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3.5 Issues and Barriers

Finally, there are several institutional and technical issues related to introducing technology into an organization. Each concern is described below.

3.5.1 Institutional Concerns

The institutional concerns include:

  • Financing for ITS procurement and deployment.
  • Coordinating with other transportation providers, health and human service agencies and other transportation agencies (DOT, etc.) to explore opportunities to make joint ITS procurements and to exchange data and information.
  • Having a lack of ITS technical expertise.
  • Procuring ITS technologies from vendors who do not understand human service agency operations and transportation services.

Procurement and Deployment

Most larger transit agencies are able to purchase capital equipment. However, the issue of financing the purchase, deployment, and operation is more difficult for smaller transit and individual human service agencies because they purchase ITS equipment in low quantities; in the case of smaller transit agencies, the cost of ITS may also be too large when compared to their other capital and operating expenses. This leads not only to higher prices than if equipment was purchased in larger quantities, but also to a smaller number of vendors being potentially interested in providing the equipment and responding to a request for proposals (RFP). The key to addressing this issue is coordination of procurements and data/information exchange.

Coordination

Coordination with other service providers and transportation agencies involves two related subjects:

  • Procurement.
  • Data/information exchange.

The issue of procurement relates to the challenges associated with procuring low quantities of ITS equipment. One method of overcoming the issue of high cost for low quantity purchases is coordination among agencies to purchase the same ITS equipment and software. This type of coordination not only reduces the per-unit cost of ITS items (and thus the cost to rural transit agencies), but also ensures that agencies can share information and potentially coordinate service much easier than if all involved agencies have different equipment and software. There are several recent examples of how this type of coordination has been used to procure ITS equipment. In one case, two transit agencies joined together to purchase the same equipment (Greater Attleboro-Taunton Regional Transportation Authority and Cape Cod Regional Transportation Authority, both in Massachusetts). In another, in the Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota, joint equipment and software purchases were made by two rural transit agencies, the State highway patrol, and the local district of the State Department of Transportation.

Data and information exchange among small transit agencies and health/human service agencies is also a challenge for such reasons as the fact that a large number of these agencies are not highly computerized. Additionally, because their respective scheduling and billing may be done manually, it is difficult to exchange data and information. The advent of technology is just beginning to facilitate data/information exchange.

Minimal Labor and Computer Resources

Another challenge is minimal existing labor and computer resources that are necessary to collect and manage data. Further, data used by automated tools (e.g., GIS) must be constantly updated and maintained, which requires resources that smaller agencies often do not have. Because ITS technologies can generate large quantities of data, this is an important issue. Larger transit agencies are moving toward data "warehouse" concepts to facilitate data collection and management, but the implementation of these concepts requires considerable resources. This is still an outstanding issue for human service and smaller transit agencies.

Transit ITS Technical Expertise

Because of the size of individual human service and small transit agencies, they often do not have personnel who have the technical expertise to procure and deploy ITS technologies. Or, if they do have the technical expertise, they do not have the time to spend on these activities. This lack of time or technical expertise can result in an ITS procurement or deployment taking longer to accomplish, or in ITS not being considered at all. This issue can be addressed in a number of ways, such as hiring consultants, and/or getting peer technical assistance. For example, the ITS Peer-to-Peer Program offers free technical assistance to agencies that are considering, procuring, and/or deploying ITS technologies.

Vendor Experience

The marketplace for ITS technologies for health and human service and transit agencies is complex. Most of the larger vendors have experience providing equipment, software, and services to urban transit systems. However, some of the smaller vendors have not had experience with transit or have not had experience with all the types of transit services offered by human service and/or small transit agencies. While more and more vendors are entering the marketplace, this issue is important for human service and small transit agencies to consider when procuring ITS technologies.

3.5.2 Technical Concerns

Additional technical concerns include:

  • Automation of particular functions.
  • Lack of technical guidance and information.
  • Lack of ITS infrastructure in rural areas.

Automation of Functions

The automation of particular functions within human service and transit agencies may improve operations and customer service, but the automation of certain other customer service related functions may actually confuse and alienate certain customers. For example, an automated reservations system that requires the customer to use a touch-tone key pad to enter information may be difficult for an older person to use. Additionally, persons with hearing impairments who use relay services or TTY machines cannot use these technologies and must have an alternative format for their use.

Beside this aspect of automation, there is also an issue of customers having access to certain automated systems, particularly in rural areas. For example, some rural residents and low income individuals do not have telephones, making it impossible for them to access a reservations system, or to receive an automated call back from the agency's reservations/scheduling system to confirm a trip. In the latter example, the transit agency could provide a device to receive call backs (e.g., a pager), but the device may be cost-prohibitive. Similarly, reliable Internet access is not available in all locations, particularly rural areas. Therefore, even if they are accessible for persons with various disabilities, information or reservations systems that are web based may not be usable by all customers.

There is another technical issue of automation that faces human service and small transit agencies: customers whose address does not appear on any commercially available map (e.g., rural roads and Indian Reservations). The primary problem with rural addressing is that vehicle operators need to schedule as well as locate customers whose addresses are not on a map (electronic or paper). Navigation devices that provide driving directions could be a solution only if the customer's address is in the device's database. Collecting this address information may require coordination with public safety organizations, such as emergency management/911, which may have identified the customer's address and can provide that address to human service and small transit agencies.

Lack of Technical Guidance and Information

Human service and small transit agencies need technical guidance and information to consider and deploy ITS technologies just as larger agencies do. While more and more information is becoming available, smaller agencies may still need guidance that is not generally available. The Federal Rural ITS Program and the Federal Transit Administration conducted several projects that are providing guidance specifically to small transit agencies. Also, agencies can avail themselves of previously mentioned resources, such as hiring consultants and/or using the ITS Peer-to-Peer Program. Continuing technical assistance will ensure that human service and small transit agencies are successful in deploying new technologies.

Lack of ITS Infrastructure in Rural Areas

The issue of a lack of ITS infrastructure in rural areas focuses on communications. This is a considerable issue since many ITS technologies that could be useful for human service agency transportation rely on communications as their backbone. For example, deployment of an AVL system requires communications infrastructure to transmit vehicle location data from the vehicle to the dispatch center. If that infrastructure is not sound and/or has coverage holes, the vehicle location data or emergency alarm message may not be sent, and consequently not received by dispatch. Since this issue is not just a transit-related issue, several rural regions have joined together to solve the problem by jointly procuring and using one integrated communications system that can accommodate several transportation agencies at once.

3.5.3 Technology Summary

Although technology is an important tool that can be used to enhance and support accessibility, mobility and service coordination, the key ingredient is the human factor. Technology-based solutions must include consideration of the human interface during the planning, design, and implementation of any new service.

As was noted in this section, there are many institutional barriers – and those barriers were created by policies and procedures that were developed by people. Therefore, when planning for the use of technology-based solutions, the interface with all users should be considered. For example, we have stated throughout this section that people who are transportation disadvantaged have different needs with respect to information and accommodation on public transportation; these needs are based on their disability, age, income status and other factors. Thus, it is important for planners and managers to develop policies and procedures that are responsive to the needs of end users while supporting the needs of the entity providing services.

The discussion groups held in conjunction with this project have echoed this concern and cautioned against assuming that a "one-size fits all" approach is workable. Individuals need to have different opportunities to interface with technology. For example, while some users may be comfortable using computers and the Internet, others may not be comfortable with the technology while certain users may not have access at all. Similarly, using IVR for after-hours reservations may be a good solution for individuals who can use and understand the system, but will not suffice for individual who use a TTY machine or relay operator.

In the end, technology is an important tool to help promote coordination of services and improved access and mobility; however, no matter how good the technology may be, it must work with human intervention and human input.

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