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How Do I Get Started with Technology?

The following is the first in a series of technology alerts that will be shared with the NADTC mailing list. Subscribe now to receive these posts in your inbox!

So what is it about technology that has become so critical to fixed-route and demand response transit?  Research has concluded that technology has the potential to “make a substantial contribution to” improve human service transportation.  What is this contribution?

Technology can directly address and overcome barriers that have led to unmet mobility needs facing certain population groups, including older adults and persons with disabilities.

Technology can solve problems related to service availability, service information/knowledge, system accessibility, system reliability and safety, and system flexibility. Technology generates significant efficiency and service quality benefits by:

  • facilitating the coordination of demand response transit services;
  • integrating disparate systems operated by various agencies in a region; and
  • providing greater visibility and situational awareness of both travelers and agency vehicles.

Which technologies are the most prevalent in transportation for older adults and persons with disabilities?

  • Scheduling, dispatching and routing systems;
  • Customer interfaces, such as telephone, smartphones, interactive voice response (IVR), Internet, etc.;
  • Traveler information and trip planning systems, particularly for customers with accessibility challenges;
  • Vehicle communications such as on-board mobile data computers (e.g., tablets);
  • Automatic vehicle location (AVL) and other systems that assist the operations of demand-response service;
  • Integrated fare payment and management (payment, collection and processing) systems; and
  • Eligibility certification and billing systems.

Determining whether or not the deployment of technology is appropriate for an agency requires a number of steps.

  1. Understanding the technologies is the first step. There are several resources available to learn about these technologies. Perhaps the most informative is Module 7 of the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) ePrimer.
  1. Know what the customer wants and how the system being developed must perform. This step requires that you identify user needs and the external factors that will influence technology deployment.  Here “user” means anyone who will interact with the new technology system.  So, a user could be the customer traveling using an agency’s transportation services, agency staff who will be using the new technology, and other individuals who will interact with the new technology (e.g., caregivers, social service agency staff, medical office staff).
  1. Determine the functionality that is required to meet users’ needs. Here an agency would define “what” the technology system is required to do (versus “how” the technology will work).  These functional requirements are often used in a procurement that the agency may use to purchase software and hardware that meets the requirements.
  1. Study various system alternatives and determine a preferred solution.
  1. Finally, verify the solution using a rigorous process that ensures that the solution to be implemented meets the user needs and functional requirements identified earlier. The entire planning-design-implementation process will be the subject of the next NADTC Technology e-Alert.

A simple way to think about the process from the 40,000-foot view is shown in the three-box graphic.
Tech Blog 1 graphic JA

In summary, prior research has confirmed that technology can have a significant impact on demand response transportation, particularly for older adults and persons with disabilities.  A great deal of resources exist for agency staff to become familiar with the most appropriate technologies, including those listed in the Resources section.  Once an agency becomes familiar with the technologies, they can proceed with a process to define, procure and implement those technologies that best meet the user needs and functional requirements.  Stay tuned to this series because the keys to a successful technology deployment will be described in the next Technology e-Alert!

Technology Resource List

 

About the Author:

Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting, has over 36 years of experience, and is nationally and internationally recognized in transportation technology consulting. Her wide-ranging and in-depth expertise is in several specialty areas including systems engineering, technology strategies for public agencies, public transit technology, and traveler information strategies and systems. Ms. Schweiger has provided nearly 50 transportation agencies with technology technical assistance, including developing and applying structured processes to procure and implement technology systems; providing detailed procurement and implementation assistance; evaluating technology deployments; conducting research and delivering training.



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8 Comments on "How Do I Get Started with Technology?"

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Marguerite Zarrillo
Guest

Very informational.

Carol Schweiger
Guest

Thank you, Marguerite!

Barry Connor
Guest

The problems facing Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) scheduling are significantly different from those facing fixed route/fixed timetable services.
Many software solutions claim to have solved the from-anywhere-to-anywhere scheduling problem but what evidence is there that they have succeeded ?
One key issue is the ability to reschedule after every trip request. Which systems are able to do this (as opposed to claiming to do this )?

Carol Schweiger
Guest

Agreed, Barry! Navigating the software solutions that are available is challenging, and determining which one directly addresses an agency’s requirements is a process that is partially described in the second technology blog. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to state which software system(s) work best because that is all based on what an agency needs from the software.

Lalita Sen
Guest

I think this is a great topic as we head towards the next century with many people living longer and developing disabilities . Technology will become more important. I hope we read more about the latest developments.

Carol Schweiger
Guest

Thank you, Lalita! It is indeed a timely topic. There are many things that an agency needs to consider as they embark on a technology project, and we are going to address these in upcoming e-alerts.

Rik Opstelten
Guest

Excellent post, and a great point on ensuring that what you do with technology responds to a real need. Don’t just become enamored of a technology solution because it’s cool, or everyone else has it. Instead, ask yourself if what you’re going to invest in supports larger goals. A smartphone enabled online booking system may not be that important for a small agency with a few vehicles transporting primarily older adults, for example.

Carol Schweiger
Guest

Thank you very much, Rik! Your points are excellent. Procuring any kind of technology must be needs-driven, not just because it looked great on the tradeshow floor. And I completely agree, technology can address specific needs, but it does not necessarily solve all problems!

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