Center Identification Number: 77904
Project Title: Travel Assistance Device – Deployment to Transit Agencies
Sean Barbeau, Senior Research
Nevine Labib Georggi, Senior
Phil Winters,TDM Program
Center for Urban Transportation Research
External Project Contact:
I. Start and End Dates
Start Date: July 2009 Expected End Date: January 2011
I. Project Objective/Problem Statement
The public transportation environment challenges new and existing riders to make rapid real-time decisions that are especially difficult for special needs populations. A range of techniques including advertising trip routes, online trip planners and travel trainers (instructors who teach new riders how to travel via public transportation), are used by transit agencies to overcome cognitive barriers to increased ridership. A number of studies have found that current informational materials do not fully meet this need, however. According to Cain, approximately half of the general population survey sample could not successfully plan an entire trip on the fixed-route transit system using the printed information materials provided. 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 with no personal assistance from transit agency travel trainers especially on their first few trips. Compounding the difficulty faced by the traveler, transit agencies are struggling to support expensive specialized on-demand services, i.e. paratransit, for riders who could use fixed route public transportation services with proper assistance. According to the American Public Transportation Association, the average cost of paratransit is $22.71 per unlinked passenger trip versus an equivalent bus cost of $2.87 per trip. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the rider and the transit agency to support innovative technology that can assist riders in utilizing fixed route transit.
The Travel Assistant Device (TAD) system is a software communication architecture that enables GPS-enabled mobile phones to provide end-user travel services to the person carrying the phone. NCTR researchers developed three services during the initial phase of TAD development: (1) the delivery of real-time auditory prompts to the transit rider via the cell phone informing them when they should request a stop, (2) the delivery of an alert to the rider, caretaker, and travel trainer when the rider deviated from their expected route, and (3) a web page that allows travel trainers and caretakers to create new itineraries for transit riders as well as allow monitoring of real-time rider location. While the research team designed TAD to aid transit riders with special needs in order to increase their level of independence, any new transit rider can benefit from its service.
The TAD system design had three primary requirements.
1) Make the system low-cost and widely accessible
This system requirement resulted in the team using off-the-shelf, consumer-grade GPS-enabled cell phones for a compact inexpensive all-in-one solution. The system design team used standards-based solutions to allow interoperability on multiple platforms (i.e. different cell phones and cellular carriers). The team also used open-source solutions, when possible, to reduce implementation and management costs to transit agencies. Finally, the team designed the software to be forward compatible with future mobile devices to minimize future development costs.
2) Make the architecture modular so system components can be reused when possible and new features can be easily added in future versions
The research team used web services, which allows TAD systems to operate in heterogeneous computing environments on multiple platforms and operating systems. In addition, the team encapsulated the system entities so elements (i.e. database server) may be exchanged without disrupting the entire system.
3) Provide a reliable service tailored to transit riders with special needs
The research team designed a simple, uncluttered user interface. Only two auditory announcements (“Get Ready,” and “Pull the cord now”) need to be made to minimize the confusion of the user. The phone also vibrates when the user should indicate he or she should signal the driver that the user is requesting the bus to stop.
An update feature was also designed which allows additional transit agencies to be added to the TAD system by formatting their route and stop data into the Google Transit Feed Specification, which has become a de-facto standard for transit route and scheduling data with more than 90 U.S. transit agencies currently participating in Google Transit.
In mid-2007, prototype-testing using the HART system in Tampa, Florida began. Since then TAD has been continuously refined based on feedback from HART Travel Trainer Mark Sheppard. Limited field tests of TAD have been successful. Many other transit agencies have expressed interest in using TAD. This project seeks to deploy TAD to more public transportation agencies, and to identify the technical, policy, and administrative hurdles for wide scale distribution and long-term support of TAD.
TAD has also received funding under the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) IDEA Program. This project is in the process of developing a communications link between the TAD and an Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system implementation at Hillsborough Area Regional Transit in Tampa, Fl. This communication will support advanced TAD features based on the real-time location of the transit vehicle in relationship to each rider’s real-time location. Such features could include providing personalized notices via the rider’s mobile phone estimating when the bus will reach their current position, notifying riders when their specific bus arrives, providing the rider with identifying information so that they board the correct bus if multiple buses are present, and alerting the rider and officials if the rider boards the incorrect bus.
Potential benefits of the TAD/AVL system integration include (1) design and development of an information distribution model for transit agencies that would make AVL data accessible to outside agencies for a variety of public services without further cost to the agency or transit system (2) innovation in the development of new methods of personalized communication of transit information to individuals through their mobile phones and (3) promotion of investment by other public or private agencies in transit information distribution as a result of the accessible and low-cost real-time AVL information.
This project will focus on the deployment of the “Travel Assistance Device (TAD)” to additional transit agencies for use by other travel trainers and transit riders. Many transit agencies and travel trainers, as well as Easter Seals Project Action, have endorsed the TAD concept and look forward to utilizing TAD with transit systems in their local area.
This project will expand the use and testing of TAD to additional transit agencies. Additionally, this project will seek to evaluate: (1) the level of effort required by a transit agency to establish the TAD system in their community, (2) changes in mobility and quality of life among TAD users, and (3) customer satisfaction with TAD from riders, parents/guardians, and transit agencies.
Task 1: Project Management
Before any work begins, the research team will hold a kickoff meeting with the project team and the FDOT project manager. Researchers will advise the staff of the FDOT Research Office of meeting date and time and give them the option to attend the meeting. The subject of the meeting will be to review and discuss the project’s tasks, schedule, milestones, deliverables, reporting requirements, and FDOT research deployment plan. This kickoff meeting may be conducted via teleconference or net conference. This task also will include on-going project management activities such as preparing progress reports and invoices, and reviewing and editing final deliverables.
Task 2: Identify and Engage Partners for TAD Deployment
2.1 Identify the preferred criteria necessary for selecting TAD Deployment Partners.
TAD uses the Google Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS) to import transit agency data. This task will identify the criteria used to select potential partners that will support the deployment of TAD on additional transit systems. In Florida, Miami-Dade Transit, Broward County Transit, in addition to HART, have converted their route, schedule, and bus stop information into the GTFS. However, additional transit agencies are following their lead. Potential preferred criteria sought by the project team include:
a) Commitment by the public transportation agency to assign/delegate a travel trainer within the transit agency, or a representative from a related educational/community institution serving the transit agency, to assist the project team.
b) Said person would actively assist the project team with recruiting individual participants, securing informed consent documents, conducting participant orientation sessions, and helping to evaluate TAD performance on that transit agency.
c) Agreement of transit agency leadership to provide support and reasonable access to data (e.g., AVL) and agency staff for recruiting and training participants on using TAD.
This task will also address potential inquiries from additional agencies, including private sector (e.g. 3rd party mobile software developers) and non-profit (e.g. Easter Seals), regarding TAD partnerships for tasks such as licensing, marketing, and other items supporting TAD deployment.
2.2 Actively seek permission from cell phone providers to test and deploy the TAD mobile application on cell phones from multiple cellular providers’ networks.
Approach Sprint-Nextel, AT&T, Alltel, Verizon, and T-Mobile to (1) evaluate support for Java-based standards necessary for the TAD application to run on cell phones on the carrier’s network and (2) allow the TAD application to be tested and commercially deployed on their devices and networks. Currently, only Sprint has granted permission to test TAD on devices on their network. The addition of other cell phone providers could expand the deployment potential.
2.3 Develop draft memorandum of understanding for potential TAD Deployment Partner. The draft memorandum of understanding will outline the criteria for selection of TAD Deployment Partners as identified in subtask 2.1.
2.4 Develop a TAD website. The web page will describe TAD so that interested parties can obtain more information about TAD; include a simulated demonstration of TAD and an online orientation for trainers and participating riders. This website may be hosted on existing NCTR website.
2.5 Recruit transit agencies to serve as TAD Deployment Partners.
The research team will reach out to transit agencies to identify up to five willing and able partners for the deployment tasks. The task involves the assistance of FDOT project manager and groups such as the Florida Public Transit Association, Association for Travel Instruction, and Easter Seals Project Action.
2.6 Select TAD Deployment Partners.
In coordination with FDOT Project Manager, select up to five communities/ transit agencies that will serve as partners in TAD deployment.
Task 3: Modify TAD System to Facilitate System Updates and Deployment
3.1 Resolve Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) update issue.
TAD currently uses data provided by transit agencies and formatted in the GTFS format in order to update the TAD system for changes in bus routes, stops, and schedules made by the transit agency. In the GTFS, a “trip” is defined as the order of visitation of a number of bus stops on a route at a particular time and therefore is an important piece of data that links unique routes, stops, and schedules. After a user plans a trip using the website, TAD saves the correct “trip ID” as a unique identifier in order to determine the order of visitation of stops and alert the rider to exit the vehicle at the appropriate time for all future trips. However, there is currently an ambiguity in the GTFS specification. The transit scheduling software that transit agencies utilize to output their data in the GTFS format changes trip IDs between each system update. So, while trip IDs in each update are dataset unique (and therefore the output data conform to the current GTFS), trip IDs are not consistent or unique across system updates (a property currently not defined by the GTFS). Therefore, in the current system TAD cannot ensure that a particular trip (and therefore route, stop, and schedule) still exists after a system update by relying solely on the trip ID and therefore users must re-enter each of their planned trips, which is not acceptable for deployment. This task will develop a workaround solution that will not rely on a unique trip ID across system updates in order to ensure that a user’s trip is still valid.The necessary modifications to resolve the problem may include changes to the Web interface and server applications.
3.2 Import transit bus stop, transit centers, and scheduling data from TAD Deployment Partners to identify any inconsistencies in data formatting and adjust the TAD system as necessary.
Make appropriate changes to the TAD system to address any potential ambiguities or inconsistencies between datasets from different transit agencies. While GTFS is a standard that defines the data format, various interpretations of that standard can exist which result in varying quality and format of data. The issue identified in subtask 3.1 is one such ambiguity that required modifications to the TAD system. A second example is the representation of transit centers as either a single bus stop versus a stop for each transit bay within the transit center. A third example is a transit agency’s representation of circular, unidirectional routes. For N stops in a trip, one agency may represent this as N dataset entries, thereby assuming that after the vehicle visits the final stop N it will automatically visit stop 1. However, another agency may represent this same situation as N + 1 dataset entries, where the bus stops 1 and N + 1 are the same physical stop in order to fully define the loop in the circular route. TAD will have to be modified to handle these types of ambiguities correctly, which result from the various interpretations of any standard, as they arise.
3.3 Create off-route notification alert based on shape files from Google Transit Feed Specification Data
Create a method to automatically generate spatial data representation of transit agency routes from the GTFS data. In order to support and maintain the notification for off-route riders feature for multiple agencies the TAD system must be able to produce automatically the routes’ shapes from the GTFS data for each agency.
3.4 Review user trip creation system and ensure user management processes are intact
Review and modify as necessary the current construction of the trip creation tool and user management process on the TAD website to ensure users for multiple agencies can be separated and assigned to the proper travel trainers.
3.5 Integrate Bus Stop Management Tool into Website
A prototype bus stop management tool has been developed that will allow transit agencies and other appropriate individuals to correct the geographic locations of bus stops when necessary. This task will integrate this tool into the TAD website.
3.6 Resolve Display Issues With Internet Browsers
Resolve major display issues with various internet browsers. The TAD website can have different behavior when viewed in different browsers such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox that may cause buttons to appear incorrectly, which can interfere with the operation of the website.
Task 4: Examine TAD System Requirements to Support Deployment
4.1 Identify and secure web and database hosting options
Investigate the movement of TAD server-side systems to off-site servers to improve security and reliability for final field deployments.
4.2 Install TAD application on up to five different cell phone models and test for TAD application portability
Acquire up to two models per participating carrier and test for TAD compatibility.
Task 5: Facilitate TAD Deployment to the Potential Users via Transit Travel Trainers
5.1 Develop and finalize informed consent documents and procedures for compliance with Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirements
Customer feedback is important to the continual improvement of the TAD system. Surveys will be conducted of users of the TAD, including riders, parents/guardians, and travel trainers. IRB must certify all team members before any survey is conducted. Certification may require the completion of training workshops or online classes. IRB forms may include adult consent forms and/or assent forms that must approved by IRB review committee prior to the survey. The PI or any designee must be present to explain the IRB forms and answer any questions participants may have. Most IRB forms also require signature from a witness.
5.2 Identify Deployment Evaluation Criteria
In consultation with FDOT project manager and taking into account IRB requirements for protecting research participants’ rights, the deployment evaluation criteria will be refined prior to deployment. This task will identify the performance measures for evaluating: (1) the level of effort required by a transit agency to establish the TAD system in their community (e.g., direct costs, staff time, etc.) (2) Changes in mobility and quality of life among TAD users (e.g., increased use of fixed route transit, employment opportunities, etc.), and (3) customer satisfaction with TAD from riders, parents/guardians, and transit agencies (e.g., ease of use, accuracy, etc.).
5.3 Work with transit agency or agencies to do initial limited field tests with new public transportation systems.
Make technical refinements as necessary as TAD is tested on new transit systems.
5.4 Roll-out Implementation of TAD with one or more of the TAD Deployment Partners
This task will require the full support of the travel trainer and transit agency, and consistent monitoring at the CUTR’s server side to record the progress of the transit trips taken and address any technical issues that may arise.
5.5 Evaluate the TAD Deployment
Based on criteria established in Task 5.2, this subtask will evaluate and report on all TAD deployment efforts.
Task 6: Final Report
Prepare draft final report and final report in accordance with FDOT requirements shown below.
a) Draft final to be provided in double sided print copy,
b) PM will have a minimum of 4 weeks to review of draft final to start from the date of receipt of print copy,
c) A period of 2 weeks will be provided for PI to make revisions to draft final,
d) 4 weeks prior to contract end date supply PM with final double sided for final draft review and acceptance by PM allowing 2 weeks for review & 2 weeks for any finalization by PI and FDOT Research Office final administration of the contract.
Work not included in this scope of service is not to be performed and will not be subject to compensation by the Department.
Progress Reports The University will submit quarterly progress reports to the Research Center. The first report will cover the activity that occurred in the 90 days following the issuance of the Task Work Order. Within 30 days of issuance of the Task Work Order, the University will supply Progress Report due dates for entire project including draft and final report due dates.
Progress reports must include the following information:
1. Contract Number, Task Work Order Number, and Title
2. Work performed during the period being reported
3. Work to be performed in the following period
Anticipated modifications (i.e., to funding, schedule, or scope). This
section is for reporting/informational purposes, not for officially requesting
5. A Progress Schedule (figures A, B, and C) updated to reflect activities for the period being reported.
Failure to submit progress reports in a timely manner may result in termination of the work order.
Draft Final Reports The draft final report will be submitted to Sandra Bell, email@example.com.
Final Reports Once the draft final report has been approved, the university shall prepare the final report. The university will deliver eight (8) copies of the final report in MS Word, no later than the end date of the task work order, to
The Florida Department of Transportation
Research Center, MS 30
605 Suwannee Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0450
Each copy will be provided on a CD or DVD (i.e., for a total of eight disks).
Project Kickoff Teleconference
A kickoff meeting shall be scheduled to occur before any work begins. As a minimum, the project manager and the principal investigator will attend. The Research Center staff must be advised of the teleconference and given the option to attend. Other parties may be invited, as appropriate. The subject of the meeting will be to review and discuss the project’s tasks, schedule, milestones, deliverables, reporting requirements, and deployment plan
IV. Project Schedule
V. Project BudgetSalaries and Fringe 84,839.02
Fixed Price Sub Total 84,839.02
Indirect Cost (fixed price subtotal x 10%) 8,483.90
Total Fixed Price Amount 93,322.92
Total Lump Sum Amount (Salaries and Benefits) 93,322.92
Expenses (Cost Reimbursable)
Cost Reimbursable (Subtotal) 6,069.00
Indirect Costs (cost reimbursable subtotal x 10%) 606.90
Total Project Cost 99,998.82
VI. Use of Graduate Student(s) and Other Research Assistants
The proposed budget includes funds for an undergraduate student(s) and/or graduate student(s) to assist with all project tasks.
Four mobile phones will be purchased for this project (cost per phone is approximately $200). These cell phones must be models that support specific standards, including the JSR179 Location API so the mobile TAD application can access location information from the embedded GPS chip in the phone. It is difficult to specify the exact cost of a cell phone that will be used during the project since current models are frequently discontinued while new models are constantly being introduced, but a cost can be approximated based on the price of existing phones at the time of this proposal.
Since these phones are used for a sponsored research project at USF they will be purchased without entering into a contract with the cellular carrier for cellular service. Therefore, cellular service for these phones will be paid on a month-to-month basis. While this saves a significant amount of money in unneeded service as well as early termination fees, it means the cost of the device is not subsidized by the cellular carrier. Since the cost of the devices is not subsidized, the cost per device for this research project is more than the typical consumer would pay for the device.
For example, even cell phones that are nearly free to the consumer with a new contract are still a significant cost to the project. As an example, the below figure shows the LG CF360 model cell phone from AT&T’s website (http://www.wireless.att.com/). While a consumer is able to purchase the phone for a total of $29.99, the unsubsidized cost is $229.99. As stated above, the current estimated cost per phone is approximately $200.
The LG CF360 entertainment phone features AT&T Navigator for driving directions, maps, and traffic alerts. Entertainment features include AT&T Mobile Music, and CV. It has a 1.3 MP camera and camcorder, plus messaging, IM and Email services.
Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1 - Unsubsidized cost (“No Commitment Pricing”) of LG CF360 is $229.99, while the typical consumer cost is $29.99.
The service plan costs approximately $50 per phone per month with the development and testing period estimated to extend at least 6 months. The FDOT Research office will be given a copy of the detailed bill for any cell phone service billed to the project. Software to support the testing and deployment of the TAD application may also be purchased, which may consist of a license for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft SQL Server as shown below:
Service fees for the off-site hosting of the final TAD application to improve security and reliability for final field deployments will be investigated, which may consist of fees approximately $100 per month over a six-month period.
Reimbursement will only occur upon receipt of and only for the amount of the purchasing invoice for the subject equipment.
The university, upon receipt of any purchased equipment, shall forward to the Research Center a copy of the purchase invoice/property description as detailed in Exhibit C – Budget/serial number and receipt. The Department will prepare and forward inventory control label(s), which the university shall have affixed to the property.
In-state travel is anticipated for the completion of this research project. It may be necessary for face-to-face meetings with various transit/paratransit agencies to market TAD deployment with agencies that meet criteria and to establish terms of memoranda of understanding.
Collaborating with these agencies may require various levels of orientation, live demonstrations, training, and/or resolving technical issues.
The research team will conduct pilot field testing on selected bus routes and make necessary adjustments to minimize technical issues prior to riders using TAD. The research team will conduct hands-on training for the travel trainers and for riders as needed. When possible, as much as practical, the team will utilize net-conference and online orientation to minimize travel. However, local testing, demonstrations, training, and evaluation will determine the level of effort needed for the success of the proposed and future deployments.
All travel shall be in accordance with Section 112.061, Florida Statutes. FDOT employees may not travel on research contracts.
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 · www.nctr.usf.edu · Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org