Case Study: Prince William County, USA


  • PRTC is the transit commission for an area of eastern Virginia adjacent to Washington DC.
  • PRTC uses a fleet of 139 buses to provide commuter bus services to Washington (OmniRide) and local flexible bus services in Prince William County and the Manassas area (OmniLink). Service operation is contracted out.
  • OmniLink services are demand-responsive transport (DRT) operated as route deviation (flex-route) for general use including riders with disabilities. Trips are pre-booked from 2 hours up to 7 days before travel, and about 30% of demand responsive trips are standing orders.
  • First implementation of ITS at PRTC was to support the DRT. It included booking, routing and dispatch software, and in-vehicle data terminals.
  • The ITS evolved with the addition of GPS, improved communications, and new back-office software capacity. Rudimentary GPS tracking was extended to the OmniRide commuter services.
  • A new procurement has been launched in 2011 for significant enhancement of the ITS systems, including CAD/AVL system- and service-wide and installation of new MDTs in all vehicles
  • Benefits attributed to ITS include the ability to offer DRT with short pre-booking time, better on-time performance, increased efficiency, increased ridership, improved working environment and enhanced data collection.

Scope of the Case Study

This case study deals with the ITS implemented for the bus transit services operated by PRTC, the Potomac and Rappahannock Transit Commission (PRTC), serving an area of Virginia, south west of Washington, DC.

PRTC’s primary transit products are the local flexible-route services (OmniLink) and commuter routes to Washington DC and other key centres (OmniRide). ITS for flexible services was developed at PRTC beginning in the mid-1990's but was not fully implemented until 2003. GPS tracking was extended to the OmniRide services around the same time. The focus of the Case Study is on the ITS used for the flexible OmniLink services, in part because it is the more complex set of systems, in part because it presents the narrative of the evolution of ITS at PRTC.

The case study does not cover ITS implemented on the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail services; VRE is co-sponsored by PRTC and its sister agency, the Northern Virginia Transport Commission (NVTC).


PRTC serves part of the State of Virginia south-east of Washington DC. This area of coverage comprises Prince William County, Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties, and the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg.

The local bus service area is about 360 square miles and has a population of 425,000 people. The main part of the service area is 25-40 miles (40-65 km) from Washington DC.

PRTC offers three distinct passenger transport products:

  1. Commuter traffic to Washington DC, Pentagon, Crystal City, Tysons Corner and other key destinations. PRTC provides commuter coach services branded as ‘OmniRide’.
  2. Local (intracounty) transport in the eastern section of Prince William County and in the Manassas area. PRTC operates flexible local transport services branded as ‘OmniLink’commuter coach services
  3. Rail services to Alexandria and Arlington, VA, and to Washington DC on the VRE.

In addition, PRTC offers:

  • Bus links via the I-95 and the I-66 to Washington’s metro system (Metrorail), with connections to the Blue Line at Springfield/ Franconia Station and to the Orange Line at the West Falls Church Station. This serves both commuters and reverse commute markets
  • Ride-matching service

Total annual ridership across all transit services, including ride-matching, is about 8 million trips.

The service area is not ‘transit-friendly’, with challenges including:

  • Relative low population density (c. 2,700 persons per square mile/3 persons per acre in eastern Prince William County)
  • Many wide roads, lack of suitable sidewalks, and generally not ‘pedestrian-friendly’
  • Auto-oriented residential development with looping roads, cul-de-sacs, which are difficult and circuitous to serve by transit
  • Buildings and amenities oriented to auto-users, often set back from the road amid parking lots, with transit users furthest from the entrance

In 1995 PRTC implemented local (intracounty) transit services in the eastern Prince William and Manassas areas. This area previously was not served by regular local transit but it did have an uncoordinated patchwork of Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) operated by human service agencies.

PRTC decided to base their intracounty transit on DRT and developed a flexible transit service that would be both available for general use and meet the requirements for riders eligible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

This decision was aided by the possibility to access FTA grant to deploy supporting ITS.

The service was branded ‘OmniLink’. This consists of six routes that operate on a flexible route basis. The terminal points and departure times are fixed, and the route serves a limited number of fixed stopping points. The vehicles will deviate on pre-booked request within the three-quarter mile (1 km) specified corridor. The vehicle does not need to return to the same point on the route but it must pass through all fixed stopping points.

Institutional Framework

PRTC is the transit authority for an area of the State of Virginia that comprises Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties, and the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg.

PRTC is the authority to plan and authorize passenger transport within the area.

PRTC is responsible to organize finance for the transit services. The primary source of income is a 2.1% motor fuels tax.

Operator Structure

Currently, all OmniLink and OmniRide services at PRTC are contracted out.

Since 2003, First Transit is the contracted bus operator.

Assets and Ownership

PRTC own the depot, the buses, and all of the equipment in the buses (except for DriveCam, an audio/video system, owned by First Transit).

The total fleet is currently 139 vehicles. Average age is now 4.5 years, a major improvement from the average age of 14.5 years a decade ago.

Division of Responsibilities

First Transit is responsible for:

  • Provision of Operations staff
  • Training of staff
  • Rostering
  • Bus Operations
  • Fall-back/reserve arrangements
  • Vehicle maintenance

PRTC remain responsible for:

  • Vehicle acquisition and renewal
  • Facilities
  • All customer-facing services
  • The PRTC website
  • Ticket sales
  • Dispatching, for all revenue-hours and for dead-heading
  • Planning
  • Contract operator oversight

Basis of Service/Route Award

PRTC is the Transit Authority. They determine the services to be provided. The services are procured through a single global contract.

Permits or Contracts

All scheduled services are operated under a global Contract to PRTC.

The current Contract commenced in 2003 with options for up to 10 years. The Contract is foreseen to run the full 10 years, after which it is mandatory to retender it.

Contracted Operator

Prior to 2003, Metro (the Washington DC public operators) was the contractor for the PRTC services. From around 2000, Metro entered a period of major expansion. This resulted in many experienced staff choosing to transfer from the PRTC routes to other routes in the Washington area, and being replaced by less experienced staff who did not have training in the type of services operated by PRTC, especially OmniLink. Staff turnover rates were extremely high as rookie drivers would be allocated to the service, receive the training, and then move on to other routes in DC as soon as seniority permitted. As a result, service quality suffered. There was also a deterioration of the quality of customer-handling, which was of deep concern since this is a key feature of OmniLink, especially for the ADA-eligible riders.

In 2003 the 5-year Contract was up and PRTC decided that change was needed. After some consideration of in-house options, PRTC opted to continue to contract out services, but to take a fresh look at the Contract to see what could be done to retain experienced bus operators and make it more attractive to stay.

PRTC decided to establish minimum wage and benefits, and an incentive program. They engaged First Transit for a Contact with options up to 10 years. This allowed the Contract to run until mid-2013 subject to performance. It is mandatory to retender after the 10 years period, even in case of excellent performance.

Allocation of Revenue and Cost Risks

PRTC carries the revenue risk. Currently the OmniRide services cover about 70% of their operating costs. By contrast, the OmniLink services cover about 10% of their costs.

PRTC carries the cost associated with augmenting the service.

PRTC purchases fuel and compensates First Transit for insurance premium increases not associated with poor safety records.

The Contractor (First Transit) carries the risks associated with production costs.

Motivation to Implement ITS at PRTC

The motivation to implement ITS at PRTC can be considered in three main phases over the course of about 15 years:

  • Implementation of the DRT-style OmniLink services
  • Extension of AVLC to the OmniRide commuter services
  • Consolidation, enhancement and advancement of the ITS as PRTC gained a mature appreciation of how to best utilize ITS

OmniLink services

When OmniLink services were first being planned, a major consideration was the possibility to avail of FTA grant program to implement supporting ITS. The ITS was considered essential to be able to deliver both the customer-facing and the operational functionality of the DRT-style services.

PRTC initially implemented the OmniLink services in 1995 using manual dispatching and call-taking, with the ITS deployment to follow. Bookings required at least 24 hours notice because the route planning and passenger assignment needed to be done manually, and then the passengers were called back individually with their scheduled pick-up time and location.

The motivation to implement ITS was to enable bookings up to 2 hours before the trip, without need for call-back, by doing the following:

  • Facilitate the direct input of the bookings at the call-centre
  • Based on overall travel request optimization, compute the route and passenger assignment, pick-up point and time in immediate response to the booking input
  • Facilitate the call-centre to tell the passenger the pick-up time and location, and any other relevant information, during the telephone call and obviate the need for call-back
  • Transmit the updated manifest information to the driver via mobile data terminal (MDT)
  • Support the dispatching and operations management, both for general route management and to ensure that all passengers were picked-up
  • Support the administration associated with the various client groups

PRTC encountered significant difficulties and delays in establishing the ITS platform. This made clear how important the ITS was to OmniLink services, and strengthened to motivation to implement reliable, effective technical systems.

Following the initial deployment of OmniLink and ITS, there has been a major expansion of OmniLink services over the past 10 years.

   FY2000   FY2010 

Daily revenue hours

120 233

Daily ridership

1,180 3,790

In mid 2000 (beginning of FY 2001), PRTC discontinued VRE feeder services due to dwindling ridership and transferred the services hours to expand the flexible route service span (feeder routes operated with the same vehicles and operators in the early morning and late afternon/evening, limiting flex hours to 0730-1800). The 50% increase in service hours resulted in double ridership within about one year. Since that time, PRTC has: added a fourth eastern service area route (bringing the total number of routes to six); introduced limited Saturday service on the eastern routes; and reduced peak period headways on eastern routes from 45 to 30 minutes. Currently, the OmniLink fleet consists of 23 30-foot (10 metre) heavy-duty transit buses of which 19 are required for peak pullout. 

PRTC discontinued feeder services and expanded the flexible routes. This was accompanied by a 50% increase in service hours, and the addition of Saturday service. The result has been that ridership has doubled.

The biggest challenge for the OmniLink services has been to maintain the balance between the number of trips provided and on-time performance. This faced multiple factors causing variability, including the nature of DRT service, variable demand, weather, and traffic.

From the start, PRTC had used a “Pulse System” in which buses on three of the four eastern routes meet at the PRTC Transit Centre at 30-minute intervals in the peak, and 45-minute intervals in the off-peak. While this allows timed transfer between the routes and improved connectivity, the need to maintain identical headways limits degrees of freedom when making service modifications.

OmniRide Services

Currently, PRTC stores all the vehicles at the depot in Transit Centre depot both during the day and overnight. Previously, about two thirds of the commuter fleet were stabled during the day at Crystal City (near Washington DC). The current fleet is 139 buses of which 96 are deployed daily. They have 6 strategic buses to cover all eventualities. Despite having a 25-mile deadhead, PRTC have programmed to manage with just these 6 strategic buses by reassigning buses on-the-fly, when needed. GPS tracking has greatly improved service management and helps to efficiently deploy the strategic bus assignments.

The approach is to have excellent information about the traffic conditions and any incidents on the I-95, I-66 and on the key alternative routes. PRTC states that 2 minutes better notice can make all the difference by allowing them to get their vehicles back on the road for the evening commute before the tailbacks from an incident degenerate to unpassable congestion; or to redeploy the strategic buses. Recently there was a 3-hour closure/diversion event, PRTC were able to mobilize very quickly and got their buses moving. As a result, they only missed one trip in that evening peak.

An up-and-coming system that is providing travel and traffic information system for the DC Area (Regional Integrated Transit Information System - RITIS - hosted at University of Maryland) takes feeds from multiple sources, repackages and consolidates, and makes available to many agencies. There are so many feeds and so much information, and proactive analysis of the information is currently in the early stages with dedicated personnel for 16-17 hours/day to watch the data and alert/direct it to those who need it (based on an understanding of the various agencies needs). RITIS plans to incorporate static and real-time information in the near-term and  PRTC will link effectively with this in its upcoming CAD/AVL system.

The regional co-ordination will also give PRTC advance notice of scheduled works, closures, events and other information. This will help provide greater advance notice, timely updates, and clear and comprehensive details to prevent the occasionally missed or misunderstood event.  

Operations Management

Initially, only the OmniLink services (flexible routes) were managed by the Dispatching System. This was then extended to the OmniRide services (commuter routes) as well in 2003.

OmniLink services operate from 0545 through to 1045, Monday to Friday and 0700 to 1045 on Saturday.

The operations approach for OmniLink is described as follows (Bruun and Marx, 2008)

“The service design principle is to create fixed time points, as with a conventional route; to locate other fixed stops between them sparingly; and to allow off-route pickups and drop-offs between all stops. The bus operator need not return to the route at the point at which the bus departed the route.

Some slack is added to the schedule to facilitate deviations. If deviations are not made, the driver is instructed to slow down or to hold at time points. The number of minutes of slack varies by route and time of day. On average, about 10 extra minutes are built in. When PRTC started, its rough rule of thumb was a 25% cushion between time points. This amount is adjusted based on ongoing operating statistics. There are currently five such “flex routes” or “route-deviation services” (now six), two in the western Prince William/Manassas area and three (now four) in eastern Prince William County. The former operate hourly on weekdays. The latter three use a timed-transfer, or pulse system, at PRTC’s Transit Center and operate on 45-min headways (now 30-minute headways) on weekdays (every 90 min on Saturdays). A map of one of the routes is shown in Figure 3. The deviation corridor is 3⁄4 mi on both sides of each route. uses 30 ft (9 m) long are used, to maneuver off the main arterial.”

Applications for which ITS is used at PRTC

ITS at PRTC was initially developed for the OmniLink services, and was the first such development of its kind; subsequently a rudimentary GPS tracking was implemented on the OmniRide services.

A procurement process has been launched in 2011 for a new generation of ITS to support all transit services at PRTC. While routing, scheduling, and analysis software will be retained, an all-new, all-encompassing Computer-Aided Dispatching/Automatic Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL) system will be implemented and will seamlessly interface/integrate with retained elements. 

Development of ITS at PRTC

During 1995-1999, PRTC developed and attempted to implement ITS to support the OmniLink services, but they were hampered by a number of problems.  These included problems on system integration, system performance that was not totally satisfactory, and major challenges with the radio/communication system.

By 1999, PRTC had a functioning booking and reservation system (Trapeze software) for OmniLink but no GPS/AVL.

In 2001 they developed a new specification for the vehicle side, designed to blend with the depot-side Trapeze system.  They hired a consultancy firm (ARINC) to act as the Systems Integrator and in early 2002 the project began. The goal was to implement the new system in 18 months, it took slightly longer than planned with substantial completion achieve in about 24 months.

When the system became operational in 2003, this made PRTC the first utility in the USA to have a fully automated flex-route system. This included a relatively rudimentary navigational aid, real-time clock for the drivers, and prediction time for the immediate next events (e.g. arrival time at next passenger pick-up point, at transfer points).

Whereas the first in-vehicle MDTs attempted to use Nextel voice radios to also transmit data, the second generation relies upon dedicated cellular transmission. While the flex-route ITS system took the better part of 10 years to develop and implement, PRTC took advantage of a new Government requirement to provide GPS capability in all cellular phones to launch AVL via new Nextel two-way radios/cell phones for OmniRide vehicles at virtually the same time the OmniLink system became fully functional. Though the OmniRide AVL system was not tied to route or schedule, dispatch benefited greatly from being able to locate vehicles without operator communication and historical records tremendously improved the planning department's ability to modify the schedules to better conform to current travel conditions. 

PRTC are now preparing to do a complete redo of their ITS. The RFP for a full AVL/CAD (note: in this context, ‘CAD’ means ‘Computer Aided Dispatching’ and not ‘Computer Aided Design’) was issued in March 2011. They have secured about $4 million in funding through a TIGER grant and $730,000 from the State of Virginia to fund the project.  

PRTC engaged a Consultant to prepare their ITS Strategic Plan. PRTC also engaged a Consultant to write the CAD/AVL specification and to assist with project management/implementation.

PRTC expects deep integration of all ITS systems and a high degree of sharing of data. Their underlying approach is “how to get multiple uses out of the same information”.

As an overall approach to ITS design and procurement, PRTC can sum it up as:

  • We know what we want
  • We know what we will do with it
  • We know what is available in the market

PRTC readily admit that this knowledge did not come overnight, and say that it is really only by the third round of ITS that an organization truly understands these three things.

Current ITS System

The Smart Flex route has the following features/technologies:

  • Actual and predicted on-time performance for operator and dispatch
  • Full trip manifest via touch screen MDT
  • Automatic stop recognition
  • In-vehicle mapping/navigational assistance
  • Text messages
  • Emergency (covert) notification to dispatch
  • Real-time reservation
  • FLEX (Trapeze) – reservation, scheduling & dispatch system
  • PTS Tracker – dispatch graphical on-time performance (OTP)
  • GreyHawk Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) – in-vehicle guidance and OTP
  • AVL through GPS
  • GPRS data communication

Mobile Data Terminal (MDT)

The Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) is central to the in-vehicle ITS. It is essentially a driver’s console and in-vehicle computer. It is a flat panel, touch-screen display. The principle functions and features are:

  • Receives continually updated manifests from the central system (i.e. the sequential list of on-route and deviation stops
  • Displays the relevant parts of the manifest to the driver, with colour-coding to assist the driver assimilate the most important information
  • Interface for the driver to log on and to record activities – e.g. confirm off-route passenger picked-up or dropped-off, record no-show
  • Interface for the driver to pass preset messages to the control centre, thus reducing the requirement for voice communication
  • Preset button which driver must press when departing from off-route stops, or to ask permission to depart a stop in case of a no-show
  • Monitors schedule adherence and displays this to the driver
  • Provide directional instructions on an electronic map
  • Stores a full route and event log for each trip, for subsequent download
  • Input for passenger counts, used on days designated for passenger count sampling


GPS is used for vehicle location, and is integrated with the MDT. Normal polling is based on a 60-second cycle. If an alarm message is received, polling for that vehicle is done very few seconds.

Vehicle location data is returned to the Control Centre as input to the AVLC functions. Vehicles can be tracked on- or off-route.

Warning flags can be automatically generated, based on dispatcher-configurable settings. These options include:

  • Early or late vehicles relative to schedule along the route (dispatcher can set the number of minutes early/late)
  • Vehicles projected to be late at a pick-up point


Communications were initially a difficult issue for PRTC. As they did not have access to a municipal radio system they utilized a 3rd party private radio system, but the analog system went out of business in 1998 and the replacement digital system did not support third party data transmissions.

When PRTC implemented the second wave of ITS, they opted for Cellular Digital Package Data (CDPD). However, the communications service provider phased out CDPD.

PRTC then converted to GPRS, which they currently use. While it would only have been necessary to change the modem in the MDT, the opportunity was taken to install a more advanced processor and to separate the processor and the modem from the MDT screen. This eliminated potential connection problems of the type experienced following system installation in 2003.

Voice communication is kept to a minimum, for example by downloading the trip manifest to the MDT, and by having preset buttons for the driver to communicate status and information to the dispatcher.

All vehicles are fitted with a covert alarm. When this is pressed, it gets priority in the system. A message appears on the dispatcher’s screen and an audible siren sounds and the vehicle location is polled every few seconds until the alarm is cleared by the dispatcher.

OmniLink Booking Service

OmniLink Booking Service

Customers wishing to travel on OmniLink need to ring in their travel request (except for a few predefined "on-demand stops" where operators take customers who board without prior reservation). The call is received by a customer service agent, who enters the travel request into the system, and views available options.

Based on the travel request (e.g. whether origin and destination are both within the service area) and the availability of service (i.e. service the request will not make the bus unacceptably late), the agent can schedule the requested travel arrangements. If service isn't available at the requested time, the agent can offer relevant alternatives to the customer, or can advise the customer that the trip cannot be accommodated. The customer will then decide whether or not to accept the alternate service offer.

Once accepted, the trip is then confirmed and assigned to a specific vehicle. It is added to the trip manifest and the information is transmitted to the MDT of the vehicle that will carry the customer.

Normally the cut-off for bookings is 2 hours before the departure time of the trip. It is possible to accept trips closer to the departure time, but only following discussion with the dispatcher (generally, such short-notice bookings occur from "on-demand" stops, as described above, and when customers need to modify their already-reserved travel bookings).

Fare Collection

In 2005-6, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency (WMATA), the man Washington DC area transit agency, launched a region-wide roll-out of the Smart farebox system. PRTC was one of the agencies to receive and install Smart farebox equipment.  

PRTC accepts the regional SmarTrip cards (smart cards). In addition to primary stored value fare payment product, the region has begun to introduce electronic passes. PRTC intends to convert its paper all-day local bus pass to SmarTrip and to introduce a 7-day pass (the 7 days begin from first tap) in fall 2011.

All PRTC services operate on a flat-fare basis, the fare varying with the route type. All OmniLink services have a cash fare of $1.20, with no discount for SmarTrip. OmniRide routes to have a one-way cash fare of $7.00, discounted to $5.25 for SmarTrip. Metro Direct fares are $3.30 cash, $2.65 with SmarTrip. Customer aged 60 years or older and persons with disabilities pay half price at all times on local services and ride for half-fare at off-peak times on all other services. Able-bodied customers and riders aged under 60 pay $1.00 surcharge for off-route trips on the local OmniLink services. 

When paying with SmarTrip for single or transfer trips, the fare is automatically calculated and deducted. Beginning in fall 2011, transfers and pass products will only be available with SmarTrip cards; cash customers must pay for each boarding.

Customers can also pay cash on an exact-fare basis, placing money in the farebox, or can pre-purchase locai bus tokens in bulk at PRTC Transit Centre (no discount). When electronic passes are introduced in fall 2011, pass products will only be available for purchase on board the bus; however, value can be added to the SmarTrip cards at designated locations with Compact Point of Sale (CPOS) devices and via the web. An auto re-load capability is anticipated to be introduced in 2012. 

Historical Data analysis

The system software allows PRTC to perform historical analysis. This is used to assist service planning and performance monitoring by providing, among other data, average and standard deviations of running times between time points. This data can be used to:

  • optimize slack times and deviation acceptance rules
  • selection of fixed stops
  • identification of bottlenecks causing recurrent delay


In addition to the PRTC systems, First Transit has installed DriveCam, an audio video system, on all buses. DriveCam is always on, recording the images and sound to soft memory. This can be recovered at any time, but normally is overwritten if there is no need for it. However, if there is a G-force above a threshold (indicative or accident or near-miss), or if the panic button is pressed, then it switches to making a hard record that is transmitted via cellular connection.

First Transit use DriveCam for two main purposes:

  • hard evidence in the case of accident or incident
  • checking driving style, based on which a driver may be sent for retraining

ITS Applications in the New Procurement (2011+)

PRTC already has existing ITS applications both for the original OmniLink booking and reservation and the later extension of AVL to the OmniRide services.

The new ITS system is based on the following key concepts:

  • The CAD/AVL will form the core of the new ITS system.
  • This will primarily be an enabling platform that provides the input data to other systems.
  • The Trapeze system will remain as the main system that the dispatchers use.
  • RTPI will be supported by the CAD/AVL system
  • The CAD/AVL will replace part of their existing MIS system (TransTrack)
  • TransTrack will become a data warehouse to support planning and other analytical and data-mining applications
  • Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs) are an option

RTPI will be based on “push/pull” on internet and mobile phones/PDAs rather than signage at bus stops (there will still be a few, e.g. at PRTC's Transit Centre). PRTC will take a similar approach to Trimet in Portland, making the data available for 3rd parties to develop downloadable apps (note, WMATA also doing this).

System Integration

The system vendor will be fully responsible for seamlessly integrating/interfacing with retained systems, including Trapeze. 

Management and Oversight of the ITS Systems

PRTC is responsible for all aspects of the ITS system specification, procurement and installation.

PRTC is the owner of all ITS equipment and systems. The sole exception is DriveCam, this has been acquired by First Transit on their own initiative.

PRTC manages and operates the Control Centre.

Service Level standards for the ITS applications

This information has not been made available.

Implementation and Operational Challenges

PRTC commenced OmniLink operation in 1995 with the expectation that they would implement a range of supporting ITS within about 2 years. They succeeded to implement the booking, assignment and routing software in 1999, but experienced a number of challenges:

  • Achievement of full integration of the prototype ITS
  • Lack of vehicle location technology, and hence difficulty to both accept short-term bookings and to closely manage the operations in service
  • Lack of a municipal radio system, which obliged them to use a 3rd party private radio solution. This service provider converted from analog to digital (that did not support third party data) in 1998, causing major disruption of the development and integration work. The system was basically put on hold for over two years. 
  • When PRTC resumed pursuit of the vehicle-end ITS system, they elected to use dedicated cellular transmissions, eliminating the majority of communication challenges. This seriously impacted the management, operational and technical support that could be given to get the ITS fully operational and effective.

PRTC considered that they learned a lot from this process. In 2001, PRTC prepared a new specification, with expert consultant assistance. Their experience gave them far greater capacity to specify, procure and deploy the ITS they needed. Specific aspects were:

  • The need for strong project management
  • The need for a highly competent system integrator who carried contractual and fiscal liability for performance of own and subcontracted systems and development
  • A greater appreciation for how flex-route should function, and what they needed from the technical systems
  • Better ability to develop the functional and technical specifications
  • A willingness to engage expert support for technical tasks and specifications
  • Clear understanding of what they needed from the communication system, the location system and the Mobile Data Terminal
  • Better understanding of activities and timelines for testing and installation

As a result, PRTC opted for a turnkey contract.

In the specification phase, PRTC took into consideration that they were the first to implement such an application in the USA. They considered that the features they implemented should be of interest to other agencies as well.  This would give the vendors incentive to improve and support their products, and increase the likelihood that the system and software would be acquired by other agencies. If so, PRTC would not have an isolated system, and it would benefit from the development and support across multiple clients.

In the initial months of implementation, PRTC experienced some reliability problems that were traced to mechanical connections and excessive internal vibration. These problems were overcome in part by relocating the MDT so it experienced less vibration. When the communications system needed to be changed, the opportunity was taken to separate the processor and modem from the MDT screen, thus reducing potential for connection problems.

Effective Utilisation of the ITS

Since the second wave of ITS was successfully implemented in 2003, PRTC has been able to establish a well coordinated team to deliver transit services, and make effective utilization of the ITS systems to support their operations management. This has been achieved by the following actions:

  • There is an Operations Meeting every two weeks, attended by key PRTC and First Transit management
  • They carry out ‘post mortems’ on events, incidents, changes, etc.
  • They maintain a high level of preparedness
  • There is a ‘living document’ of processes so that everyone knows what they are supposed to do, because what is supposed to be done has been thought through and written down, including all the nuances.

For this last point, before the era when Metro was the contractor, there was a steady core of staff and there were always people to “pass things on” and help newcomers understand what to do. During the Metro era, this was lost, and there was no longer a structure to pass things on. This prompted them to go back and document processes and nuances.

Lessons Learned

From presentation by Marx (2010)

Key lessons learned are:

  • Count on lots of staff involvement in ITS projects
  • Utilize independent external technical help to write a tight spec. but realize there will be still many unanticipated/unaddressed issues
  • Get project manager (PM) buy-in on timeline
  • Use one PM who’s in charge and is central point of contact
  • Make sure your contract has “teeth” and require PM to do likewise with subcontracts to help ensure timely performance
  • Expect the project to still take two to three times the expectations

Capital Costs of the ITS

The capital cost data for ITS relates only to the OmniLink system.

The initial ITS implementation cost $1.3 million and was financed by a one-time competitive grant from the FTA.

The 2003 implementation required an additional capital cost of about $500,000. This covered the development of the system and software, the equipment plus spares for 19 vehicles, training equipment, and one dispatcher workstation. This was funded by PRTC's own funds and State of Virginia funds.

PRTC consider that these costs were high and reflect the leading-edge nature of what they sought. They consider that with volume these costs would reduce as more agencies take up on these solutions.

Operating Costs of the ITS

The following costs were presented by Bruun and Marx (2006), based on annual incremental costs with capital spread over 12 years with 7% discount rate.

Incremental monetary cost per year $
Annualised CAD/AVL investment cost ($500,000) 63,000
Annualised cost of senior staff time for specification, procurement (1 person-year at $200,000) 25,000
Annualised cost of consulting assistance 7,500
Software and hardware maintenance contract 25,000
Senior IT person (20% time) 40,000
Operator training (3 hours per years) Negligible
Vehicle onboard equipment maintenance (no extra staff) Negligible
Total 160,500

Note: These costs relate to OmniLink only

The cost of dispatchers and customer service agents is not included as an incremental cost required for OmniLink because (a) even in their absence some customer information would have to be provided anyway, and the ITS has increased their efficiency that they can both provide customer information and schedule OmniLink services; and (b) if PRTC had not implemented OmniLink they would have had to implement ADA Paratransit, which would have required similar staffing.

Revenue Generated by or through the ITS systems

There is no revenue generated by or through the ITS systems. The RTPI channels are not used to generate commercial revenue from advertising.

Benefits arising from the ITS systems at PRTC

General and non-monetised benefits

PRTC identify the following direct benefits arising from the ITS deployment:

  • Same day reservations for flex-route service
  • Reduced workload/improved information for customer service, dispatch, operators
  • Improved customer communication
  • Automated fleet tracking
  • Increased efficiency and ridership
  • Enhanced operating data and automated collection
  • Improved working environment
  • Better on-time performance
  • Reduced dispatch radio traffic

In addition, there are non-monetised benefits including:

  • Mainstreaming into society of people whose mobility has been enhanced by the service
  • Improved working conditions and quality of life for drivers, dispatchers and customer service agents
  • Enhanced image within the community of PRTC as a progressive, technologically-advanced company

A further benefit is that the flexible route functions as a ‘probe’ for travel demand. Because people can request the travel that they actually want, over time the company acquires a greater understanding of the real demand and can adjust route, timing and volume of supply to the revealed demand. Areas with high volumes of deviations can become fixed stops.

Monetised Benefits

Bruun and Marx (2006) estimated the benefits of the ITS for the OmniLink. The quantified benefits had two distinct components:

1) The ITS reduces the need to carry out certain surveys, passenger counts, generate statistics, perform travel time analysis, etc. PRTC estimate that the time saved is equivalent to one-person year per annum, which they valued at $100,000.

2) Of far greater value, albeit specific to the USA, is the savings from not having to operate parallel ADA paratransit. OmniLink had been implemented to provide local transit. If it had been operated as a fixed route schedule, paratransit would have had to be provided to ADA-eligible clients who either could not use or could not access the fixed route service. OmniLink as planned could not have been operated to reasonable quality and efficiency without ITS, and hence the difference in cost between OmniLink and fixed-route plus parallel ADA paratransit could be attributed to the ITS. onetised Benefits

In order to make a conservative estimate, Bruun and Marx identified the off-route trips only (i.e. those based on a deviation request) and then factored out a proportion of deviation requests made by people who would not be ADA-eligible. Based on the cost of provision of ADA paratransit by other agencies, and assuming modest ADA-eligible demand, they estimated that the avoided cost would be in the range $840,000 to $1,680,000 per year.

As the annualized cost of the ITS (including amortization of the capital cost) is estimated at $160,000, even if only a portion of the avoided cost of ADA-paratransit is attributed to ITS, the benefits of the ITS comfortably exceed the costs.


Images courtesy of PRTC.