Research Archive

Executive Summary

A 2003 General Accounting Office (GAO) report titled Transportation-Disadvantaged Populations states that 62 Federal programs fund transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged, and that 28 of the 62 programs alone spent at least $2.4 billion in FY 2001 on these services. [1] Currently, due to inefficiencies, limited resources, and a lack of coordination, delivery of human services transportation is challenging. In many locations, human services transportation is fragmented, resulting in service area gaps (geographical areas where service is not provided) or limited service area size due to an absence in trip transfers between transportation providers. Often, customers have to contact multiple case workers among multiple funding programs, trip requests have to be made well in advance, scheduled trip times are inconvenient, pick-up wait times are long and difficult to estimate, trip travel times are long, and accessibility to transit for seniors and persons with disabilities is limited.

New capabilities and opportunities are being created in both the transportation and health and human services communities through the use of emerging technologies and innovative services. Pioneering public transportation agencies are using Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to provide centralized coordination of community transportation providers, one-stop shopping, and service brokering through integrated automatic vehicle location systems, advanced communications, and universal benefit cards. Others are providing on-vehicle audio annunciation, accessible traveler information, and flexible routing to assist passengers with disabilities in using conventional transit services. In the rehabilitation community, innovative Assistive Technologies (AT) such as personal GPS and personal display assistants (PDA) using mobile communications to provide real-time assistance to those with cognitive disabilities, accessible pedestrian signals, and "talking" bus stops and signs are also being developed. However, the two communities are often unaware of the research, new approaches, and advances that each is making, and neither may have direct communication with the disability community at large. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is now bringing them together to provide a coordinated effort to apply technological solutions to the barriers to accessibility and mobility for persons with disabilities.

The foundation of the Mobility Services for All Americans (MSAA) initiative is built around the notions of service coordination and technology integration. The definition of the transportation-disadvantaged, according to the GAO report, includes "people who are unable to provide their own transportation as a result of a disability, an age-related condition, or an income constraint." Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Report 49, Using Public Transportation to Reduce the Economic, Social, and Human Costs of Personal Immobility (1999) uses a more generic definition for the transportation disadvantaged: "Those people whose range of travel alternative is limited, especially in the availability of easy-to-use and inexpensive options for trip-making."

This key relationship is what the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) hope to expand on as they work toward the ultimate goal of the MSAA initiative, which is

[t]o develop the architecture/design of a replicable, scalable traveler management coordination center
[TMCC], which will enhance service accessibility and operations efficiency and provide a one-stop
customer-based travel information and trip planning services. [2]

The government has been exploring the challenges and benefits of human services transportation since the 1980s. Human services transportation has been a top priority of many agencies since President Bush released Executive Order 13330 in February 2002.[3] To expand and improve service for all Americans, a complementary goal of many human services transportation initiatives, including the latest USDOT initiative, the MSAA, is to achieve a more efficient use of Federal transportation dollars. In support of MSAA, this report summarizes the Phase Two (Foundation Research) effort.

There are many past and ongoing human services transportation, coordination, and technology initiatives such as Presidential Executive Order 13330, the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council, and the United We Ride (UWR) program that have been created as a result of the GAO's and other organization's research findings. In addition to these initiatives, several non-profits such as the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA) have created technical assistance opportunities for both transportation providers and users. Some of these efforts focus specifically on the role of technology in achieving increased mobility, accessibility, and coordination.

Despite these research and technical assistance efforts, it is still apparent to the USDOT and FTA that some of the mobility and accessibility needs of transportation users remain unmet. Generally, there are five critical elements of transportation mobility: the need for existing service, the need for an awareness of that service and how to use it, the need to access the service physically, the need for that service to be reliable, and the need for the service to be flexible to accommodate unexpected changes in travel plans. While many transportation services exist for all Americans, including those who are transportation disadvantaged, there are still significant gaps that have been identified. This report summarizes each of these specific gaps as they relate to the various transportation disadvantaged communities. In general, the high-level gaps are:

  • Certain areas of the country, especially rural areas, have no public transportation service available. Other geographic areas offer only limited service on certain days.
  • Inexperienced or new users often have difficulty locating information on transit services and so have a hard time understanding how to use the transportation system.
  • Paratransit customers in particular must book transportation many hours or days in advance, which limits the flexibility of the service that is available to them.
  • Despite accommodations which have been instituted to make transportation physically easier to access, some transportation disadvantaged groups find these accommodations inconvenient or inadequately operated and/or maintained.
  • All users still experience difficulties in planning and taking a trip that requires the use of multiple transit services: connections and fare payment can be confusing and difficult.

There are many technologies that can improve the availability and accessibility of the transportation services for all persons, but especially those who are transportation disadvantaged. These solutions include Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), which generally contribute to fleet management and operations; traveler information; electronic fare payment (Smart cards); and AT, which generally contribute to the physical accessibility of transportation systems (e.g., intelligent wayside technologies, audible signs, and personal location monitoring). In addition to ITS and AT, there are some solutions that, while not necessarily technology, can be implemented to meet the needs of transportation disadvantaged individuals, such as boarding assistance and signage and/or information (e.g., tactile and Braille displays and telephone/Internet/cell phone – based information services).

While many of these solutions (such as automatic vehicle location [AVL], and global positioning systems [GPS]) are widely available, others (such as itinerary planning and pedestrian ITS), are still being researched and proven. Currently, FTA and HHS have funded 11 ITS operational tests, which are specifically being conducted to illustrate how technology can enable improved human service transportation coordination. In addition to these 11 deployments, there are many other deployments and strategies that showcase the extent to which transit ITS is being used to improve the operation of public transportation. This report highlights several examples that illustrate automated dispatching; successful brokerage and decentralization; innovative methods of presenting directional/traveler information (e.g., remote infrared audible signals (RIAS); connection protection; and innovative integration, such as shared integration software, integrated fare collection, and integrated operation of public and private resources.

Once implemented, many available technologies can help overcome the needs, barriers, and gaps of all travelers; there are many issues and barriers associated with introducing new technologies into organizations. These challenges, if not overcome prior to and during implementation, can affect how useful the technology will be. Largely, these concerns can be either institutional or technical. Those which are institutional usually relate to:

  • Financing for technology procurement and deployment.
  • Coordinating with other providers and agencies in order to jointly procure systems and/or exchange data and information.
  • Lacking ITS technical experience – this can relate to either human or computer resources.
  • Procuring technology from vendors who are unfamiliar or inexperienced with human service agency operations and transportation services.

Technical concerns usually relate to:

  • The automation of particular functions: while automation can be useful to transportation service providers, it can sometimes confuse and alienate customers, especially those who are transportation disadvantaged. It can also be difficult for all customers to utilize and/or benefit from automation, especially in rural areas.
  • A lack of technical guidance and information: while guidance on technology implementations is becoming increasingly common among larger transit agencies, there is still a shortfall in guidance geared toward smaller transit and human service agencies. This concern is one that could easily benefit from peer-to-peer technical assistance programs.
  • A lack of ITS infrastructure, especially in rural areas: many technologies require a solid communications infrastructure to be deployed successfully. Smaller transit agencies or those in a rural environment are particularly vulnerable to these types of problems. Some of the successful integration examples illustrate methods to overcome issues such as joint procurements or using one integrated communications system that can accommodate several transportation agencies.

SAIC prepared a summary of preliminary findings with respect to the main topic areas of the Foundation Research: current "state of the practice" (previous research and coordination efforts); mobility and accessibility needs, barriers, and gaps; and technologies which improve access and mobility. This summary was provided to a series of six discussion groups, which were held in the spring of 2005 with consumer/advocacy organizations, community non-profit transportation providers, public transit agencies, public administrators, and private industry (brokers and technology providers). The purpose of these groups was to validate the background information that had been assembled. More importantly, these groups helped the SAIC team to identify the components of an "ideal" accessible and coordinated transportation system, determine the barriers to implementing/building such a system, and to document the benefits that this type of system could provide to both the agencies and the users (customers). While the groups provided many helpful opinions on these topics, the majority of the groups agreed that:

  • Effectively incorporating the "human factor" into transportation service is one of the most significant gaps that currently exists; therefore, all of the groups agreed that regardless of the technology used, having more well-trained, "human" assistance available to customers throughout the system and at all access points would be a key element in an ideal transportation service.
  • The groups also felt that institutional barriers and "turfism" would be the main barriers to achieving an "ideal" transportation system (i.e., coordinated, accessible, flexible, and reliable). These institutional issues could occur within the providers, agencies, or interest groups that support human service transportation.
  • Overwhelmingly, the main benefit of the ideal system would be improved accessibility for all Americans, especially those who are transportation disadvantaged.
  • While there is a large amount of technical assistance available to providers, agencies, and customers, the groups did conclude that all groups involved in transportation could benefit from a clearinghouse or help desk. In addition, human service transportation (and coordination) is best achieved with guidance from high-level leadership, which is needed to communicate the goals and vision as well as to provide guidance on how the lower-level entities can contribute to achieving them.

Using the background information and the results of the discussion group, the SAIC team worked to create a preliminary picture of the ideal transportation system that could best meet the transportation needs of all Americans. In keeping with the USDOT and FTA vision, the "ideal" system would be a replicable, scalable TMCC; this center could exist physically or virtually. The discussion groups verified the need for this type of system, but cautioned that one model may not work well in all applications.

Although this report presents a preliminary picture of this TMCC, the core functions and/or subsystems which would need to be incorporated and included are as follows:

  • Tracking/Communication system.
    • Connection protection subsystem (to minimize traveler disruption and confusion at transfer points).
    • Asset visibility subsystem (to support scheduling activities and the provision of real-time vehicle status to travelers).
    • Safety and security subsystem (to provide facility, vehicle and passenger safety via equipment such as on-board cameras and collision detection, panic buttons, facility cameras).
  • Fare Payment and Management system.
    • Invoicing subsystem (to automatically allocates costs across programs based on pre-agreed formula, develops invoicing reports, minimize preparation time and errors).
    • Eligibility subsystem (to automatically determine eligibility requirements and respond to service requests).
    • Fare collection and payment subsystem.
  • Booking system (which should be accessible through a variety of means, including 211 or 511 and the Internet, as well as providing customers with the option of dealing with a live operator).
  • Scheduling system (which optimizes asset utilization and minimizes customer wait and travel time.
  • Traveler information system.
  • Centralized database (including information on funding, eligibility requirements, fare structures, customer information, etc.).
  • Centralized data dictionary (to translate information between subsystems, funding agencies, and transit providers).

Proposed Traveler Management Coordination Center (Physical Solution)

Figure ES-1: Proposed Traveler Management Coordination Center (Physical Solution)

As the USDOT and FTA continue to move forward with their goal of creating a TMCC, they should work to ensure that the effort is integrated with previous coordination efforts (such as UWR) and technology deployments (including the 11 ITS operational tests). The general observations of the MSAA Foundation Research support the USDOT’s overall paradigm shift toward focusing on Transportation System Management and Operations as opposed to the deployment of a specific technology. Therefore, the proposed solution that has been laid out here does not indicate a need for new infrastructure or technology. Rather, the approach detailed will make better use of existing resources (including ITS) to enhance processes and improve collaboration. Thus, stakeholder involvement appears to be a key element in keeping the requirements applicable to the user communities. Many of the discussion group panelists have expressed their desire to remain involved as the concept of operations is assembled and a model deployment is carried out.

As the USDOT and FTA proceed with a formal model deployment for this type of system, measures of effectiveness should be determined in advance so that the benefits of such a deployment can be gauged. Candidate sites for the model deployment can be scored to determine the most appropriate sites. Using information from previous deployments, both successful and unsuccessful, and gaining input from stakeholders will help move toward achieving the vision of a replicable, scalable TMCC.


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