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Center for Transportation Studies

"Developing ITS to Serve a Diverse Population"

Presentation by Frank Douma, Assistant Director, State and Local Policy Program, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

September 12, 2006

Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) carry the potential to greatly improve non-traditional transportation. Frank Douma, assistant director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, discussed research that is exploring how ITS could best serve a diverse population at the September 12, 2006, Advanced Transportation Technologies Seminar, sponsored by the ITS Institute.

For the study, diversity was defined in the context of trip type, mode, and users—especially “those [individuals] who do not rely on a single-occupant vehicle as their primary transport mode,” Douma said. 

Douma explained that the project, conducted by Humphrey-affiliated researchers, is made up of four separate studies—on the I-394 MnPASS project, advanced transit information systems (ATIS), car sharing, and community-based transportation.

For the I-394 MnPASS evaluation, the researchers measured attitudes and awareness of the MnPASS project overall along with the equity impacts, the technology, and subsequent changes in driver behavior. The I-394 MnPASS express lanes opened to the public in May 2005, allowing solo drivers to drive in dedicated lanes for a fee that varies based on traffic levels. Carpool and bus riders travel for free.

Findings from three panel surveys, before and after the project was implemented, showed 60 percent of the respondents, across all income levels, supported the project. In addition, most users rated the operation of MnPASS as favorable.

The second study in the project examined ATIS, which includes a number of different traffic information services, route guidance and destination information, and information for transit planning. For this study, the researchers used the online transit planning Web sites for the Los Angeles area (www.mta.net) and the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area (www.metrotransit.org). From focus groups, they discovered that these online services were generally a good way to plan trips. Los Angeles users, however, thought the MTA Web site was unable to plan complex trips. Minnesota users commented on their inability to plan suburban trips. The latter, Douma noted, may be due to limited suburban service.

Minnesota users were very satisfied with the ability to go online and plan their trip within a few minutes of heading out the door and felt “an immediate sense of confidence in using the Web site.” Los Angeles users felt that more visual information would be useful, while Minnesota users expressed a need for better geographic information.

Next, Douma discussed car sharing, “a new innovation that raises as many policy questions as technological questions,” he said.

Car sharing is a membership organization that gives members access to vehicles. Members pay to join, then pay per use of a car.

Douma is developing a model that extends car sharing to “transportation disadvantaged” populations through time banking. In this model, individuals could earn time using a vehicle in exchange for volunteer time with an organization (such as a social service agency). Douma said this might be a way to give lower income people access to a car without the expense of ownership.

Car sharing currently appeals to middle income populations, Douma explained. However, as car sharing shifts private automobile costs from fixed to variable, it presents a lower cost opportunity for private automobile use. He pointed out that the fixed costs of car sharing are still higher than transit, walking, or bicycling, since car sharing involves paying a membership fee in addition to paying per trip. The time-banking model addresses this issue by creating opportunities for partnerships, cross-subsidies, and limiting subsidized use. “The logical partner is a transit agency, which increases or preserves ridership as part of this program at least in theory, and that’s all this is right now,” Douma said. For example, if an individual uses transit, say, 10 times, she or he would earn one hour toward car sharing.

The final study examined community-based transportation—specifically, the beliefs identified in earlier research that there are many privately held vehicles, and that many of these are underused. The notion that the specialized transportation system is inefficient or needs to be better coordinated relies to some extent on these two beliefs, Douma said. So researchers wanted to test the validity of these beliefs and also explore whether ITS technology could help agencies coordinate.

Through surveys, the researchers discovered there are likely more than 3000 organizations in Minnesota providing transportation at least occasionally, and the vast majority of these are social service and housing agencies outside of the specialized transportation system. A large fraction of organizations both provide and arrange transportation, and in many different ways. The evidence on whether vehicles are underused is mixed, Douma noted. The researchers did find interest in collaboration, but also barriers—from insurance issues to legal constraints on how organizations can operate vehicles. “We need to learn more about the vehicle purpose before we can know how using technology could be beneficial,” Douma said.