Make good use of the system

Themes: Integration; Optimisation

Making best use of an ITS system is a gradual process, which requires corporate effort

Successful deployment of an ITS system is just the opening stage of an ongoing process. Experience shows that it is not sufficient to simply install the system and then expect that everything will function perfectly without further support. A planned and sustained effort is required to get the best results from the ITS system and to truly gain the best value of the investment. Conversely, failing to make this effort is likely to result in below-standard performance, and sub-optimal return on investment.

In the same manner as the deployment activities, the transport entity needs to plan for best exploitation of the ITS system, establish a team, adequately resource it, allocate responsibilities, and build capacity. Again, there is a very large amount of experience and good practice guidance available from the hundreds of transport operators and authorities who have implemented ITS, and this should be availed of. Similarly, partnering with more experienced transport entities and building a good relationship with the supplier will assist in progressing along the learning curve.

Three phase of optimisation of the ITS system 

Optimising the ITS system usually involves three phases:

  • The first phase occurs in the first 1-2 years. This ensures that the system works reliably, is optimised, and gains credibility with the various users. This is a familiarisation phase. There is usually a lot of error resolution and fine-tuning based on experience of actual use.
  • The second phase usually begins in the second or third year. The transport entity begins to develop how it uses the ITS system and the information that it generates. New operational strategies will be developed and tested. The operations data will be used to improve schedules. Enhanced analysis and reporting will be performed.
  • The third phase usually occurs after several years of operation when the transport entity has gained experience, and understands how it can build on the original system. This can include extended functionality, additional sensors, or even new ITS systems or sub-systems

Experience from the Case Studies shows that successful transport organisations develop their ITS system, and continually seek to gain value from their investment.

Phase 1: Getting the ITS to function as it should - and getting people to use it as they should

Managing the first 1-2 years of the ITS system operation is extremely important. Normally this is an establishment phase, during which the objective is to get the ITS system working correctly and accepted by the various users and stakeholders within the organisation. The main actions and points to watch for during this phase include:

  • The primary objective should be to get the ITS system working reliably, to gain full credibility with all users, and to discontinue any transitional or legacy systems
  • Establish a comprehensive monitoring process for all faults and anomalies. This is essential information to get the ITS system working well. Quite often the initial fault is merely a symptom of a deeper underlying problem, and it is the combination of information that will point to the root cause.
  • Regular checking of equipment, wiring, etc., and rapid replacement of any defective units
  • Regular checking of performance, to rapidly detect any devices, functions that are not performing as expected
  • Analysis of output data, values, etc. to verify that they are as expected. If not, variances or illogical values are often a very good pointer to where faults may lie
  • Periodic comprehensive check of base data (e.g. route schedules, fare tables, vehicle lists) to ensure they have been correctly input. Quite often the sheer volume of data that needed to be input and the time pressures as ITS deployment approaches can lead to input errors, which then manifest themselves in ITS system performance errors.  
  • Interaction with all users to identify any concerns they may have about the ITS system or how it is performing – quite often they will detect items which the formal testing does not look for
  • Ongoing and honest communication with the users about system status and performance. If there are problems, it is far better to admit them and work together to rectify them, than to press on and lose credibility with the user base.
  • Training, and retraining where necessary, of all people using the system
  • Ensuring consistency of utilisation and operation of the ITS systems. This can be a problem where users are of different age/skill profiles, for example, where older drivers or dispatchers have little previous familiarity with computers or menu-driven systems.
  • Termination of legacy systems after an agreed transitional period. A number of transport operators have highlighted that this is a very important step. Until the old system has been discontinued, some users will not fully embrace the new system, with inconsistency in approach.
  • Review, revise and optimise procedures, documentation etc. in the light of the first few months of experience with the ITS system. Examples include revising the sequence in which tasks are performed, adding new values to various parameters, simplifying procedures based on feedback from users (e.g. drivers), reassigning preset keys on devices (e.g. driver consoles)  

Phase 2: Learning how to use the ITS system to its full potential

When the system is properly established and working reliably, the next phase is to start using it to its full potential. Again, one of the best approaches it to gain from the experience of other transport utilities who have more experience with ITS. The main areas for improving value include:

  • Develop and implement new strategies for operations management and dispatching
  • Use operations data and reports for performance monitoring
  • Use journey time, travel speed and sectional running time data (and variances) from the AVM system to provide direct input to the scheduling and timetabling processes, and to identify locations where remedial enforcement and/or traffic management measures are required
  • Link the outputs from the ITS system to the MIS and other reporting systems of the organisation
  • Carry out increasingly advanced analysis of the data, patterns, variances etc.

Phase 3: Additional value through system enhancement

The third phase of getting additional value relates to system enhancement. This is based on identifying opportunities to build on the initial platform and to enable the ITS to do more than the original design (or to move to subsequent steps of a phased deployment). This usually occurs after a number of years of ITS utilisation, when the transport entity has begun to appreciate better what the ITS system and data can achieve for them. Options include:

  • Develop new software to harness the data provided by the original system
  • Integrate applications, devices and data to avail of potential synergies and to offer new services
  • Implement additional devices (e.g. sensors, expanded memory) to enable the original ITS system to perform additional functions or to improve processing capacity or transaction time
  • Add new ITS systems or sub-systems