From ITS America

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- TheCentral Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) is in the midst of a long-term operations upgrade that features the latest in Intelligent Transportation Systems technologies. With Computer Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL) and Web Itinerary Planning functionality already in place, COTA has set its sites on even more cutting-edge technologies for improving operating efficiency and customer service.

Created in 1971, COTA serves an area of 543 square miles with a fleet of more than 300 buses covering nearly 1,000 route miles and 5,500 bus stop locations. To increase operation efficiency and safety, and to enhance customer service, COTA has begun implementing a multi-year plan for the deployment of transit based intelligent transportation systems.

CAREERS in Transit

The foundation of COTA's ITS plan is Computer Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location capacity functionality provided by its CAREERS system (Cota Advanced Replacement Economic Environment Radio System).

CAREERS, which is provided by Orbital Sciences, equips a dispatcher with a computer system that presents graphical representations of all COTA vehicle locations and schedule performance -- all associated with city of Columbus street maps. Through on-board computers and text/e-mail type messaging, COTA operators can more efficiently communicate their status while still having an option to switch over to voice communications.

Prior to the introduction of this technology, dispatchers were limited only to radio communications with Operators who verbally indicated their status and location. Today, the CAREERS system tracks the location of every bus and service vehicle in the fleet -- which allows COTA to operate more safely and provide improved on-time service.

This improvement in the timeliness and accuracy of information received enables COTA to dispatch assistance in the event of an accident or other emergency; monitor adherence to schedules (route schedule adherence); provide accurate arrival times to special tracking devices (kiosks and/or variable message signs); and enhance operational efficiency by quickly communicating through "canned data messages" (similar to e-mail using a small display panel on each bus).

Typical communications between a bus operator and a dispatcher deal with routine events such as a sick passenger, flat tire, utilization of a lift for a disabled person, etc. If further information must be communicated or the situation is not routine, then either the bus driver or dispatcher can switch to voice communications.

The COTA CAREERS system is fully integrated with the Franklin County trunk group radio system. Software updates are loaded to the Advanced Mobile Data Terminal Devices (AMDT's) via a Wireless LAN, and scheduling data is automatically uploaded via the Trapeze FX-MON interface.

Through a partnership with Ohio State University faculty, the COTA's CAREERS system has been integrated with the Oztech Real Time Bus Arrival System to provide passengers at certain locations with the actual arrival times of their buses. Real Time Bus Arrival information -- along with fare and weather details - is electronically displayed at kiosks installed at COTA, three downtown hotels, the local airport, the Columbus Convention Center, the North Market, and six area shelters.

In all, the CAREERS system has resulted in improved service to the public. Fewer buses are running early than they had in the recent past. As a result, on-time performance has improved for COTA passengers.

CAREERS System Saves a Life>

The CAREERS (CAD/AVL) system had been installed for just a few months, and was still undergoing testing, when an operator driving an AVL equipped bus suffered a heart attack. Fortunately he was able to pull close to the side of the road, and pushed the emergency button. The CAD/AVL system includes a safety feature that allows the operator to connect live to the dispatcher and informs the dispatcher