Transportation Systems Casebook/Just In Time: Enhanced Mobility and Equity through Real-Time Information


Students in George Mason University’s Master of Arts in Transportation Policy, Operations, and Logistics (TPOL) program students gain advanced knowledge to become effective practitioners in progressive transportation related policy analysis, theory, research, practice and development. Critical analysis through research and communication skills prepares graduate students for real-world challenges in the transportation field.

Graduate students participate in a capstone practicum near graduation in which a transportation problem topic results in the delivery of a comprehensive project. Dr. Jonathan Gifford’s PUBP 722 class consulted with TransitScreen, Inc. The following document is a study of electronic transportation information displays in public spaces, including bus shelters and other types of street furniture, transit stops and stations.

Executive SummaryEdit

As cities become increasingly connected and look to increase the use of transit, there is a need to assess the adequacy of real-time information (RTI). Research shows that the availability of RTI, which allows passengers to make timely and informed travel decisions, can increase transit usage by reducing wait time, improving the experience of captive riders, and attracting so-called ‘choice’ riders to alternate modes. Currently, RTI is largely reliant on: accurate GPS locations of transit assets, widespread smartphone usage, smartphone application logic and design, and ease of access to information.

Private sector ride-sharing and transportation network companies (TNCs) are often not integrated into current RTI displays. Smartphone usage is a general prerequisite for gathering useful and actionable RTI in many cities and for using ride-sharing and TNCs, but usage and access are not equal across all demographics. Low-income and elderly public transit users are more likely to travel without smartphones and therefore have limited or no access to RTI. This “digital divide” creates equity issues when those with smartphones and the wherewithal to utilize RTI experience increased access and mobility.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) multi-modal Ladders of Opportunity initiative is focused on aligning and redesigning the transportation system to expand economic opportunity and social mobility across the country. Historically, the way some transportation systems were designed divided communities by economic status and these communities continue to experience mobility challenges today.[1] Aggregated transit information in an easily understandable format is one useful mechanism to help bridge the digital divide. Specifically, displaying RTI on digital screens in public spaces has the potential to increase access and mobility for all passengers, not just those with smartphones. Studies have also shown that RTI can increase transit revenue by attracting choice riders and allowing captive riders without smartphones to ride more frequently.[2]

However, advancing the display of RTI in public spaces faces a number of challenges, including: adequate funding, regulatory ambiguity, complex procurement processes that can be difficult for small vendors to navigate and lack of open-source RTI data, as well as cooperation and coordination between public and private entities.

To better understand the challenges that U.S. municipalities of varying sizes and demographic compositions are facing, six cities and one rural state were examined to identify innovative approaches and policy barriers that impede the expansion of RTI in public spaces. The following locations were assessed:

  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Jersey City, NJ
  • Scottsdale, AZ
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Oakland, CA
  • State of Montana

The case studies demonstrated varying degrees of existing or planned RTI infrastructure, but each displayed a general commitment to increasing the use and utility of transit. The studies also indicated that cities are searching for solutions to effectively disseminate RTI in public spaces and are continually searching for options to offset the capital costs of providing transit service through public-private partnerships and/or advertising contracts. The case studies and additional analyses resulted in:

Findings and Recommendations for Municipalities & Transit Agency Recommendations:

1. Cities Have a Variety of Transportation Options but Lack Integrated RTI
Recommendation: Increase the availability of integrated RTI in public spaces to ensure equitable access to transportation services.

2. Transit Agencies and Alternative Transportation Providers Partner to Create Centralized RTI and Information Sharing
Recommendation: Develop transit, technology, and financial policies that can adapt to emerging mobility options in connected urban environments.

3. RTI can Increase Transit Ridership and Customer Satisfaction
Recommendation: Develop open data policies to provide sufficient data for use in third-party application and software development to increase the availability of RTI.

4. Inconsistent Policies Governing the Use of Public Infrastructure or RTI Can Unintentionally Limit the Ability to Generate Revenue through Advertising
Recommendation: Review policies to ensure greater consistency of public policy governing public space and identify opportunities and challenges for integrating RTI technologies.

5. Public Agencies Often Utilize Funding from the Private Sector to Support RTI Enhancements
Recommendation: Identify opportunities for flexible public-private partnerships that encourage development of RTI technologies.

Findings and Recommendations for RTI Technology Providers:

1. Limited Access to Open Source Data Impedes RTI Provision
Recommendation: Educate municipalities by presenting a clear business case that demonstrates the benefits of open source data provision for use with highly customizable RTI displays and potential ridership impacts for the jurisdiction.

2. Many Jurisdictions Use Public-Private Partnerships and Other Incentives for Infrastructure Improvements
Recommendation: Leverage available opportunities to enter into a public-private partnership and other creative financing mechanisms.

3. RTI Providers Find the Public Procurement Process to be a Barrier
Recommendation: Learn to work through public procurement processes, particularly those that benefit small businesses or are focused on best value.


Emerging research indicates changes in U.S. travel patterns are the result of a long-term structural shift in demographics, culture, technology, and settlement patterns. As a result, U.S. transit ridership increased about a third in the period from 1995 to 2011, doubling the rate of population growth during the same timeframe (16.8%). Transportation planners should consider Americans’ increasing willingness to use alternative modes in the planning process.[3]

To respond to this growing demand for transit, transportation agencies are increasingly turning to technologies that improve service and customer satisfaction. This has led to a growing market for the display of RTI in public spaces. A recent survey of 37 transit agencies revealed nearly 87% plan to deploy more RTI signage in the future.[4]

Overview of Existing TechnologiesEdit

The two most commonly utilized technologies to enable RTI are automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems and RTI software. These technologies are utilized by both public and private sector entities to provide vehicle arrival and departure predictions.

Automatic Vehicle LocationEdit

Bus AVL systems first appeared in the late 1970s and 1980s, prior to the development of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). AVL systems using GPS-based tracking became fully operational in 1995, eliminating the need to maintain legacy wayside signpost infrastructure. Much of the architecture of precursor AVL systems remains the same, but modern systems have benefited from increased functionality and reliability.[5]

AVL systems are primarily used for vehicle tracking and are increasingly employed for paratransit operations like trip booking, scheduling and dispatch. Increases in mobile data communication also spurred integration with web platforms and other agency systems, including video surveillance, farebox and smart card technology, and RTI software.[6]

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) research has emphasized a systems engineering approach to deploy AVL systems with agency-wide data management strategies. A cross-cutting study of AVL systems initiated by the U.S. DOT Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO) reported an average cost per bus of $15,500. The JPO office reported that 54% of 78 major metropolitan areas in the United States had deployed AVL systems.[7] A 2013 survey of large transit agencies revealed over 83% had already deployed AVL systems.[8]

Real-Time Information SoftwareEdit

RTI signage is primarily used to display vehicle departure and arrival times for passengers and service providers. RTI systems utilize the vehicle location data from AVL hardware in conjunction with software that includes an arrival prediction algorithm. Public access to RTI data can be integrated into smartphone applications, websites, or variable message signs or directly through an Application Programming Interface (API) data feed. Traditionally, transit agencies have procured the AVL hardware and RTI software in a bundle that includes all on-board and central hardware, networked with software systems and licenses. This limits the amount of in-house expertise required, although staff positions for IT maintenance may be required.[9]

Recent developments in RTI technologies have allowed for “off-the-shelf” GPS hardware that has reduced installation costs. Software advancements have included open source protocols from products like OneBusAway. The procurement of AVL systems and RTI software is also changing as more agencies realize the benefits of acquiring the technologies separately. This can often be challenging, as many AVL systems lack the open protocols necessary for interoperability with separate RTI software. Many hardware providers constrain the use of AVL data through proprietary systems that limit access to the processed data. This effectively restricts the use of other software providers and ultimately decreases the value of data owned by transit agencies.[10]

Integration of AVL and RTI TechnologyEdit

Recent innovations from third-party developers are helping to advance the provision of RTI in public spaces. TransitScreen offers a proprietary software that integrates RTI for multiple modes (including trains, streetcars, buses, bikeshares, and TNCs, as well as traffic reports, public safety alerts and other messages) on prominently located display screens. By including travel times for various modes, TransitScreen displays allow users to quickly compare and weigh these transportation options.[11] The technology pulls primarily open-source transit data from multiple entities. The software is customizable and can add localized transportation options.[12]

Redmon Group is an interactive multi-media and technology company that provides digital products and services, including websites, mobile applications, and digital signage. Redmon Group installs both hardware and software for its transit displays, which can also include assisted listening devices for the visually impaired. Redmon Group transit displays are customizable and can display open source multi-modal transit information. The company is an authorized U.S. government vendor.[13]

There are also efforts by public agencies to advance the use of RTI. 511 services are often web-, phone-, or application-based RTI services provided at no cost to the user and supported by government entities. For example, the 511 Transit Tracker is a web-based service provided by a partnership of public agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area that allows users to access real-time bus and train departure times.[14] The 511 Transit Tracker uses open source data to enable individuals and businesses to customize the displayed real-time transit data based on proximity to transit stops. The customized RTI information can be displayed in a storefront/business lobby on a display screen.

Accessibility Limitations of Existing TechnologyEdit

Accuracy (or lack thereof) of publicly displayed information in train and bus terminals can profoundly impact user attitudes towards transit.[15] Legacy methods of providing publicly-displayed transit information, such as static printed maps or schedules, are inadequate because they fail to accurately notify users about current routing, schedule adjustments, and service changes.

These legacy methods also tend to poorly inform disabled passengers and people without access to smartphones. The USDOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that 528,000 of the 1.9 million “home-bound” disabled Americans do not leave home due to perceived “transportation difficulties.”[16] For example, the blind are hindered when using public transit because they cannot access printed/displayed information and hearing impaired individuals may not hear audio announcements due to background noise or faulty equipment.[17]

Smartphone applications such as Transit App, Moovit, OneBusAway, and Stopinfo (for visually impaired) have been developed to improve the provision of RTI. However, these applications exclude a significant segment of the population that lack access to mobile technology and cannot take advantage of such tools. In 2015, 68% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone, including 86% of those ages 18-29, 83% between ages 30-49, and 87% of those with an annual household income of $75,000 and up.[18] However, only 27% of adults 65 and older own a smartphone and 44% of smartphone owners with an annual household income below $30,000 have let their service lapse for financial reasons. Further, African Americans and Latinos are about twice as likely as whites to have canceled or cut off smartphone service.[19]

Case StudiesEdit

To identify current, planned, and conceptualized applications of RTI throughout the country, the project team elected to use a case study approach: identifying seven case study areas in the U.S. for a targeted investigation of the transportation options available, existing/planned RTI applications, relevant transportation demand management (TDM) policies, existing signage/advertising policies, and innovative strategies to improve transportation accessibility through the use of RTI. This section describes the methodology used to select and analyze the case study areas.

Case Study Selection MethodologyEdit

The project team identified the U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge, a program designed to help cities address the challenges of "rapid population increases and rapidly growing demands on their transportation infrastructure," as a foundation for selecting case study cities/regions. U.S. DOT will award one mid-sized city up to $40 million in funding and private firm Vulcan Inc. will work with the city to provide an additional $10 million.[20]

Over 70 cities applied to the U.S. DOT Smart City Challenge. Each city that applied to the program recognizes the imperative for increasing technological capacity to support residential and economic growth. As transportation options continue to grow, technology to support these options must also become smarter. Application to the Smart City Challenge demonstrates a commitment to investigating these technologies and integrating them appropriately into the content of each city’s unique environment. Therefore, the project team opted to select a diverse set of cities from the bank of program applicants to evaluate current approaches in using technology, like RTI, to support city and regional transportation options.

To determine criteria for selecting case study cities, the project team scored all of the U.S. DOT Smart City Challenge applicants and ranked them by population, transit score, and walkability score. The list of cities was split into three tiers by population (over 500,000; 250,000 to 500,000; less than 250,000). Six cities were selected for detailed analysis: two large (San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA), three medium (Atlanta, GA, Jersey City, NJ, Oakland, CA), and one small (Scottsdale, AZ). To further diversify the case study analysis, the project team also examined the rural state of Montana and focused on its innovative government procurement methods for RTI.

For each city, the project team examined publicly available information on city and state transportation and related policies, and reviewed local transit agencies’ schedules, routes, and provision of any RTI. The project team researched city transportation demand management policies, city ordinances and zoning, and city and state advertising policies. The team conducted interviews with city staff to determine any unique aspects of the area’s available transportation information and compiled the results of this work in findings and recommendations of this study.
(Note: At the commencement of this analysis, the winners of the Smart City Challenge were not identified. On March 12, 2016, the Secretary of Transportation announced seven finalists: Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; and San Francisco, CA. The winner will be announced in June 2016.[21])

Case Study SummariesEdit

This subsection provides a consolidated summary of each of the seven case studies conducted by the project team. The report includes a more detailed account of each case study and it is available upon request.

San FranciscoEdit

San Francisco is experiencing rapid growth, changing demographics and declining funding at the State and Federal level. This has left the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) with insufficient resources to operate and maintain its existing transportation infrastructure. To overcome these mobility challenges, SFMTA will need to leverage innovative technologies to meet its strategic goals. The use of RTI shows promise in meeting many of these goals, including the integration of transportation modes, increased system safety, and an improved passenger experience.

SFMTA will also need to maximize local and regional funding to overcome budget shortfalls. Advertising is one way of supplementing other funding sources. A recent audit identified a lack of city-wide advertising policies, which has led to inconsistent advertising standards and conflicting agreements with advertisers. The audit also recommended monitoring existing agreements to maximize revenue. Implementing the recommendations in the audit will help maximize revenue from advertising contracts, but the agency will still need to look for cost-effective ways to provide more to residents with less.

One way San Francisco has welcomed cost-saving innovations is by creating a specific office dedicated to keeping government accountable, accessible, and responsive. The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation champions new ideas, tools and approaches in city government. A major project to come out of this office was the introduction of Living Innovation Zones, which serve as a space for testing new ideas, projects and technologies. These zones have encouraged actions to emphasize non-motorized transportation, enhance pedestrian safety, foster neighborhood interaction, and support local businesses. Agencies seeking to maximize the use of RTI in public spaces have the opportunity to leverage the opportunities presented in these Living Innovation Zones.

San Francisco is at the forefront of utilizing RTI systems, including an open data initiative to maximize involvement from third-party developers. Utilizing RTI systems will help SFMTA to meet its strategic goals, but there is room for improved in the procurement of these systems. Identifying some of these lessons learned can bring value to cities that have yet to implement RTI systems. In utilizing NextBus Inc. to concurrently install both the AVL hardware and the RTI software, San Francisco inadvertently limited the use of its RTI data. In its initial contract with NextBus, ownership of the data was initially unclear. This led to conflicts with third-party developers who were looking to utilize the RTI data from the proprietary NextBus system. NextBus Information Systems initially sought revenue sharing agreements from third-party developers but SFMTA secured ownership of the data in an on-going maintenance agreement with NextBus Inc. in 2009. The development of SF OpenData, San Francisco’s open data initiative, followed soon thereafter.

Even though the San Francisco market encourages and promotes the implementation of advanced RTI systems, the combination of proprietary AVL systems the sophisticated GPS system used by SFMTA and ordinances that favor long-standing customers makes it difficult for smaller companies to compete in the San Francisco market.


Travel times using dynamic message signs and web postings cover 12 corridors in King County and in downtown Seattle. Infrastructure includes 34 dynamic message signs and portable digital signs. RTI is also available through an iPhone application and a Twitter feed. Puget Sound Transit, which operates in Seattle and the remainder of King County, operates the OneBusAway smartphone application, providing unified RTI from six different sources. In addition to King County Metro service, OneBusAway also covers all Community Transit (Snohomish County) routes, including those that extend into King County. Puget Sound Transit maintains an open data system, which also could facilitate RTI hosting through signage or other smartphone applications in their region.

In 2014, Seattle launched a pilot program partnering with 10 businesses to host TransitScreen, a real-time transit display screen for public spaces. TransitScreen donated the screens and Seattle paid for the software and one year of service.[22]


Atlanta, GA, has eight different transit service providers operating over 170 transit routes throughout the region. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) accounts for over 100 of these routes, offering both bus and rail services. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is the overarching transportation coordination agency for the region.

Each transit agency in the Atlanta region provides easily accessible schedule and route mapping information. MARTA and Cobb County Transit currently utilize AVL systems on their transit vehicles to enable RTI. The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Gwinnett County Transit, and the Atlanta Streetcar are undergoing AVL installations and upgrades. MARTA rail stations are the only transit facilities to currently post real time signage.

In 2010, ARC assumed the responsibility for manifesting a ubiquitous, standardized, and multidimensional signage program for all agencies in the region to create a “culture of transit literacy.” The new signage at each stop will refer transit users to various RTI sources available via phone (by calling or texting a bus stop’s unique ID number for real time info) or a mobile application. In addition to signage, information for each agency is available through cell phone applications for reference on-the-go. While each transit agency hosts its own unique mobile application, ARC has undertaken the development of the OneBusAway application for the region. ARC also provides overall marketing and transit advocacy directives for all agencies in the region.

Various initiatives at the city level also provide the opportunity to enhance both transit and active transportation options and information availability. The City of Atlanta has an Office of Innovation Delivery and Performance that focuses on various directives from the City’s Mayor. This office has shown potential interest in the integration of RTI signage in public spaces. ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) program facilitates coordination between local governments and private developers in enhancing transportation options in mixed-use developments, as well.

In addition to the enhancement of transit information provided by the transit agencies, ARC, the municipalities, and members of the private sector (particularly developers) are beginning to advocate for transit usage – and other alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle. Technology like TransitScreen and the use of “mobility concierges” is helping to revolutionize how Atlantans get around. ARC identified that local municipalities, BIDs, and CIDs could also sponsor these types of information displays in public spaces.

Jersey CityEdit

With its close proximity to Manhattan, Jersey City joins its neighboring cities in maximizing transit ridership. RTI for one of the two transit agencies serving Jersey City, New Jersey Transit, is provided through a phone application called “iTrans New Jersey Transit.” Third-party applications have also been developed that allow for travelers to receive notifications and updated live information on trains.

Outside of smartphone applications, however, there is a lack of RTI signage made available to the public. Further, current local sign and advertising policies would make it difficult to place real-time displays in public spaces, which limits the ability of marketers to expand in this area. Nevertheless, New Jersey’s Transit Village Initiative seeks to create more sustainable communities in which transit stations would be the central focus, surrounded by local businesses and residences. The use of real-time displays in such neighborhoods could potentially improve ridership and quality of life for residents.


The City of Oakland, California, is committed to improving regional public transit. The city adopted a “Transit First” policy in 1996 to improve transit efficiency and has since implemented other sustainability goals such as a Complete Streets Policy. The Oakland City Council has worked in conjunction with the regional MPO, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), to foster RTI improvements.

RTI is generally available in Oakland and the Bay Area. For example, the City of Oakland has had an advertising contract with Clear Channel Adshel to provide street furniture such as bus stops, kiosks, and trash cans in exchange for advertising space and the contract improved RTI by requiring the inclusion of digital NextBus arrival information screens in multiple bus stops. The City of Oakland has implemented several innovative transportation system improvement initiatives. The Hub Signage Program (HSP) and Regional Measure 2 (RM2) are aimed at improving transit displays, RTI, and wayfinding. The city’s transportation demand management (TDM) program is directed at decreasing congestion with performance-based parking pricing and improved wayfinding signage.


Scottsdale, AZ, is a small city that is part of the Phoenix metropolitan area. It is committed to providing mobility consistent with the surrounding cities, ensuring the transportation network maximizes route and mode choices while providing access for people of all ages and abilities.

Though not yet approved, the 2016 Transportation Master Plan incorporates two new trolley (diesel-powered buses painted to resemble old-fashioned streetcars) routes and one limited-stop bus route above the 2008 Transportation Plan requirements. Additionally, three route alternatives were identified for a potential future rail route to serve the city. This new route would require regional support from the Maricopa (County) Association of Governments (MAG), as well as Valley Metro, the regional transit service provider, and the FTA.

The frequency of transit service in Scottsdale varies from 10 to 30 minutes dependent on the provider and route. These services are currently used by 1.4% of the population. 31% of these users are identified as captive riders as they do not own or have access to a vehicle. Travel time, once aboard, averages in excess of 39 minutes, and over 32% of users have a commute greater than 60 minutes.[23]

Valley Metro has equipped buses serving Scottsdale, as well as its light rail route (which connects Phoenix with Tempe and Mesa, but does not yet serve Scottsdale), with GPS technology managed by a system called NextRide. NextRide provides RTI available via smartphone applications and internet trip planners. RTI is unavailable, however, for the Scottsdale trolley service. Scottsdale is very restrictive and identifies specific standards for outdoor signage to include the design of the 18x24 bus stop sign used throughout the Valley. In May 2015, a variance to these requirements was approved and must be requested to the City of Scottsdale Transit Section. The variance allows for the inclusion of “LED real time bus information signs; bus route/traffic information kiosks,” which could eventually lead to RTI Displays.[24]

State of MontanaEdit

Montana’s Department of Administration (DOA) has been tasked with oversight of procurement for all agencies within the state. Recent revisions to Montana statutes have empowered the DOA to develop rules and policies allowing alternate methods of procurement in special cases when Montana’s competitive bid or RFP processes are unable to meet agency needs.

The Montana case study examines two traveler information kiosk implementations comparing the competitive bid process used for the Greater Yellowstone Rural Intelligent Transportation System (GYRITS) kiosk project to the sole-source method used for the Conrad Rest Area Traveler Information Kiosk. The comparison of these implementations demonstrates the flexibility and advantages in Montana’s special case procurement options, but it also demonstrates that the traditional competitive bidding method still has utility, given that time is not so limited and that there are multiple capable vendors.

Additional AnalysesEdit

Following the evaluation of each case study area, the project team further delved into research regarding the cost-benefit impacts of providing RTI. Two recent research studies focused on the effect of RTI integration on transit passenger behavior in U.S. cities. The first study focused on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in Chicago, Illinois, and the second evaluated RTI implications for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) service in Tampa, Florida. A third study reviewed the influence of RTI on transit passenger behavior in three Swedish cities.

The main impact areas investigated through these cost-benefit research studies include (1) the effect of mobile real-time information on the perceived and actual wait time of transit riders and (2) whether there was a corresponding ramifications on wait-time efficiency and customer appreciation.

Chicago Transit AuthorityEdit

CTA, the transit system in the city of Chicago, utilizes the CTA Bus Tracker system. It is an RTI platform utilizing a GPS system to track the positions of CTA buses. CTA customers use the system to receive information on estimated bus arrival times. Customers are also able to obtain RTI from venues including the Bus Tracker website, customized scheduled emails, text messages for preferred bus stops, and third-party applications available via handheld devices and smartphones.[25]

A 2011 study of the impacts of RTI availability collected CTA passenger data from a range of time and geographical samples. The study determined the CTA Bus Tracker system had a positive effect on transit ridership. Estimates revealed that the weekday ridership for the CTA bus routes with Bus Tracker services increased substantially more than bus routes without CTA Bus Tracker systems.[26] The analysis also considered user-level friendliness (i.e., the customer’s ability to interact with the CTA Bus Tracker technology) as a factor that could impact the effectiveness of the CTA Bus Tracker system. The data analysis also accounted for outside factors that could potentially influence ridership fluctuations including fuel costs, vehicle ownership, and ticket fare costs.[27]

Hillsborough Area Regional TransitEdit

A similar study was conducted on bus riders in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa study analyzed the impact of RTI mobile-phone applications on wait times, satisfaction with transit service, and ridership.[28] A controlled test was conducted using the HART bus system. The analysis concluded that RTI users experienced lower wait times by a margin of two minutes.[29] Further analysis showed that RTI use reduced feelings of anxiety and/or frustration for system users, while productivity and safety observations increased for RTI users within the experimental group.[30]

The Netherlands & SwedenEdit

To analyze the impacts of RTI on wait time, psychological impressions, customer satisfaction, and overall travel behavior, a study collected observational data at subway stations in The Hague, Netherlands, and Stockholm, Sweden. The data collected through these observational studies indicated that the calculated average of wait times decreased on subway lines utilizing real-time information displays by 1.4 minutes compared to the baseline, while the availability of these public information displays increased customer satisfaction by a substantial margin. Observations showed improved customer attitudes, and the analysis revealed a close relationship between respondents’ valuations of different factors and the magnitude at which these factors influenced mode choices given real-time information availability.[31]

Additional Research ConclusionsEdit

After analyzing research on the impact of RTI for public transport customers through these research efforts, it can be concluded a correlation exists between the introduction of RTI and customer wait time reduction and increased public satisfaction with transit services that utilize RTI. Further studies also demonstrate that transit agencies have increasingly utilized RTI as a means to rectify the perception of unreliability of public transport services.[32] Mobile RTI and public displays provide transit agencies with a means of improving the rider experience.

Findings and RecommendationsEdit

Transit agencies operate and maintain systems through a combination of revenues and government funding. There is often limited funding available for improvements in addition to operation and maintenance costs. For example, San Francisco needs $17.5 billion for capital transit improvements.[33] Seattle has a $75 million transit improvement shortfall, despite four fare increases to support transit in the last four years.[34] Atlanta citizens elected to take out bonds for city improvements, which will include various transportation improvements.[35]

As cities grow rapidly and demographics change, the need for sustainable approaches to meet public demand for transportation is clear. Creative revenue sources like advertising offer opportunities to increase funding available to support this demand. Further, advances in smartphones and technology provide a platform for innovative solutions to accommodate changing demographics and transportation demand through providing alternatives to more traditional travel methods.

This section investigates specific recommendations for (1) municipalities and transit agencies and (2) RTI technology providers to help guide these parties to improve existing funding strategies and infrastructure that support transportation information, services, and operations.

Municipalities & Transit AgenciesEdit

The following five findings and recommendations summarize key policy considerations for municipal governments and transit agencies based on the case study analysis.

1. Cities Have a Variety of Transportation Options but Lack Integrated RTIEdit

Communication of transit information varies significantly by city, and public policies can help ensure broader access. A number of the cities in this study provided RTI through some form of smartphone application. In other cases, open data policies allowed third-party developers to create integrated mobility and trip-planning applications. In both circumstances, however, this does not help the nearly one-third of U.S. households that do not have access to a smartphone. Policymakers must consider the alternatives to ensure greater access, particularly for lower-income households that rely on public transportation for mobility and may significantly benefit from public display of such information.

One approach adopted by a number of cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, is providing RTI through dynamic messaging signs at terminals and transit stops. This provides uniform access to information for those within proximity of the transit stop, and helps bridge the digital divide for those that may not have access to personal mobile technology.

Cities with a significant number of transit stops must think strategically about the most effective locations to install RTI systems due to the practical and fiscal challenges of implementing these throughout the transit network. In the case studies, digital displays were most common at major transit transfer points that serve multiple routes.

Recommendation: Increase the availability of integrated RTI in public spaces to ensure equitable access to transportation services.

2. Transit Agencies and Alternative Transportation Providers Partner to Create Centralized RTI and Information SharingEdit

As the concept of transportation on demand rapidly evolves, policymakers must evaluate the extent to which public services can both compete and complement the availability of alternative services. Cities must look for opportunities to leverage and utilize other transit alternatives to complement services already provided by the public sector.

In Atlanta, MARTA partnered with Uber to provide seamless transit-to-vehicle service. Riders can request an Uber ride while on a train or at a station and the vehicle will be ready for pick-up when they arrive. This partnership demonstrates the ability for transit and TNC services to collaborate to create a mutually beneficial business for both services. Transit services provide mainstream access to popular origins/destinations, while the TNC can provide first- or last-mile service.[36]

Other transit providers including Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) are also creating partnerships with Uber to provide this connection to transit services. This amplifies transit ridership by attracting riders to transit who otherwise could not access the stations, opens up Uber's customer pool by providing cheaper rides, and increases the efficiency of seamless trips.[37]

Recommendation: Develop transit, technology, and financial policies that can adapt to emerging mobility options in connected urban environments.

3. RTI can Increase Transit Ridership and Customer SatisfactionEdit

There is an increasing awareness among U.S. policymakers that ITS can improve the efficiency and use of resources within the transportation system. A number of the cities evaluated in this report have already taken actions to leverage technology to monitor the performance of their public transit operations and provide RTI to consumers. Of the six cities evaluated, only one did not provide any RTI. While there is often a cost associated with capturing and communicating RTI, providing this service has been shown to increase ridership and customer satisfaction (as demonstrated in the Chicago, Tampa, and Swedish analyses) – two factors that can positively impact revenue. To ensure greater integration within a more broadly connected transportation network, cities should work to ensure that RTI is generated in an open data format so that it can be integrated with other systems to allow for more dynamic multi-modal route planning.

Recommendation: Develop open data policies to provide sufficient data for use in third-party application and software development to increase the availability of RTI.

4. Inconsistent Policies Governing the Use of Public Infrastructure or RTI Can Unintentionally Limit the Ability to Generate Revenue through AdvertisingEdit

In case study cities where there was a need to manage potential budget shortfalls, transit operators adopted other revenue generating policies and contracts to offset the costs of RTI provision. These included agreements with private advertising firms to allow advertising on public infrastructure space, provided that the advertising contractor build and maintain the infrastructure for the contract duration.

Advertising can act as an ancillary form of revenue for cities and transit programs. For example, San Francisco generated $20.9 million in revenue from advertising.[38] Advertising campaigns may take various forms: from signage to infrastructure to vehicles. For example, Oakland entered into an agreement with advertising vendor Clear Channel Adshel, to advertise on bus shelters, kiosks, and litter bins that it provides to the city. Oakland retained one of three panels of each advertisement platform for city-related information.[39] In another example, Valley Metro contracted advertising services at Phoenix bus stops. The agency in turn receives 63% of advertising net sales, or a minimum annual guarantee of $1 million for advertising rights.[40]

However, development of such contracts can face challenges if inconsistent policies govern the display of advertising in public spaces. A complex regulatory environment presents challenges for stakeholders seeking to enter into agreements as both parties must ensure that the terms are compliant with all relevant laws. Because public infrastructure such as bus shelters and kiosks typically exists in the public right-of-way, these facilities may be subject to various state and local ordinances beyond those under the purview of the transit authority. Even within a particular city, there may be a patchwork of regulations that need to be addressed if a transit authority were to contract with advertising agencies to offset the costs of providing modern public amenities.

In San Francisco, for example, a recent audit identified a lack of city-wide advertising policies, which led to inconsistent advertising standards and conflicting agreements with advertisers. The case studies identified a broad range of limitations that are often put in place to reduce visual pollution and urban blight. While some cities recognized the need to identify opportunities for generating revenue through advertising, local government agencies typically seek to maintain discretion over the aesthetics of new facilities and the type of advertisements displayed.

Recommendation: Review policies to ensure greater consistency of public policy governing public space and identify opportunities and challenges for integrating RTI technologies.

5. Public Agencies Often Utilize Funding from the Private Sector to Support RTI EnhancementsEdit

Depending on the scale of the transit network, a significant investment may be required to install an RTI system, including costs of equipment, power, network connectivity and ongoing maintenance. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and policymakers can adopt a scalable, flexible approach to meet the public need.

A number of cities, such as San Francisco and Phoenix, have entered into agreements with advertising agencies to address public infrastructure needs or provide a revenue source. These contracts often varied significantly in terms of the duration and requirements placed on the private-sector firm. Not all contracts required the advertising entity to provide RTI or other services at specific transit stops. However, longer term contracts, such as those spanning 20 years, may impede the ability of the transit authority to negotiate new requirements that may support greater accessibility within a more connected city environment. Shorter contract durations with RTI providers and advertisers can foster innovation and competition. With greater emphasis on balancing budgets, the public sector can identify opportunities to leverage public-private partnerships to ensure the financial feasibility of certain projects.

Recommendation: Identify opportunities for flexible public-private partnerships that encourage development of RTI technologies.

RTI Technology ProvidersEdit

Three findings and recommendations were identified for RTI technology providers based on the case study analysis:

1. Limited Access to Open Source Data Impedes RTI ProvisionEdit

Most case study cities have a complex network of transportation providers spanning the public and private sectors. For example, as was noted in the Seattle case study, six major transit entities provide service. In San Francisco, three different rail options exist, each owned and operated by a separate agency. Presenting aggregated data in an easily viewable format provides valuable information to travelers when selecting travel modes. Public display screens can be customized to provide local service options as well as beneficial information, such as public service announcements or emergency communications.

Open source data is more common; however, the availability of RTI data can still restrict the provision of RTI in some jurisdictions. In San Francisco, SFMTA contracted with private-sector firm NextBus to operate its AVL system. NextBus believed that it had ownership of the data and third-party developers received demands that they split their revenues with NextBus. A new contract in 2009 clarified the ownership of the AVL data. In Seattle, open AVL data has allowed OneBusAway to provide RTI by multiple methods, including bus stop screens.

Recommendation: Educate municipalities by presenting a clear business case that demonstrates the benefits of open source data provision for use with highly customizable RTI displays and potential ridership impacts for the jurisdiction.

2. Many Jurisdictions Use Public-Private Partnerships and Other Incentives for Infrastructure ImprovementsEdit

Public-private partnership opportunities can be helpful in offsetting the costs of procuring transit assets that display RTI, such as bus shelters, kiosks or screens. Providing designated advertising space generates revenue to help cover installation and/or ongoing maintenance costs. Opportunities exist to partner with other entities, such as business improvement districts (BIDs), particularly those interested in creating walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods. For example, Atlanta’s BIDs support infrastructure investments to spur development and economic activity.

Despite the challenges of public procurement processes, the case studies demonstrated considerable cooperation between public and private actors. Seattle has worked with OneBusAway and also ran a pilot program with 10 local businesses and TransitScreen to install RTI displays at each location. TransitScreen donated the screens and Seattle paid for the software.[41] Atlanta is working with BIDs, Community Improvement Districts and the private sector to update transit infrastructure, including new (but not RTI) signage. The Bay Area’s MTC has partnered with Civic Resource Group International and TransitScreen to modernize transit displays in many downtown locations. Valley Metro in Scottsdale approved the exploration of public-private partnerships for standard or electronic station kiosks.

There is a direct correlation between easily accessible RTI and increased transit ridership. According to a 2015 study on the New York City bus system, RTI increased bus ridership by 2% and increased yearly revenue by $5 million.[42] For example, Oakland’s TDM program seeks to assess the most cost-effective methods to provide transportation services. Relatively small investments in accessible RTI displays could boost transit ridership without costly route or service expansions to help meet TDM goals.

Recommendation: Leverage available opportunities to enter into a public-private partnership and other creative financing mechanisms.

3. RTI Providers Find the Public Procurement Process to be a BarrierEdit

Doing business with public entities generally requires adhering to a transparent public procurement process. Depending on the funding source, this process is unavoidable because it is governed by state or federal law. RTI technology providers should invest in learning to navigate public procurement processes, particularly those that support small businesses or are ranked for “best value” which accounts for technical expertise and experience, as well as price. The Montana case study demonstrated that there are opportunities to use unique procurement law provisions when specialized services are provided. However, even the ability to justify sole-source provision requires procurement acumen on the part of the RTI provider.

Another procurement strategy is to contract with a local jurisdiction, such as a small suburban municipality within a larger metro area, to gain a regional foothold. An easily customizable proposal could be developed to respond quickly to procurement opportunities. Finally, non-traditional procurement methods such as unsolicited public-private partnership proposals are another option (in which the private sector entity approaches a public agency with a plan to improve one of the agencies’ assets through a PPP).

The standard method of government procurement involves a competitive bidding process for up to a reasonable price. The City of San Francisco requires competitive bidding for projects in excess of $5,000, while the San Francisco BART District’s minimum is $10,000. Seattle has an e-bid site with open solicitations, results, and awards that provides easily available information on procurement and contracts.

Montana also has a traditional competitive bidding process, but the case study highlighted two examples of effective sole source procurements. The "term" contract is an open-ended contract wherein a contractor provides a specialized service under a particular dollar amount. The agency must justify the contract and advertise it in a public forum to allow competitors to challenge. This sole-source contracting method may help smaller companies contract with the government.

Recommendation: Learn to work through public procurement processes, particularly those that benefit small businesses or are focused on best value.


The case studies demonstrate that passengers are constantly seeking better ways to maximize their travel options and time, whether they are choice or captive riders. Providing easily accessible RTI can improve passenger perceptions and increase transit ridership.

Both municipalities and RTI providers would benefit from collaborative public-private partnerships. Technology companies can aggregate cities’ open source data in an easily viewable format. Public procurement regulations are often complex. The public sector could benefit by reviewing and streamlining its existing public space and advertising regulations to enhance provision of RTI for consumers.

List of Acronyms and AbbreviationsEdit

AARP - American Association of Retired Persons
ABAG - Association of Bay Area Governments
AD - Americans with Disabilities Act
API - Application Programming Interface
APTA - American Public Transportation Association
ARC - Atlanta Regional Commission, Atlanta Regional Council
AVL - Automatic Vehicle Location
BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit
BID - Business Improvement District
BUC - Buckhead Uptown Connection
CBD - Community Benefit District
CID - Community Improvement District
COG - Council of Governments
CRG - Civic Resource Group International
CTA - Chicago Transit Authority
DART - Dallas Area Rapid Transit
DOA - Department of Administration (State of Montana)
DOT - Department of Transportation
FTA - Federal Transit Administration
GDOT - Georgia Department of Transportation
GPS - Global Positioning System
GRTA - Georgia Regional Transportation Authority
GRYITS - Greater Yellowstone Rural Intelligent Transportation Systems
GSA - General Services Administration
GTFS - General Transit Feed Specification
HART - Hillsborough Area Regional Transit
HBLRT - Hudson-Bergen Light Rail
HSP - Hub Signage Program
ITS - Intelligent Transportation System
JPO - Joint Program Office
LCI - Livable Centers Initiative
LED - Light-Emitting Diode
LIZ - Living Innovative Zones
MAG - Maricopa Association of Governments
MAG - Minimum Annual Guarantee
MARTA - Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
MDT - Mobile Data Terminal
MDT - Montana Department of Transportation
MPO - Metropolitan Planning Organization
MTC - Metropolitan Transportation Commission
MUNI - San Francisco Municipal Railway
ODT - Open Data Transit
ORCA - One Regional Card for All
PATH - Port Authority Trans-Hudson
RRFP - Regional Reduced Fare Program
RTI - Real-Time Information
SDOT - Seattle Department of Transportation
SFMTA - San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
STIR - Startup in Residence
TDM - Transportation Demand Management
TM - Travel Montana
TNC - Transportation Network Company
TOD - Transit Oriented Development


This document was prepared by the graduate students of George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government and International affairs during the spring 2016 Transportation Policy, Operations, and Logistics Master’s Degree Practicum.

This group wishes to recognize Dr. Jonathan Gifford for his expert guidance during the development of this report. In addition to his duties as a Professor at George Mason University in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs, he is director of the Center for Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy. We thank him for the time he has invested in our futures.

Special thanks to Mr. Matt Caywood, CEO of TransitScreen, for requesting this report. As our client he has provided us with an opportunity to gain real-world experience in a growing field.

The following students collaborated on this project: Darren Tucker (Project Lead), Vladislav Chebakin, Alex Higginbotham, Naquana Jenkins, Peder Jerstad, Malcolm Kenton, Brad Marten, Evan Moser, Emily Norton, Brian Orlino, Paul Scullion, Christine Sherman, Rachel Stryker, Michael Tierney, Caleb Weitz, Charles Whaley.

Case Studies DetailedEdit

San FranciscoEdit



Jersey CityEdit



State of MontanaEdit


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