T3 Webinar Question and Answer Transcript

ITS on the Transit Menu: Deployment Lessons from Washoe County and Central Florida/Polk County (June 2, 2011)

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Q. One of the lessons learned speaks to the importance of minimizing the number of components – for example, fewer GPS receivers. What is the best way to do this with a step-wise implementation plan? Do you think the same vendor needs to be used for each additional component, or can all systems share the same GPS receiver or MDT?

LaChant Barnett: As part of the LYNX and PCTS project, they actually have one vendor. One of the things that LYNX and PCTS decided to do was actually to hire a consultant firm to manage the overall project prior to procuring any of the technology. They recognized that they did not have the staff availability or the expertise in that type of technology, since it was their first step in ITS. And so they actually put out an RFP first to hire a management consultant with expertise in ITS technology implementation to manage the overall grant project. And that was definitely a benefit to them. They selected that vendor based on the years of experience that they submitted primarily, and also on having experience with similar projects. So from our experience we would definitely say to hire a contractor to manage the overall implementation project, and to work with staff throughout the project prior to procuring the technology. But once they did actually issue the RFP for the technology, which the contractor assisted in writing that RFP, they hired one agency to do the entire installment of the MDTs in all of their related equipment. The antennas, everything, was handled by one agency. And Matt, you can add to that if you'd like.

Matt Weatherford: Primarily, I'm a consultant, so I'm going to agree with hiring a consultant. But I think that it is a good idea to have somebody who's done this before help you out during that process. You really want to get your requirements right, because they're going to propagate throughout the whole project. And you want to have an RFP and go through the process and clearly define what you want, so that you know what you're getting, and your vendor knows what they're providing.

Q. How did you estimate the potential savings of nine million passenger vehicle miles?

Matt Weatherford: We took a look at the increased ridership, and then we looked at some APTA numbers for the number of– the numbers of increased rides related to the reduction in the number of trips. We looked at the average trip length for RTC, and that's how we calculated it. I personally think that number is probably a bit optimistic.

Q. Is the bus arrival system for RTC real time now?

Tina Wu: Real time, but although I said this, the prediction feature is right, I will say, probably about 90 percent of the time. If the bus is on a detour, which we often do in Reno, almost every weekend in the summer, sometime it shows the bus left already and you haven't got to the transit center yet. So that's one of the issues we're trying to address right now.

Q. When the funding was reduced from three million to 0.3 million, what did you remove from the scope, and how did you make decisions to remove components?

Bill Hearndon: I think initially we had scoped to equip our entire– both fleets completely with Mobile Data Terminals, and essentially we scaled that back to ten units for each agency, just as a pilot project. LYNX later developed additional funding to equip the entire fleet.

LaChant Barnett: And in addition to that, instead of focusing on the entire LYNX service area, the focus was primarily Poinciana, since that was bordered by both communities for LYNX and PCTS service. So reduce the amount of equipment, and then reduce the service area for the project. But they actually went through every component in the initial scope with the installation of equipment, the shared trips in the back-office billing. And they exceeded their budget of the $300,000, so they used additional local and federal funds to cover the cost overrun.

Q. Okay. Will there be a transcript prepared of what the presenters are saying? And we'll try to do you one better. In about four or five weeks, we will have a flash presentation of this webinar with all video and audio. And there will be a question and answer log transcript posted in the T3 archives. And our next question: RTC, have you monitored the benefits of trip planning through Google Transit using any of your passenger count data collection? Where you see trips requested from your website, and a number of riders for that trip goes up, are you considering adding this data integration? Is there a reason you post the Google Transit is still being tested? Is this trip integration ITS project not working well for RTC?

Tina Wu: After we implemented the ITS system, we looked at trip planning software. And frankly, at that time – about 2007/2008 – the cost was prohibitive. So at the time, we discovered the agency we're in constant communication with, the bus in Honolulu, was working with Google Transit to put a schedule on Google Trip Planner. So we contacted Google Transit, and we were one of the first transit systems our size to get our schedule on Google Transit. Since then, I can tell you a lot of people have been using that. It was a– I won't say zero-cost solution for us, 'cause it still requires some staff time to put the data together– and send it to Google. The process has since been simplified, since we've been working with HASTUS and Trapeze ITS to scrub the data to make sure it's clean enough to send it to Google to minimize the error rate on the web. As far as why it's still showing tested, frankly, we just really haven't got around to taking it off the testing yet. Right now, I just launched a web real-time notification, but we did it as a soft launch, because, again, I don't want my customer service people to face unhappy people. Right now, I'm still testing the accuracy rate on that service, so that's why I’m sending it out as a soft launch.

Matt Weatherford: Let me add to that a little bit. There is the Google Trip Planner Tool that is integrated into RTC's website. There's no feedback loop to see what trips people are looking up and seeing whether traffic changes, or trip accounts change on the trips that people are looking up on their website. I haven't– I actually don't know any agencies that do that, but I'd be really curious to hear about any that do. And if there is some sort of feedback loop to look at the impact of Google Trip Planning.

Q. Was LYNX the prime contractor? If so, how was it selected? Did you use their service from the start of the project cycle to the end, initiation, design, installation, and testing? Who did the system engineering for you? What was the difference of LYNX and ITERIS role in the contract? Please discuss the procurement process, the path, a little more. Thanks.

Bill Hearndon: I think there's a little confusion: LYNX is the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority. Polk County Transit Services is the transit agency in the county immediately to our southwest. We entered into this as a joint project. We did use a lot of consultants throughout the process– everything from our technology consultant, to our staff assistants, to some technical evaluation and technical advisory consultants, so each one of those consultants had a component of the process. And then when you asked to discuss the procurement process a little more. Essentially, using the components that we knew we wanted to get out of the project, LYNX and Polk County Transit Services put together a scope of work. Because LYNX was the lead agency on the grant, LYNX staff– LYNX's procurement staff released the RFP. Once the responses to the RFPs came back, and we had RFPs for consulting services, and for hardware and software. Once those bids came back, LYNX staff, as well as Polk County Transit Services staff did the evaluation of the bids, and selected their contractors based on that.

LaChant Barnett: Tindale-Oliver helped with the evaluation. And one of the things that we do after the MDTs are installed on their vehicles, we did both an operator survey, and a customer survey to try and determine the benefits and some of the issues that the technology might be providing to the operator, so those surveys actually gave us good information back on some of the issues some of the operators were not aware of the project. They knew they had these units on their vehicles, but they weren't 100 percent sure of why and some of them were still relying on their own personal directions and maps and not necessarily looking at the MDT. So it let us know that we needed to do a little more training and provide additional information out to the drivers on those technologies. From the customer standpoint, we were able to highlight the technology and let them know about the efficiencies and that now this technology was in place. So we were completely aware of when there were no-shows or missed trips, we knew where the vehicles were. But as both a part of the process was to sit down with both the maintenance staff, the IT staff, from both agencies, PCTS and LYNX and the para-transit staff, since they were vital to the project to develop this scope and release those scopes to see what they got back as far as bids. And they did get a lot of bids back. So when you're going through this process, you want to make sure your timeline includes enough time to accurately and comprehensively review those bids so that you get the best firm.

Matt Weatherford: ITERIS's role, primarily, was as the evaluator. So we came in after implementation. I had a small role earlier supporting the acceptance testing when the system had been delayed and there were some issues. But our primary role here was just as the evaluators after it'd been deployed. We were a sub on the team that developed the procurement documents, but we were not the prime on that, and we weren't materially involved during the installation.

Q. Does either of these transit agencies have a formalized ITS policy? And would they be willing to share it with the audience?

Bill Hearndon: We do have an ITS plan right now. We're in the process of updating it. It will be posted on our website when it's complete. The website is www.golynx.com.

Tina Wu: And we also are updating our plan right now. We do incorporate the ITS as part of our RTP. So we're in the process of updating that. So once that's done, we'll be posting that on our website as well: www.rtcwashoe.com.

Q. Was Washoe using Trapeze prior to implementation?

Tina Wu: We were using Trapeze for para-transit dispatch. And that's the only thing we were using.

Bill Hearndon: We use Trapeze PASS for our scheduling software. We use Mentor Rangers for our Mobile Data Terminals.

Q. Have either of the presenters dealt with any kind of ITS architecture? Is it a useful thing to follow and try to conform to? How big a role did your regional architecture have in how you created the project from the beginning?

Tina Wu: We initiated the Transit ITS project prior to the national architecture. But since then, we have incorporated a project into our regional ITS architecture. In fact, as the NPO, we were required to do one for the region. So, I initiated the plan with our ITS engineer. And in fact, we did hire ITERIS to come in and help us develop the national architecture. We did have to come up with a concept of operations to satisfy the local FHWA office, as well as the FTA office. As of right now, you cannot have an ITS project. You will not be funded unless it's on an ITS architecture, and it's on your TIP. So as far as how it's placed into your project, that is a requirement. Matt, do you have anything you want to add?

Matt Weatherford: I think you said it best, the primary reason to do the ITS architecture is because it's required. But there are several things of value that come out of it. One is, when you go through that process– and it's not a lot of heavy lifting for the agency if you get into your regional ITS architecture. All you really need to do is be a stakeholder and tell them what you want to do. But once you get into it, you can start thinking about different things you wouldn't have thought of otherwise, such as where might images from your busses go to? Who else might be interested in them? Who else do you want to have access to your schedule information? Where is it going to go? And also coming out of the architecture, it's going to define the communication standards that you're going to want to put into your procurement documents that you're going to tell your vendors, “Hey, you have to use these standards for communications.” So there's quite a bit of value that comes out of it. And the way I recommend doing it is working through your regional architecture, rather than trying to create your own.

Bill Hearndon: I agree with both Tina and Matt. The systems engineering process is a very structured process, and it really helps you think about your project and the various things that needed to take place to make it successful.

Q. During the procurement process, could you please describe your vendor evaluation process?

LaChant Barnett: During the procurement process, LYNX and PCTS did a weighted system, where they gave additional weight to experience, previous project experience, with the primary thing they wanted to make sure that the vendor that they selected was capable of implementing the project successfully. So that received the highest rating. And then cost was secondary to that. Both PCTS and LYNX received copies of the bid packages and they evaluated them separately, but they kept in front of them their systems engineering process. So they were at all times aware of their needs analysis. What problem was the technology supposed to address and solve? And how did the technology anticipate solving the problem? So they looked for those answers in the RFP as well as the functions that would be utilized, the equipment that would be utilized. They wanted to make sure that the proposers included the infrastructure that they had as part of their package, and they weren't proposing additional infrastructure, that then LYNX or PCTS would have to procure outside of the project. They looked at the hardware. And they wanted to make sure there was a testing phase as part of the package, and also a training component. So those were the key elements of the RFP that they looked at.

Tina Wu: We did pretty much what LYNX did, but in addition we did go to different agencies that they already have the system up and running. And we specifically requested for the vendor to be offsite when we did our systems visit. So we can talk to our peers and get a feeling of how the vendor is performing and how well their response time, and how quickly they can rectify any problem if something happens. That was also a big part of our evaluation factor.

Q. Can you repeat the nine million dollar savings formula again?

Matt Weatherford: The best reference I can give is Section 6.4 of the Evaluation, the Report that describes how that process was done. It'd probably be a little bit too involved to try to describe here.

Q. What's the useful life of the system?

Matt Weatherford: It really depends. I would say at five years– after five years you're going to want to start looking at which components could be replaced with better, what the cost effectiveness would be. I don't think any system's really going to be that effective after ten years compared to newer technologies. So ten years would be at the far end, and five years would be at the short end.

Tina Wu: Yes, I agree with you. With our system it's been in place for a while. And unfortunately, some of the equipment our accounting people booked it as seven years. And it's– some of them are already dying, so, I can't replace them until the depreciation rates run out. And especially right now with the technology going, evolving as fast as it is now. I think instead of this full-blown In Vehicle Logic Units and Mobile Data Terminals, it is my opinion, I think there is a cheaper way to deploy the same technology with better equipment.

LaChant Barnett: Bill and I agree with Matt and Tina. One of the things that we would encourage the agencies to do is also to add a warranty when they're doing their RFP. Make sure that as part of the bid they're getting a one-year warranty, so that they can coordinate with the vendors if something does happen to the equipment. But on average, it's about five years before you start experiencing breakdowns. And again, the technology is moving rather quickly. So if you're procuring now, you want to make sure you have the ability to do upgrades to the equipment.

Charlene Wilder: Would you all also agree that as part of the systems engineering process that you make sure that you plan for maintenance for this equipment? That should be important, too.

Q. I believe one of the recommendations from Lessons Learned from the LYNX project was to have back-up staff that is knowledgeable for the work. Can you expand on this? If we can't hire more people, what would you recommend without resources to provide additional staff?

LaChant Barnett: If you can't hire more people, then that's when the documentation becomes even more important. You want to make sure at every step of the process that you're documenting what you're doing. So your initial plan should become a working document. It shouldn't just be to kick-off the project. And you want to go back and update that. One of the things you should also consider if you can't afford to hire additional staff, or to hire consultants as part of the grant application is to look at maybe some interns, some IT students that are interested in just coming and participating as part of the project to get the knowledge. So that may be another option for some agencies that have universities or colleges in their area.

Q. We have a grant to replace our current radio system with a narrow banding system. Is it necessary to do that before we begin implementation of our AVL/APC real time ITS system?

Matt Weatherford: I would definitely recommend being aware of the data capabilities of your current system, and the existing system. If you know you're going to replace that, I would do that. Because you'll get some benefit from it now and your new system will be built to the new equipment, rather than having to try to swap out modems or try to build new interfaces to a new radio system once you've installed hardware.

Tina Wu: Yes, you also would like to make sure you're procuring the right hardware with the narrow banding requirement.

Charlene Wilder: Also, if the FCC is mandating that some of the narrow banding, it's a requirement. And so I found that many transit agencies are doing it now, because they're going to have to do it later. It's going to be mandated within the next couple of years. Next question, please?

Q. I'd like to know how many ITS staff members exist at each of the transit agencies who gave presentations today.

LaChant Barnett: LYNX actually has eight IT people, but they are doing the infrastructure and technology for two operating facilities. PCTS, they only had two individuals. And those individuals were not full-time to Polk County Transit Services since they're a part of the county. Those individuals had to work on other projects for the county, and that's why LYNX took the lead with the project, because they have more capacity. But they were definitely aware upfront that they needed consultant help to actually pull the project off successfully.

Tina Wu: And at RTC, we have three IT people, and out of that, we have one person who is about 75 percent dedicated to public transit. Out of that, probably, I’ll say 25 to 40 percent at times is on ITS. Myself, I'm the go-to person for all the ITS problems. We have two electronic technicians. Our maintenance shop, out of that I will probably just say 40 percent of the time is dealing with MDT repairs, some kind of ITS issues. So we're a small agency. We really don't have any dedicated staff.

Q. Did either project utilize the national ITS architecture, or regional architectures? How did that save time for your agency?

Tina Wu: When we initiated our project, the architecture was not in place yet. So what we ended up doing is kind of backtracking and we did a concept of operations and outline of how we were going to fit our project into the region at that time. Then we went ahead and developed the regional architecture for our region. So maybe LYNX has a more of a reason– more experience?

LaChant Barnett: As Tina said, our project started in early 2000, so the national ITS architecture wasn't available when we started the project. One of the things that definitely helped us throughout the project is that we've been working with Charlene, and she's working on a lot of ITS technology, so she was able to give us feedback on the project. So I would definitely say if you don't have someone that's familiar with the national ITS architecture, to make sure you reach out to the resources that you have available and free to you through FTA and other organizations to make sure that you developed a scope of work for your project that will get you to successful completion.

Charlene Wilder: The National Transit Institute– which receives funding from the FTA– currently has courses being offered right now. There's one in Garden Grove, California that's coming up in July on “Architectural Compliance and Implementation.” They are also offering Systems Engineering courses, so if you want to check the NTI website, you will learn a lot from taking these courses.

Q. And Charlene, in a moment or two, we're going to be at 2:30. But this question is: Were the MDTs provided by the vendor, or was there comparison testing done on available market hardware?

Bill Hearndon: During our procurement process, we didn't bring the actual hardware in and do a comparison testing. We had functionality requirements in our RFP document. And we asked each vendor if their equipment was compatible with that requirement. If it was not, then how would they reach the goal of that requirement? Did they have a workaround, or if they just simply could not comply with it. If they couldn't comply with it, we had to go back and decide whether it was an important component for the hardware, or if we were just reaching for the stars, and it was something that was unrealistic.

Tina Wu: In our case, we had the luxury of Trapeze ITS as the prime. So they came in, they supplied most of the hardware. We did have to buy the para-transit and fixed route hardware separately. And again, Trapeze came in and did it for us, and integrated it. So we had really no issues with integration. Or if the functionality's not working, we go back to factory and make sure everything works.

Q. Can you speak broadly to the quality and number of the RFP responders? Is there a large field of available and qualified vendors, or is it really just a few companies really going after the RFP?

LaChant Barnett: For LYNX, we received about six bids back from qualified vendors. There are quite a few vendors out there with the ITS technology. One thing I would caution any agency looking to procure this technology is make sure that you're not buying something that's in the testing phase, or is the demonstration project for that particular vendor. Because that could definitely delay your project, and increase your costs if they're testing a new upgrade or a new component of their project as part of the implantation to your system.

Tina Wu: I concur with that. I always say, “We want to be on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge.” You also want to make sure if at all possible to have one prime to be responsible for the system's functionality. So that way if the vendor doesn't supply the hardware or the software, you're holding one party responsible for the systems to work instead of having multiple vendors pointing fingers at each other, and causing problems.

Q. In reference to the previous question about the system's useful life, what kind of equipment might have a better useful lifespan?

Matt Weatherford: I don't really know. The problem is nobody has a crystal ball and can say where technology is going to be in five or ten years, and that's going to be the real factor. Communications are a big issue that we have no control over– the advent of 3G and 4G and even faster networks that are taking the place of radio systems. The In Vehicle Logic Units were basically being replaced by MDTs that have that capability built into them. It's just really hard to say where things are going to be in five or ten years. So I don't know.

Tina Wu: Even in the transfer of In Vehicle Logic Unit, it's been dictated by the processors and the WI-FI capability. And that's with all this technology, stuff installed in 2003. They're pretty much junk now. And in fact, even the Logical Unit I installed three years ago has been taken out of the production cycle. So I mean, that's how equipment goes.

Bill Hearndon: I think the best thing you can do, and I can't recommend a specific technology, but the best thing you can do is to follow the ITS architecture so that you are ensured to have a open communications where new systems can speak with old systems, and so you can replace components, rather than have to replace everything at once.

LaChant Barnett: Bill and I concur with Tina and Matt. The technology is definitely changing. And of course, the more infrastructure you have as the local agency, then the quicker you're able to get that at a higher internet connection. But it definitely depends on your infrastructure, your staff capabilities, and the amount of funding that you have to actually implement these systems.

Q. Please describe your system interfaces with back-end systems, like scheduling, asset management systems, HR systems, etc. Do you have written stand-alone interfaces or essential database to support the interface to the CAD/AVL?

LaChant Barnett: We actually don't interface with the HR systems at all, but as far as the back office, the IT department handles those interfaces and the MDT interfaces with Trapeze PASS. And at present, LYNX is completing an RFP to also look at the Trapeze flexible service since they've added flex service to their module and to their service area. They want to see if that could potentially increase the reliability and the reservations and everything for the flexible service. So for the scheduling, they do have a documented process as far as how the MDTs communicate with the Trapeze system.

Tina Wu: Nothing really to add here, that's pretty much how we do it. We work with our IT and also the vendors. So we have HASTUS interface with the Trapeze ITS system. And also Trapeze PASS interface with the AVL system.

Q. I've read about the LYNX project that attempted to convert data from your mentor AVL system into TCIP data. Was this project successful? Is there documentation available?

Charlene Wilder: I do know that one of the things that LYNX has done, they actually were one of the first agencies to use TCIP, but that, it was part of real-time information for the next bus. And that does work– this was something that was newly deployed and that did use Transit Communication Interface Profile standards.

Q. For the AVL system, did you use GPS or wireless tracking systems?

LaChant Barnett: We are linked to the live GPS.

Tina Wu: RTC also used the live GPS.

Q. What kind of safeguards are in place to prevent a cyber attack?

LaChant Barnett: Well, as part of the system design process, you want to make sure that the vendors that you're hiring do have a security procedure process in place to ensure that your systems aren't going to be hacked. Since this is a lot of GPS, system coordination to the Trapeze system LYNX actually has a IT security protocol as part of their ITS policy, and it's important to continually update your ITS plan so that you can make sure that you're preparing for any invasive actions by hackers or anything like that. So you want to make sure that you continually update your plan and that you actually have policies for your IT infrastructure that deal with security.

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