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Center Identification Number:    576-15

Project Title:    Enhancing the Rider Experience: The Impact of Real-Time Information on Transit Ridership

Principal Investigators:        

Philip L. Winters

Center for Urban Transportation Research

Phone (813) 974-9811


Rafael Perez

Computer Science and Engineering


Miguel Labrador

Computer Science and Engineering

(813) 974-3260





Center for Urban Transportation Research

University of South Florida                                             

Tampa, Florida 33620                                                  




External Project Contact:


Ike Ubaka, FDOT




I.    Project Objective

The project objective is to evaluate the effect of real-time information on transit system ridership and wireless system performance.


II.    Project Abstract

More transit systems are using Advanced Public Transportation Systems (APTS) technologies such as Automatic Vehicle Locators (AVL) guided by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to provide real-time transit arrival information — not just schedules — to passengers and managers of public transit. While improved transit information would generally facilitate transit access, the availability of such information in real-time, could enhance the ride by increasing the individual’s productivity and/or entertainment value of the trip itself.

Wireless systems such as NextBus currently provide a mechanism for providing actual arrival information - not schedules — to riders as well as generate reports for transit system operators.  Wireless connections also increases the options for delivering this information including wireless phones, pagers, and Internet accessible devices like personal digital assistants (PDAs).

However, wireless systems also offer the opportunity for enhancing the experience of actually riding transit. Wireless “mesh” networks can use every client device (e.g., cell phone, PDA, laptop) as relay points or router for network traffic to increase the speed and connectivity of those devices to the Internet.  One Florida-based company claims its can deliver up to 6 Mbps to each user in a “mesh” wireless network.  The firm says, “Ad hoc peer-to-peer routing technology makes mobile broadband applications affordable and is available today. The technology leverages patented and proven routing techniques originally developed for battlefield communications. By pushing intelligence and decision making to the edge of the network, highly mobile and scalable broadband networks can be built at very low cost.” With high speeds and wireless connections, time on the transit vehicle can be spent working on the Internet, checking email, etc.

We are presented with a unique opportunity to begin the process of examining a wide range of potential wireless/transit applications.  In particular, this project will combine the soon-to-be acquired wireless network on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida with the very successful BullRunner circulator system (est. 800,000+ passenger trips per year), the new “FareFree” (universal pass) agreement between USF and Hartline, Mall Shuttle, and just-off-the-campus University Area Transit Center.

In partnership with the USF College of Engineering and USF Parking and Transportation services, CUTR proposes to match wireless applications with strategies to increase the use of transit alternatives such as shuttles and free bus service. For purposes of this project, we will refer to this project’s system as “Wi-Ride.” One or more locations on campus will serve as a test bed for Wi-Ride.

The purpose of the USF Parking and Transportation Services (PATS) effort is to improve management and operations of the system. According to USF’s contract with BBN, the mesh network vendor, the installed system must meet USF’s objective of locating and obtaining specific data from the shuttle buses on route, with the purpose of storing and redirecting this continuously transmitted information. The vehicle information to be transmitted and recorded include:

·        Information in real time at a minimum data rate of 1.5 Mbs.

·        Vehicle location within a minimum of 5 meters, updated a minimum of every two seconds.

·        Unique automatic vehicle identification code.

·        Vehicle velocity (directly measured or derived from location change /time.)

·        Driver identification system: keypad, touchscreen, card swiper, or equivalent driver input method.

·        Route identification system: keypad, touchscreen, card swiper, or equivalent driver input method.

·        Emergency distress alarm unobtrusively driver activated.

·        Automatic route deviation alarm.

While the USF PATS project focuses on management and operations issues, this NCTR project focuses on the “amenities” that could enhance ridership.  Several of these potential improvements were already identified by USF and BBN as potential future enhancements and include, but are not limited to:

·        Live streaming video on the vehicles and/or stops (see example to right)

·        Communicating to riders via messages from onboard bus destination signs

·        Communicating to riders through handheld devices such as a Palm Pilot that displays essentially the same information as the Internet in a Palm or Windows CE compatible format.

III.    Task Descriptions

Task 1: Literature and Existing Systems Review

Conduct literature review using TRIS and other sources to locate research about wireless applications in the transit industry. Review capabilities of USF’s wireless communication system (voice, video, and data). Assess capabilities of wireless options to connect network to the Internet and USF’s network. Review additional wireless communication services available in the area for possible use and system expansion. This task will also identify and review video and/or voice devices that could be used for transit wireless applications, including communication profiles and loads for network design.

Task 2: Needs and Technology Assessments

Subtask 2.1 Evaluate the needs of transit riders, transit professionals and others based on the results of a USF online survey, a review of the literature, and consultation with key industry experts (e.g., TRB committee).

As it is presently drafted by CUTR for another project, the USF Parking and Transportation online survey will collect information from students, faculty and staff on transportation and parking issues.  The survey will also establish baseline measures on the following transit and shuttle related services:

1.      Familiarity with shuttle and transit systems (HARTLine)

2.      Frequency of use of those systems

3.      Willingness to ride based on access to home and the availability of night and weekend service

4.      Willingness to ride without the need to transfer

5.      Willingness to ride if knew where services went

6.      Estimation of what constitutes a “reasonable wait time” at a bus stop

7.      Experience using the USF P&T website

We propose to add questions to this existing survey dealing with issues and concerns that may be addressed by having access to wireless network. For example, additional questions could assess the perceived attraction of Internet access on transit vehicles as well as perceived safety and security issues (e.g., accessing the service, at the stops, and on-board) that could be addressed by a wireless solution.

Subtask 2.2 With information gleaned from the literature review and in consultation with USF P&T management and operations staff and USF legal department, identify the types of video, voice, and/or data information, storage requirements (e.g. on-board vs. central location), and location options (e.g., on-board vs. at bus stops) that could be collected and distributed by Wi-Ride. Conduct an analysis of whether the newly installed wireless system can fully support those customer needs and what the Wi-Ride system design will look like.

Deliverable: Technical memorandum summarizing Tasks 1 and 2

Task 3: Wi-Ride System Implementation

Implement Wi-Ride system design including (1) selecting, purchasing and installing equipment and (2) developing database to collect and process the different types of information identified in Subtask 2.2. Equipment to be purchased may include, but not be limited to, on-board video cameras, microphones, voltage suppression devices, removable memory devices, VCR, lockbox or protective housings, and central processing units/computers.

Task 4: Conduct Wi-Ride System Testing

Interconnect wireless network with databases and test. Modify systems and databases as required. Test quality of information (e.g., data, video, etc.) captured and used by Wi-Ride. Test impact of Wi-Ride on USF Parking and Transportation’s operational needs for the wireless network.

Task 5: Market Wi-Ride

The promotion of the Wi-Ride system will be coordinated with USF P&T and the New North Transportation Alliance (NNTA) (the transportation management organization serving commuters in the University area. The Wi-Ride equipped vehicle and/or location will be appropriately branded/marked (assuming not all vehicles or stops will be able to be equipped). University communication channels such as the student newspaper and faculty newspaper will be explored for news stories as well as advertising outlets.  Information on the project will be made available via website connections through USF P&T.  Finally, promotional materials will be developed (e.g., fliers, direct mail using campus mail system) for distribution.

Task 6: Measuring the impact

After approximately six months of operation, conduct a follow-up survey of the USF community using another online survey.  Additional questions will be added regarding specific Wi-Ride features as well as changes in attitudes regarding the perceived benefits of Wi-Ride to riders and nonriders.  USF P&T will track ridership counts by stop, route and vehicle that will also help measure the impact on enhancing transit ridership due to Wi-Ride. The impacts of the program among key groups (e.g., system managers and riders) will be designed to correlate to the Wi-Ride improvement and to minimize confounding variables to extent possible.

Task 7: Quarterly Progress Reports, Draft Final Report, Final Report and Technology Transfer

7.1       Prepare and submit quarterly reports to the FDOT Project Manager on the progress of the project.

7.2       Prepare draft final report and technology transfer materials for FDOT review and approval.

7.3       Upon FDOT approval of the draft final report, CUTR will prepare the final report and technology transfer materials.  The final report will be available on the NCTR website ( in HTML and pdf formats. 

The results of this project will be made available at conferences in Florida such as Florida Public Transportation Association, APTA, TRB and other related. A brief presentation by the PI will be recorded and available for playback as a streaming media presentation on the NCTR website.

Deliverable: Provide 75 copies of the final report to FDOT

IV.    Student Involvement

Two Computer Science & Engineering graduate students will play a role in the research and data collection as well and the analysis and report writing. 

Other anticipated student benefits will include synthesis of information and technology transfer support.


V.    Relationship to Other Research Projects

Wireless applications are being used to improve operations.  The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles County is using wireless communication systems to speed up the public transit system with the use of bus-mounted transponders. It gives priority to transit vehicles at traffic signals while also relaying bus arrival information to bus-stop message boards.

Wireless applications also can be used to monitor passenger loadings and provide additional in-vehicle or at-stop security.  For example, the application of a wireless local area network could enhance the application of infrared motion analyzer (IRMA) automatic passenger counting systems. IRMA discerns the differences between boarding and exiting passengers at each door of transit vehicles.[1] On-board video can be used to ensure the safety and security of drivers and passengers.  In fact, such information may be a prudent risk management strategy.

Interest in expanding wireless technologies to increase transit ridership is on the rise. Maclean and Dailey report on a transit vehicle information system that delivers estimated departure times for buses at user-selectable geographic locations to Internet-enabled mobile devices.[2] The system uses real-time vehicle position reports to predict travel times to future locations. They point out that the physical restrictions of mobile devices (e.g., screen size and input options) affect user interaction and data presentation. NextBus ( is a commercial application of a similar effort. In Korea, research was conducted on how to provide transit en-route service information to passengers over ubiquitously available cellular phone devices while conforming to the emerging Korean ITS architecture.[3] Finally, a soon-to-be published report, TCRP A-20A(2) - Strategies for Improved Traveler Information, will provide a summary of existing practice in the area of improved traveler information. According to the project description, the summary will identify traveler information needs, assess the state of the art in information technologies, and prepare a number of case studies in the area of improved traveler information.

In effect, wireless applications can be seen as another feature or “amenity” to help build transit ridership. Our project will examine how various other “amenities” are assessed. For example, we will review Project B-10, Role of Passenger Amenities and Transit Vehicle Characteristics in Building Ridership. This research identified passenger amenities and transit vehicle characteristics that attract ridership, evaluated their relative impact on ridership, determined their relative cost-effectiveness, and provided the industry with practical tools that will assist transit professionals and policy makers in analyzing investment decisions.

CUTR also will review SmartBus applications and coordinate with other technology projects ongoing at CUTR (e.g. RAPTS, NCTR).

VI.    Technology Transfer Activities/Peer Review

The final report will be available on the NCTR website ( in HTML and pdf formats.  The results of this project will be made available at conferences in Florida such as Florida Public Transportation Association, APTA, TRB and other related. A brief presentation by the PI will be recorded and available for playback as a streaming media presentation on the NCTR website.

Peer reviewers will include a representative from the appropriate TRB Committees and/or industry groups.

VII.    Potential Benefits of the Project

The potential benefits of this project include:

1.      Increased understanding of the potential opportunities and limitations of wireless communication systems to affecting transit system ridership, including data integration, coverage issues, bandwidth, security, etc.

2.      Creation of a “test bed” on a university for future testing of several wireless applications to transit system management and operations (e.g., engine telematics readout, headway management, etc.)

VIII.    TRB Keywords

Mode choice, ridership, transit vehicle operations, automatic vehicle location, information display systems, wireless communication systems, advanced traveler information systems

1. Time Line


Task/ Month



















Task 1



















Task 2



















Task 3



















Task 4



















Task 5



















Task 6



















Task 7



















1st Draft internal review



















2nddraft expert reviews



















3rd draft funder reviews



















Complete report




















 2. Budget


Enhancing the Rider Experience: The Impact of Real-Time Information on Transit and Vanpool Ridership

Budget Categories


Center Director Salary (rate X hours)


Faculty Salaries ($34.50/hr  X 402 hours)*


Administrative Staff Salaries (rate X hours)


Other Staff Salaries (rate X hours)


Student Salaries ($12.67/hr X 1530 hours)*


Staff Benefits


Total Salaries and Benefits




Permanent Equipment


Virtual Private Network router (e.g., Cisco 3002) - $600

Access Point (e.g., Cisco 1200)  - $500

On-board cameras (2) @ $200 each

Digital video recorder and storage  @ $2,000



Expendable Property/Supplies


Domestic Travel


Foreign Travel


Other Direct Costs (includes USF faculty)


Total Direct Costs


Indirect Costs


Total Costs



Notes:    This budget does not reflect any federal participation.

The project team will include faculty, students, and secretarial and other support staff who will work directly on the project and whose costs are reflected in the direct costs of the project as listed above.


* Average hourly labor rate is calculated by dividing the labor cost estimate by the total number of hours of all research faculty or students. 



[1] Counting The Cost : Transport Authorities Are Investing In Sophisticated Systems Showing  Where Passengers Get On And Off Vehicles. ITS International. Vol. 7, Issue no. 5

[2] Maclean, S.D. and D.J. Dailey. Wireless Internet Access to Real-time Transit Information.  Transportation Research Record 1791. 2002

[3] Oh, JY; Hong, JY; Lee, SK “Conceptual Design Of Client-Side En-Route Transit Information System Utilizing 3g Mobile Phones” 9th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems



National Center for Transit Research · at the Center For Urban Transportation Research · University of South Florida · 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 · Tampa, FL 33620-5375 · (813) 974-3120 · (813) 974-5168 · · Comments: