $200,000, while basic websites with static transit information can be set up for $20,000 to $50,000. An interactive trip planning system on a transit agency’s website costs approximately $50,000. Data gathering to enhance the trip planner will cost around $600 per square mile of service area. Many transit agencies are using DMS to display traveler information at transit terminals, stops, and on transit vehicles. DMS can include flat panel monitors, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), video monitors, light emitting diode (LED) signs, or other electronic displays priced around $3,000 to $5,000 each. In-vehicle automated stop annunciation systems with electronic displays cost in the $3,000 to $7,500 range per vehicle.

Operations and Maintenance (O&M)

Traveler information available on transit websites and disseminated to field signs must be accurate to attract and keep transit riders satisfied. Quality assurance expenditures as part of the O&M costs should be budgeted to ensure the ongoing integrity of the information and the devices being used. A typical transit agency should allocate 10% to 15% of their capital costs to manage the servers, update the software and databases, and maintain the associated field devices.

Agency Deployments

Agency Contact Information Number of Vehicles Context / Success of Deployment
Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) 1600 Blake Street
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 628-9000
1,335 buses, 70 light rail cars Real-time transit info: Talk-n-Ride IVR phone system; Bus locator Internet application; next bus/train arrival info on 20 LED signs.
King County Metro Transit King Street Center
201 S. Jackson Street
Seattle, Washington 98104
(206) 553-3000
159 electric trolly buses and 274 articulated diesel buses Offers OneBusAway, Roadify, Tracker, Seattle bus, Ridematch and other mobile and desk top applications to all customers.
River Valley Transit 1500 W. Third St.
Williamsport, PA 17701
(570) 326-2500
25 buses DMS provide bay status and departure info at transit transfer center; automated stop announcements; IVR phone system; enhanced website
Illinois, Champaign-Urban Mass Transit District
1101 East University Ave
Urbana, IL 61802
(217) 384-8188
102 buses (54% of fleet are hybrid diesel-electric) Real-time bus information system called STOPwatch. GPS tracking delivers real-time departure information to computers, mobile devices & automated displays at major stops.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) P.O. Box 12688
Oakland, CA 94604
(504) 465-2278
669 train cars will be replaced by 775 new train cars between 2017 and 2021 Provides open data services to third-party developers. There are more than three dozen apps available on their website.

Additional Resources on GIS and Data Management (and ITS)


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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