N-CATT Tech News February 2020

  • Date: February 12, 2020

Hello Everyone,

N-CATT, the new National Center for Applied Transit Technology, is getting off of the ground. I am grateful to N-CATT staff and others, including our partners at the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), for working together as we begin to produce and share resources, and create valuable technical assistance (TA) opportunities available to rural, small urban, and tribal transit agencies.

We recognize that local and regional goals, cultures, and resources vary so that solutions and the ways to reach them likewise vary. By sharing case studies, researching technologies, and offering a helping hand, we offer a bridge to you, your stakeholders, and your communities to technologies that enable efficiencies, on-demand transportation, multimodal and program coordination, and, perhaps most importantly, a creative mindset. We are not mere technology boosters; we seek to adapt right-sized and appropriate technology solutions that solve problems and enable goals to be reached.

Take a look at our logo, a bus full of cats on the move. Cats are savvy creatures who diligently research their human partners and the challenges of their own surroundings. We aim to do the same as we bring information and assistance related to applied technologies with full attention paid to your challenges.

Stay warm,
Sheryl Gross-Glaser
Editor, N-CATT Tech News
Director, National Center for Applied Transit Technology
Community Transportation Association of America

N-CATT Technical Assistance Opprotunities

Unlike most cats, who spend quite an impressive amount of time napping, we at N-CATT are busy working. Right now, we are seeking applications for two exciting technical assistance (TA) opportunities:

Technology Strike Teams

N-CATT is is looking for small-urban, rural, and tribal transit agencies to apply for in-depth technical assistance from N-CATT’s Innovative Technology Strike Teams. These teams will work with up to four agencies to develop technology action plans that help the agencies understand how to accomplish their goals, what technologies will be useful, and and how to implement those new technologies.

More details are available in the Request for Applications (RFA) (PDF). For a list of questions and answers, please Andrew Carpenter at carpenter@ctaa.org. Final applications are due by 5 p.m. EST on March 6.

State Technology Summits

N-CATT is seeking State Departments of Transportation to hold State Technology Summits with their small-urban, rural, and tribal agencies. This is an opportunity for regional or local transit agencies across a state to address regional or statewide challenges and work together in a focused setting with peers to develop an actionable plan for integrating and taking advantage of new technologies.

More details are available in the Request for Applications (RFA) (PDF). For a list of questions and answers, please Andrew Carpenter at carpenter@ctaa.org. Final applications are due by 5 p.m. EST on March 6.

TA Center Resources and Assistance

NCMM on Technology and Coordination

NCMM’s Technologist, Kevin Chambers, of Full Path Transit Technology, is available to assist with questions. Please email questions to technologist@nc4mm.org.

NCMM is hosting the CCAM 2020 Webinar Series: A Call to Coordination. CCAM partner agencies are hosting this webinar series to increase local, state, and federal coordination to enhance accessible, efficient transportation options. The webinars will address the most prevalent barriers to transportation coordination, gathered through the 2018 CCAM State and Local Focus Groups. Presentations will be on the second Thursday of each month, and each month a CCAM agency will highlight their programs. Click here for information about the series.

NADTC Technology Blog Series

With decades of paratransit operations experience, Steve Yaffe has penned a valuable series of blog posts that provide practical information for assessing, procuring, and implementing new technologies. Yaffe is proprietor of Yaffe Mobility Consulting LLC; he formerly served as the Transit Services Manager for the Arlington County (Virginia) Department of Environmental Services – Transportation Division. The blog series builds upon a similar technology series that NADTC posted a few years ago, written by technology consultant Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting. Schweiger has national and international experience in transportation technology consulting, including many rural and small urban projects.

National RTAP Looks at Electric Buses

National RTAP hosted the Rural Transit Zero-Emission Vehicle Deployments Webinar on Nov. 5, 2019, which discussed electric vehicles in the rural and small city context. Staff from the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) made a presentation about zero-emission bus (ZEB) technology, guidance on electrical usage and infrastructure needs to support ZEB deployments, as well as strategies that can help electric utilities and transit agencies build and maintain mutually beneficial partnerships throughout vehicle deployment projects. The webinar featured a case study that focused on the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), in Aspen, CO, and its partnership with its electric cooperative, Holy Cross Energy (HCE), throughout their battery electric bus deployment.

RTAP celebrated National Battery Day on Feb. 20 by pointing its Twitter followers to its topic guide with resources about electric bus technology, policies, funding, and case studies. Follow RTAP on Twitter at @nat_rtap.

Mixing Technology + Local Cultures = Small Transit Agency Case Studies

The challenge of delivering quality transportation services to sparsely populated areas is one shared across the US and around the world. The bottom line from case studies is that a mix of newer technologies plus old-fashioned partnerships, coordination, and, of course, funding is the classic recipe for successful technology adoption and pilot projects.

Sampling of Approaches

Opportunities for State DOTs (and others) to Encourage Shared-Use Mobility Practices in Rural Areas (PDF), is a report full of local and statewide case studies of innovation through technology and of risks taken through the application of technologies. Just four of the many examples that marry local or statewide culture are:

  • The Green Raiteros program in rural California, which uses technology to make more widely available a local culture of shared rides;
  • The Michigan Mobility Challenge, a partnership of several state agencies, which leveraged $8 million to fund innovative projects, such as a pilot of automated wheelchair securement, a coordination project for accessible transportation in the Upper Peninsula, wayfinding technology for people with visual disabilities, and dynamic ride hailing for paratransit through an app and online access;
  • The Vermont statewide trip planner that will use GTFS and GTFS-Flex; and
  • Two rural ridehailing NEMT programs, one in Missouri and the other in Minnesota.

Challenges include inadequate broadband service in rural areas, limited funding, and serving populations of the unbanked and those without smartphones. Please note that though this report is recent, many of the case studies were just getting started and results were not available. Some of the case studies indicated disappointing results that require exploration.

More than Lines of Code or Newest Phone

Studies arrive at the same conclusions that the implementation and effective use of technology do not come free and that though there is the potential for producing valuable results, success requires time-tested strategies of (1) identifying gaps in and needs for transportation services; (2) forming and sustaining partnerships, whether public, private, or both; (3) fitting shared solutions to local, regional , or statewide goals; and (4) dealing with formidable challenges, including providing accessible transportation with additional vehicles, the perennial need to raise funds, and serving edge populations that are expensive to serve (such as people who are unbanked and those who do not have smartphones).

Adjusted Perspective, but No Magic

A white paper from the World Economic Forum, Transforming Rural Mobility in Japan and the World, reframes the hurdles of rural transit by linking them to economic vitality and development, as well as generation of tax revenues. It challenges us to think in terms of common destinations and transportation as part of a broader local or regional economic landscape. Interesting indicators of rural transit viability are offered, including examining trends at one’s agency in driver ages over a 10-year period – up or down to indicate a growing attraction or dwindling of the driver workforce.

Current solutions explored are:

  • Microtransit, defined as demand-based transportation with dynamic routing that is either door-to-door, stop-to-stop, or a mixture of the two;
  • “Resident involved” or, as Americans call it, volunteer-based transportation that is either scheduled or on demand; and
  • Seamless intermodal integration, such as Denmark’s FlexDanmark program, not discussed in this report, but which represents a level more integrated than traditional one-call/one-click services.

The white paper does not deliver magical or revolutionary solutions; rather it calls upon us to press for purpose-based transportation partnerships, such as healthcare or employer-based services; expanding or creating one-call/one-click/one-tap coordinated scheduling, dispatch and payment systems; and well-worn strategies of coordinated vehicle practices, such as common maintenance, consolidated programs, and the like, all of which are made more possible through technology.

The Stories that Data Can’t Tell

One may ask what value data collection provides when staff at small transit agencies know their riders and their communities so well already. The following resources paint a picture of strategic collection and use of data to glean significant insights. [Editor’s Note: This article, as updated, originally appeared in the Mobility Management News].

Technology Enhancements for Volunteer Driver Programs

It turns out that opposites do attract and sometimes those pairings provide substantial value. This is so it with the combination of the low-tech, personalized service of volunteer transportation with the efficiency of particular technologies, the topic of Innovations in Volunteer Transportation, a report from MassMobility. This report highlights examples of increasing capacity of volunteer driver programs through technology. Topics covered are technology employed for scheduling and dispatching; meeting passenger needs and preferences; data management and analysis; cross-program collaboration and coordination; and funding and grants management.

The report provides an excellent example for each topic covered, and, at only six pages long, this resource is a quick read. The case studies hail from many states.

Senior Transportation Data

One state has analyzed data about many aspects of services that its councils on aging (COAs) deliver. One of these reports, all from the Massachusetts statewide COA database project, shows what modes of transportation Bay State COAs are using, and the means by which, and purposes for, providing transportation. The charts also quickly explain how communities of different sizes provide transportation service. This eight-page report is a nice case study of how data can provide a brief description of services, something that is useful for grants, collaboration with other programs, adjustments to services, and comparisons across different types of communities.

Performance Measurement and Evaluation

Social and Economic Sustainability Performance Measures for Public Transportation is a TCRP report that is best suited for specialists in data collection, evaluation, and analysis, but it offers good lessons for novices. The case studies, which look mostly at large transit systems, supply examples of processes to identify performance measures and frameworks for their use. The appendices offer a treasure trove of measures employed by different agencies and information from previous studies.

Words of wisdom given space in this report include suggested data sources (p. 20), advice about employing data and analysis from partner agencies and organizations (p. 14-15), and insightful questions to ask to determine the quality of performance measures (p. 38 and A 10-11). A concise takeaway is that it may be better to avoid setting targets and instead institute directional goals (p. 13).

N-CATT Meows on Twitter

Find N-CATT meows at @TransitNCATT.

N-CATT on the Bus

In the spirit of “you can’t make this up,” we will be bringing news of cats, cartoon and otherwise, on buses. This month we feature a transit-riding feline named Caspar. He is a senior cat, eligible for a bus pass, who regularly rides without human accompaniment or caretaker on an 11-mile route in the United Kingdom.