Winston-Salem Mobility Manager -- Technical Assistance Brief #8, September 1994
Winston-Salem Mobility ManagerTechnical Assistance Brief
The Winston-Salem Mobility Manager (WSMM) project is an operational test sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) under its Advanced Public Transportation Systems (APTS) program. The WSMM project participants include the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA), the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the University of North Carolina Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE), North Carolina State University (NCSU), and FTA.
The Winston-Salem, North Carolina metropolitan area has a population of about 320,000 according to the 1990 Federal census. It is located in the northwestern part of the state, near Greensboro, about 100 miles west of Raleigh/Durham, and about 100 miles northeast of Charlotte.
WSTA is part of the Winston-Salem Department of Transportation and is the coordinated provider of public transportation for the area. The agency employs a management company, ATC/Vancom, to run the day-to-day operations. WSTA's services include fixed-route and modified fixed-route bus service, demand-responsive paratransit (TransAID), downtown circulators, fringe parking with downtown shuttles, park-and-ride lots, carpool matching, and vanpools. The agency also leases vans to non-profit organizations once the vehicles have reached the end of their usefulness as vanpool transportation (typically after 5 years or 80,000 miles).
Fixed-route service covers an area of approximately 98 square miles, and carried about 3.5 million passengers in 1993. TransAID serves the surrounding area of Forsyth County, an area of approximately 409 square miles. TransAID carried about 170,000 passengers in 1993. Approximately 90 percent of TransAID travel is subscription trips that particular users make on a set schedule, usually several times a week.
WSTA also is about to begin construction of a $7 million multi-modal transportation center, which is projected to open in late 1995. The center will serve as a central facility for transit, traffic, and paratransit operations, as well as an off-street transportation transfer facility.
The objectives of the WSMM are of two types. The first, general in nature, intends to produce transferable results on a relatively broad level:
o Demonstrate mobility management in a mid-sized transit system
o Develop innovative APTS concepts for mid-sized cities
o Provide a test bed for future APTS technologies
The second, more concrete, includes those objectives specific to WSTA and the services affected by the test:
o Improve the quality, timeliness, and availability of customer information
o Increase the convenience of fare payments within and between modes
o Increase service reliability
o Minimize passenger travel and wait times
o Improve schedule adherence and incident response
o Improve the timeliness and accuracy of operating data for service planning and scheduling
o Provide integrated information management systems and develop improved management practices
o Facilitate the ability to provide discounted fares to special user groups
o Improve the mobility of users with ambulatory disabilities
The project has been designed in two phases. In Phase I, the project is testing a limited mobility management system for the demand-responsive service. The mobility management system, called the Paratransit Automated Scheduling System (PASS), was developed by Online Data Products. PASS is a scheduling system to automate the dispatching of service and a comprehensive management information system to automate reporting and billing. Until the start of the project, service requests, cancellations, assignments, reports, and billing information were initially recorded on paper by the dispatcher. The paper records were key-punched for computer-aided dispatch, billing, and long-term record keeping.
With PASS, when a user calls in to request or cancel a ride, the dispatcher feeds the information directly into the computer. In the case of a trip request, a vehicle is chosen based on its characteristics (size, whether it is lift-equipped, etc.), current location, other stops in its schedule, etc. The computer then adjusts the schedule of that vehicle to accommodate the user, and the dispatcher informs the vehicleÕs driver of the change. The computer also makes a record of the transaction for later billing and data collection.
A similar protocol is followed if there is a cancellation of a previously arranged ride or a regular subscription trip. PASS identifies the vehicle to which the trip was initially assigned and adjusts its schedule. The driver is notified of the change by the dispatcher.
Phase I will also be used as a test bed for other advanced technologies. Three of the paratransit vehicles will be used as test vehicles and will be fitted with additional equipment, including:
o Mobile data terminals (MDT) - for communication between the driver and dispatch. The driver's schedule, changes to it, and other appropriate messages from dispatch will appear on the screen. The driver also may use the terminal to send messages to dispatch.
o 'Smart Card' readers - a number of patrons will be given Smart Cards to use on the test vehicles.
o Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) - most likely a Global Positioning System (GPS) based system.
In Phase II, the mobility manager will be expanded to more modes, including fixed-route bus service, vanpools, carpools, and private taxi services. In addition, the equipment tested in Phase I and showing promise will be installed on more vehicles. Finally, more innovative approaches will be tested. These may include:
o Linking TransAID service to fixed-route bus service. Clients would be picked up at their homes, and, if feasible, transferred to fixed-route service for the rest of their door-to-door trip. The potential of the system is both to ensure a quick connection from TransAID to or from fixed-route (via AVL and improved communication technology), and to allow for a single payment for the trip (via Smart Cards).
o Multi-modal congestion management. The system would be integrated with Winston-Salem's Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) to allow for coordination between traffic and transit, signal pre-emption, etc.
o Testing and development of standardized hardware and software. These include the testing of the Vehicle Area Network (VAN) developed by the USDOT and standardized databases and data transfer methods.
The extent of Phase II implementation will depend in part on the results of Phase I and the level of funding. Longer term plans include linking the WSMM to the Winston-Salem area traffic management system to fully integrate transit and traffic management.
The Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, through an evaluation contractor, Cambridge Systematics, Inc., will conduct an independent 'national' evaluation. The purpose of the national evaluation is to determine the degree to which both the National APTS program and the local objectives of the test are met. An independent national evaluation is conducted to ensure that the reported results are unbiased and that the data collection and analyses are standardized and, thus, transferable and comparable to those from other sites. Coordinated with the national evaluation, ITRE and NCSU are conducting a limited 'local evaluation' of the system, which will address issues of local interest.
Data will be collected by WSTA, NCSU, and ITRE, for use by Cambridge Systematics in the national evaluation, while, at the same time, being used by ITRE and NCSU for the local evaluation. This will limit duplication of effort, while permitting independent evaluations.
A variety of methods and techniques are being used to monitor and evaluate the results of the project, including: measurements taken from automatically collected records, direct measurements, surveys, and interviews. All the pre-operational data has been collected. Operational data will be collected for analysis and evaluation purposes after the system has gone through a shakedown period and the dispatchers have adjusted to the new system.
The national evaluation will address the following types of issues:
o What impacts has PASS had on dispatching time, convenience, etc.?
o What do the dispatchers think about the system?
o What impact has PASS had on management functions (e.g., billing, record keeping)?
o What effects (if any) do the clients notice? What do they think about PASS?
o How well did the 'test' technologies (i.e., MDTs, Smart Cards, AVL) work?
o What impact has PASS had on ridership?
Initial planning of the project began about two and a half years ago. A request for proposals was issued in November of 1993 and the contract for the Phase I system was signed in May of 1994. Installation of the system began shortly thereafter.
Phase I became operational in early August 1994, and the test will continue until the end of November. The dispatchers are still adjusting to the new scheduling system. Online Data Products estimates that it takes approximately six months for the operators of a system to become proficient with it.
Funding sources are still being sought for Phase II. WSTA is looking at local, state, Federal, and private funding sources. The starting date will not be established until funding has been secured.
Interim results will be described in future briefs. A final report will be released after the completion of Phase II. For more information on the Winston-Salem Mobility Manager project, contact Nedra Woodyatt of WSTA, at (910) 727-8131, or John Stone of NCSU, at (919) 515-7732.
There are a variety of local initiatives and APTS operational tests being evaluated across the U.S. The evaluations cover all three focus areas of the APTS Program: Smart Traveler technology, Smart Vehicle technology, and Smart Intermodal Systems. For more information contact FTA's Advanced Public Transportation Systems Division at (202) 366-0080.