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Center Identification Number:  77711   


Project Title:  Travel Assistant Device (TAD) to Aid Transit Riders with Special Needs  


Co-Principal Investigators:


Sean J. Barbeau
Research Associate, CUTR
Phone: (813) 974 -7208


Philip L. Winters
TDM Program Director, CUTR
Phone: (813) 974 -9811


Nevine Georggi
Research Associate, CUTR
Phone: (813) 974-9770


Rafael Perez
Professor, Computer Science & Engineering
Phone: (813) 974 -3437


Miguel Labrador
Professor, Computer Science & Engineering
Phone: (813) 974 -3260





Center for Urban Transportation Research

University of South Florida

Fax: 813-974-5168


External Project Contact:     


Amy Datz

Public Transportation Office





I.  Project Objective/Problem Statement

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recognizes that the benefits of transit such as increased mobility and reduced congestion depend on increasing ridership. Therefore, one key performance measure of success for transit agencies is the increase of ridership over the previous year. This proposal seeks to develop a software application, Travel Assistance Device (TAD), which uses multimedia cell phones with built-in global positioning systems to overcome the challenges facing new transit riders, especially those who are cognitively disabled. This device could increase fixed route transit use among the cognitively disabled. While riders with cognitive disabilities are the initial target market for this application, TAD could be used by any traveler, such as tourists who are unfamiliar with the region and its transit system.
Potential impacts of TAD include (1) increased transit ridership, (2) decreased costs to the transit agency by shifting some riders from paratransit to fixed route transit, (3) increased independence and improved quality of life for transit riders, and (4) increased productivity of transit agencies’ “travel trainers” (also called “travel instructors”) whose sole job is to provide one-on-one instruction for new riders or existing paratransit riders on how to use fixed-route transit. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit has agreed to participate in the development and testing of the TAD.

Navigating the transit system can be a major obstacle for attracting new riders, especially for special needs populations. A range of techniques, from advertising to online trip planners to the use of travel trainers, is used by transit agencies to overcome this barrier to increase ridership. Research has found that current informational materials do not fully meet this need. According to the National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), approximately half of the general population surveyed could not successfully plan an entire trip on the fixed-route transit system using printed information materials. This situation is magnified for many of the 50 million Americans with disabilities who depend on transit as their primary means to and from school, work, doctor appointments, and other essential activities. For those with cognitive disabilities (approximately 14.2 million Americans, or 6.9% of the population), it is especially daunting to plan and execute a trip without personal assistance from travel trainers provided by the transit agency or other group, especially on their first few trips.

For example, for travelers who need to journey from home to work via public transportation, multimedia alarms and reminders can be used to inform them when to board and when to deboard. Their location would trigger their phone to alert them to pull the cord for the next stop. These alarms could take a variety of forms (depending on the specific client), such as ringing, vibrating, playing a recorded audio message and showing a picture/video of the next stop or landmark.

Alarms could be triggered if the travelers deviate from their planned route. In addition, other people (e.g., parent or guardian, social worker, and travel trainer) could be notified of such deviation from route. The cell phone provides an easy way for these individuals to contact the traveler to advise them of what they are supposed to do next (e.g., get off at the next stop).

CUTR’s prior work, funded by Florida Department of Transportation through the National Center for Transit Research, with Global Positioning System (GPS)-enabled pocket PCs and cell-phones, in addition to recent advances in mobile communications technology, have led the research team to conclude that “GPS-enabled” cell phones could serve as personalized Travel Assistant Devices (TAD). That project included the development of software that uses GPS-enabled phones to collect travel behavior data such as travel path and travel speed and provide personalized advice based on that behavior. Another project has demonstrated the ability to collect digital pictures recorded by cell phones and display these images on a map-based web page. Also in final development is the use of using GPS information to deliver targeted text messages based on the location of the cell phone.

The project team will design and develop a software system based on GPS-enabled cell phones to act as a TAD for transit riders. Various forms of informational prompts will be delivered to the rider in a “just-in-time” method such as triggering the phone to ring and vibrate when the rider should pull the stop cord in order to arrive at the correct stop. Other, more complex communications may include delivering an audio message from the phone that would tell the person what to do based on their current location. For the sight or hearing-impaired, the phone’s vibrate feature could alert them to a nearing stop. Automated alarms can also be triggered and the travel trainer remotely alerted if a rider wanders off his or her pre-determined path. Traditional phone communication is possible between the rider and the trainer, which will allow the rider to be guided to the correct location if lost. More advanced information, such as directions or maps based on the current location of the rider, could also be accessed by the trainer or family members at any point.


II.  Objectives/Tasks

This project will be conducted in two phases:
o Phase 1 – Technology Development & Prototype Testing of TAD.
o Phase 2 – Large-Scale Field Testing of TAD and Development of Travel Trainer TAD Training Program.

The project objectives for Phase 1 include:
o Design and develop Travel Assistant Device prototype software for GPS-enabled cell phones that will guide transit riders with mental or cognitive disabilities in utilizing the transit system.
o Create an online, map-based web page that will provide a caretaker and travel trainer with the means to remotely monitor the transit rider’s location when desired.

The following tasks will be conducted in Phase 1. The development of Phase 2 scope will be part of the final report.

Task 1. Identify requirements for working with individuals with mental/cognitive/physical conditions.

o Review and satisfy USF’s Institutional Research Board (IRB) requirements for research involving human subjects with mental/cognitive or physical disabilities.
o Identify the range of mental/cognitive/physical conditions that may make the TAD appropriate for use by individuals with these conditions.
o Form a local advisory panel consisting of transit agency representatives (e.g., HARTline in Tampa), a representative from the Successful Transition After Graduation for Exceptional Students (STAGES) program at USF, and others to provide input and feedback to the research team.

Task 2. Conduct literature review and technology assessment.

o Conduct a literature review to investigate the possibility that the concept is similar or duplicative of other investigations, applications or products.
o Review best practices for cell phone user interface design, including any special measures that have been identified for those with mental or cognitive disabilities.
o Review current ability of cellular carriers (i.e., Sprint, Nextel, Cingular, T-Mobile) to provide GPS-enabled cell phones and server-side solutions.
o Review multimedia capabilities of current commercially-available GPS-enabled phones for potential audio/visual/touch interactions with user.
o Review capabilities of third-party application designers to access GPS information from various cellular carriers and cell phones.

Deliverable: Technical Memorandum 1 –Summarizing Task 1 and Task 2

Task 3. Develop Travel Assistant Device software for cell phone and central database software

o Using information gathered in Task 2, identify a particular model GPS-enabled cell phone for a GPS enabled cell carrier that has multimedia capabilities and supports 3rd party application access to the GPS data.
o Purchase one cell phone for use in software development and testing and subscribe to appropriate cellular service plan.
o Design and develop user interface for cell phone software.
o Design and create database that will serve as a backend storage solution for the system.
o Design and develop communication architecture between cell phone and server.
o Design and develop any necessary server-side software, including GIS software using ArcObjects.
o Test and refine cell phone and server-side software as necessary.
o Conduct pilot testing with team members.
o Test accuracy of GPS-enabled cell phone when used inside bus, including in a “downtown” setting.
o Refine and finalize software based on pilot testing and user feedback.

Task 4. Develop web page with map interface

o Design and create web page interface including a map using GIS software, such as the GoogleMaps API.
o Design and create any software necessary to facilitate communication between the webpage and server database.
o Test and refine web page and related software as necessary.

Task 5. Conduct small scale pilot test with transit riders

o Identify up to six households with transit riders with special needs who are willing to participate in pilot testing of TAD and are appropriate clients.
o Obtain necessary permission from transit riders and/or legal guardians, following IRB protocols identified in Task 1.
o Purchase or otherwise acquire access to up to six cell phones for use by the households and subscribe to appropriate cellular service plans.
o Conduct pilot test for up to two month period, evaluating system performance and troubleshooting problems as necessary.
o Conduct qualitative follow-up with clients after pilot test period ends.
o Identify potential financial incentives for transit agencies to adopt the TAD and Travel Trainer programs, such as the cost savings if paratransit riders could be transferred to fixed route with the use of the TAD.

Task 6. Phase 1 - Final Draft Report

o Prepare draft final report, including a draft scope for Phase 2 (if appropriate), and submit for review and comment.
o Make revisions and print 16 copies of the final report.

III. Deliverables

Progress Reports will be submitted on a quarterly basis to the Research Center for processing. The first Quarterly Report will become due 3 months after a Notice to Proceed is issued to the consultant by the Department.  The deliverables will be a technical memorandum summarizing Task 1 and Task 2 and a final report, in both draft and final forms, as well as a two page summary to be included in the FDOT “Accessing Transit” report. Once approved by the FDOT Project Manager and the Research Office, the contractually required number copies of the final report, an electronic version, and an electronic version of the project summary will be submitted to the Research Office.


IV.  Project Schedule

                                       2006                                                        2007



























Task 1




Identify requirements for working with individuals with mental/cognitive/physical conditions







Task 2









Literature review to determine current technological abilities of GPS-enabled cell phones and effective user interface design



25% 50% 75%









Task 3




Develop Travel Assistant Device software for cell phones and central database software














Task 4


Develop web page with map interface








90% 100%      

Task 5











Conduct small scale pilot test with transit riders













Task 6













Prepare draft and final report














V.  Project Budget


Developing a Printed Transit information Material

Design Manual

Budget Categories


Center Director Salary


Faculty Salaries

$ 43,932

Admin. Staff Salaries

$   2,705

Other Staff Salaries


Student Salaries

$ 11,936  

Staff Benefits

$ 20,060

Total Salaries and Benefits

$ 78,633



Permanent Equipment

$  2,000

Expendable Property/Supplies

$  1,974

Domestic Travel

$    250

Foreign Travel


Other Direct Costs (Consultants)


Total Direct Costs

$ 82,857

Indirect Costs

$   4,143

Total Costs

$ 87,000


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. Budget requests includes salaries for clerical and administrative staff, postage, telephone calls, office supplies, general purpose software, subscriptions, and/or memberships.


VI. Equipment

Up to 7 cell phones with cellular service will be purchased under this project.

VII. Travel

Local travel to test the prototype application and cell phone on public transit will take place.



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: