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USE AND DEPLOYMENT OF MOBILE DEVICE TECHNOLOGY FOR REAL-TIME TRANSIT INFORMATION SUMMARY Customer information is often a critical element of public transit authorities’ strategy not only for providing transportation services but also for encouraging and facilitating the use of these services. The expectations of riders and nonriders help define the parameters within which agencies provide information. In meeting these expectations, agencies con- sider that customer information must be relevant, accurate, timely, and targeted to meet a diverse number of needs that reflect their communities, and it is important that it be avail- able in different formats by means of a wide range of dissemination media/channels. In TCRP Synthesis 68: Methods of Ridership Communication, three of the factors governing effective communication are the stage of the travel chain in which the communication is needed, the demographic characteristics of the communications recipients, and their own- ership of and ability to use technology. Mobile technology, specifically mobile phones and smartphones, is one way for agencies to address these factors. The demographics of transit riders have changed significantly over the past 5 years, with many more riders and nonriders using cell phones or even smartphones, which provide Internet access and other capabilities such as mobile e-mail and application programs. This change has prompted transit agencies to look beyond providing information by means of traditional dissemination media such as dynamic message signs, which require more resources to implement (e.g., costs for installation, power, communication, and mainte- nance). At the same time, agencies’ capabilities to provide real-time information have grown considerably, with many agencies deploying technologies that allow them to pro - vide customers with real-time information, such as when the next vehicles will arrive at a particular stop or station. Starting in the early 2000s, many transit agencies in the United States began to offer static information on mobile devices, including timetables, service alerts, and trip plan- ning. At that time, there were a limited number of mobile devices on the market, meaning that some agencies could develop simple applications for these devices in-house without significant expenditures. For example, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bay Area Rapid Transit in the San Francisco Bay area developed its own applications for the Palm operating system (OS). However, since that time, the explosion of mobile devices on the market has made it virtually impossible for agencies to keep current on the types of devices and their specific requirements and to develop, manage, and maintain mobile applications for these devices. These developments, coupled with the fact that agencies can now provide more types of customer information, caused agencies to look outside their organizations for third parties to assist them in providing information on mobile devices. This synthesis examines and documents the state of the practice in the use and deploy- ment of real-time transit information on mobile devices using the following five dimensions: • The underlying technology required to generate the information that will be dis- seminated on mobile devices, including the underlying software, hardware, and communications;
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2 • The mobile technology used for information dissemination, including handset capa- bilities, and the specific mobile delivery channels used, such as text messaging [also k nown as short message service (SMS)], mobile Internet, and smartphone applications; • The characteristics of the information, including message types, content, format, accessibility, and method of dissemination (push/pull); the use of standards; and the reliability and accuracy of the information; • The resources required to successfully deploy information on mobile devices, includ- ing capital and operations and maintenance costs, agency staff requirements, customer costs, and other resources (e.g., managing an external application development pro - gram); and • The contribution of mobile messaging to an overall agency communications strategy, including “information equity.” Here, information equity is defined as providing real- time information by means of at least two dissemination media in both audio and visual formats. This synthesis includes a review of the relevant literature, in addition to the results of a survey that was conducted as part of this project. This survey included items in the dimen- sions described earlier, as well as questions regarding lessons learned in deploying real-time information on mobile devices. This synthesis also contains the results of interviews with key personnel at agencies that have exemplary approaches to providing mobile information. The literature review revealed a wealth of material on the subject of providing real-time information on mobile devices. The literature that focuses on the development of innovative mobile applications, use of mobile device technology to enhance real-time information (e.g., device location), and use of social networking is also plentiful and covers both U.S. and international studies. Four major conclusions resulted from the literature review. First, the underlying technologies required to generate the real-time information provided on mobile devices are well understood. Several recent studies have documented the most innovative uses of the underlying technologies. For example, two European agencies describe combin- ing real-time information with trip planning and providing this capability on mobile devices. Second, the literature confirms that it is important to consider certain characteristics of mobile technology when providing real-time information on mobile devices. Several papers discuss these factors, including mobile messaging reliability and usability, handset display dimensions, memory and processing speed, and access to communications networks. Third, although the deployment of real-time information on mobile devices is growing in the United States, there has been more deployment in Europe and Asia. However, the development of mobile applications based on “open data” is more prevalent in the United States. There is a distinct difference between the United States and Europe and Asia in embracing an open- data approach. Finally, using mobile phone location and social networking is revolutioniz- ing the provision of real-time information on mobile devices. Even though the regulations governing mobile phone location tracking vary among the United States, Europe, and Japan (Linda Ackerman, James Kempf, and Toshio Miki, “Wireless Location Privacy: Law and Policy in the United States, EU and Japan,” Internet Society, Nov. 2003, http://www.isoc. org/briefings/015/), the use of mobile device location capability allows current location data to be combined with real-time information. And mobile devices can use real-time informa- tion provided by means of social networking sites, such as Twitter. The survey conducted as part of this synthesis covered the five dimensions mentioned earlier. Surveys were received from 28 transit agencies (100% response rate) around the world, including 10 international agencies. All responses represent agencies that carry more than 3.9 billion passengers annually (with the exception of Transport for London and Rejse- planen A/S in Valby, Denmark), with more than 1.4 billion in the United States. The deployment of real-time information on mobile devices has not been specifically documented by the FTA or APTA. However, in reviewing the websites of the 276 U.S. transit
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3 agencies (APTA Membership Directory, Regular US Transit Systems, https://www.apta- gateway.com/eweb/DynamicPage.aspx?Webcode=APTAMembershipSearch, accessed May 18, 2010) that are members of APTA, approximately 45 of them provide some infor- mation on mobile devices, with approximately 15 of the 45 providing real-time information on mobile devices. In the United Kingdom, according to Knoop and Eames (Public Trans- port Technology in the United Kingdom: Annual Survey 2008, prepared for Real Time Information Group, RTIG Library Reference RTIG-PR010-D001-1.2, pp. 25–29, http:// www.rtig.org.uk/web/docs/PDF/Downloads/RTIG-PR010-D001-1.0-Survey-2008.pdf), virtual dissemination of real-time information, including the use of mobile devices [SMS and wireless application protocol (WAP) devices], covered a total of 105,099 stops in 2008, with a projection of 119,081 stops in 2010. Real-time information provided by means of SMS requires the mobile user to send a text message formatted in a specific way to a five- or six-digit common short code. The user will receive a text message back containing the requested information. The synthesis survey covered the five dimensions of mobile real-time information and requested lessons learned. The 28 responding agencies’ annual ridership ranged from 1 million (fixed-route bus and tourist van respondent) to 101.5 million (Tri-County Metropol- itan Transportation District of Oregon) to 1 billion (National Rail in the United Kingdom). In terms of the characteristics of the underlying technology required to generate the information that is disseminated on mobile devices, the mobile devices and operating sys- tems, and the actual mobile messages, the survey responses indicated that the top seven most prevalent underlying technologies are as follows: 1. Real-time arrival prediction software (89% of respondents) 2. Automatic vehicle location (82%) 3. Computer-aided dispatch (64%) 4. Two-way messaging capability [e.g., using SMS (text messaging)] (57%) 5. Alert subscription system (46%) 6. Schedule adherence functionality (46%) 7. Onboard data communication system (39%) Survey respondents reported a wide variation in the types of real-time information and the frequency with which it is updated. The most prevalent type of information that is updated on an ongoing basis is next vehicle arrival/departure prediction time, followed by information on planned detours, display/announcement of the current route and destina- tion, identification of service disruptions, and schedule information during special events. As expected, the most prevalent information updated based on a specific threshold or time period is next vehicle arrival/departure prediction time. In terms of dissemination media, mobile media (mobile web/Internet, smartphone applications, and two-way SMS) were some of the most prevalent. This was expected, as the survey was targeted at agencies that use mobile media in addition to more tradi- tional dissemination channels. One of the reasons mobile technology was deployed was to provide real-time information more cost-effectively. However, few (4 of 28) respondents conducted a study to determine whether or not real-time information on mobile devices should be deployed. As discussed in the subsection on mobile technology in chapter three,
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4 this would indicate that business cases or models are not being conducted or constructed to determine whether or not to provide information on mobile devices. One of the key results of the survey indicated that many of the respondents are using either third-party mobile content/applications providers or individuals to provide real-time information on and develop applications for mobile devices. This result confirms that many transit agencies have limited internal resources to develop, manage, and maintain real-time mobile applications. The types of mobile services provided by the respondents are shown in Figure 26 (in chap- ter three). This list is purely for informational purposes and does not imply any endorsement by TRB or its sponsors. For the most part, mobile services are available on both conventional mobile phones and smartphones. The mobile operating systems used by the respondents’ mobile services are as follows: • iPhone OS (50% of respondents reported using this mobile operating system) • Windows Mobile (46%) • Palm OS/Palm webOS (36%) • Research in Motion (36%) • Pocket PC (32%) • Symbian OS (32%) • A ndroid (32%) • Maemo (Nokia) (25%) • Mobile Linux (21%) • bada (Samsung) (18%) The characteristics of the real-time information on mobile devices covered the format of SMS requests and the format of the real-time information returned to the mobile user. Many systems have similar formatting for SMS messages because SMS has a limit of 160 Latin characters. The format of mobile websites containing real-time information varies depending on how the agency uses the phone or smartphone screen real estate. The formats of third-party mobile applications of real-time information vary greatly. Another key component of mobile real-time information is whether it is provided on a push (information pushed to customer under specific circumstances) or pull (accessing a mobile website or requesting information on-demand) basis. Survey respondents indicated that the selection of push versus pull would depend on the actual use of the information and the customer’s location in the “trip chain” when accessing information. (A trip chain is the connection of all the consecutive steps in a transit trip from origin to destination. For example, a trip chain might include walking from the origin to a bus stop, boarding a bus at the bus stop, alighting the bus at a subway station, boarding a subway at the station, alighting at another subway station, and walking to the final destination.) Further, respondents thought that the use of pull provides customers with the latest information when they want it. A wide variety of standards were used in providing mobile information, but they can be separated into two categories: those that relate to the specific transit information (e.g., iden- tification of fixed objects in public transport) and those that relate to the formatting of the information (e.g., wireless application protocol). As discussed in prior syntheses (TCRP Synthesis 68: Methods of Ridership Communica- tion and TCRP Synthesis 48: Real-Time Bus Arrival Information Systems) and an FTA proj- ect on real-time information (Guidance for Developing and Deploying Real-Time Traveler Information Systems for Transit), a limited number of respondents monitor the reliability and accuracy of the information provided on mobile devices. However, the agencies that monitor reliability and accuracy provided brief descriptions of their monitoring process. For exam-
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5 ple, one agency relies on its vendor to ensure accuracy and reliability. In another agency, ongoing monitoring is performed at 5-min intervals, field verification is done quarterly, and customer feedback is used to identify problems. Another agency uses system reliability measurements that are taken each month based on the “uptime” of its system. Depending on how well the system scores, this agency has contract language that allows it to mon- etarily penalize the system contractor up to $10,000 per month. Another agency has built logic into the application to monitor accuracy. Another agency is defining its performance monitoring procedures, which will likely include comparing information received by the mobile device with what the user is actually experiencing. In terms of resource requirements, data were collected on the capital, operations and maintenance costs, and agency labor requirements. The data reported by agencies were limited, indicating that agencies are not fully aware of the costs and labor requirements to provide real-time information on mobile devices. As expected, almost half of the respon- dents said that their information technology departments were responsible for deploying mobile information, with a little over 30% stating that their customer service departments were responsible. This synthesis revealed that mobile real-time information definitely contributes to agen- cies’ communications strategies. Chapter five contains information on how many survey respondents have a communications strategy and how many consider mobile information as part of their strategies. Further, respondents reported that they consider information equity when choosing dissemination media, and that providing real-time information on mobile devices is a way to attract “choice” riders. (Here information equity is defined as providing real-time information for every station or stop by means of at least two dissemi- nation media/channels using both visual and audio formats. This will ensure the all riders have equal access to the information.) Finally, chapter five provides examples of web-based marketing of mobile information, along with a brief discussion of the opportunities to pur- sue advertising revenue through mobile information. The four key results of the synthesis are as follows: • Although a limited number of transit agencies in the United States provide real- time information on mobile devices as of May 2010, there is a growing trend toward deploying this technology. • Using a third party to develop real-time applications and provide real-time infor- mation on mobile devices is overwhelmingly the approach that transit agencies are taking. • The costs of providing real-time information on mobile devices are not well under- stood and are discussed in only a limited way in the literature and survey responses. • The overall lessons learned that would benefit transit agencies that are considering providing real-time information on mobile devices are as follows: – An executive or board sponsor is critical to deploying this type of technology. Without this “champion,” it is a challenge to obtain and maintain agency depart- ments’ interest. – An architecture with a central source of all real-time information is impor- tant (from a regional perspective). This simplicity has been instrumental in the implementation. – It is important that the source data (from the automatic vehicle location system) be verified thoroughly from a reliability and accuracy standpoint. – Collecting usage statistics to indicate customer preferences among voice, SMS, mobile web, smartphone, etc., is important. – It may be useful to test the real-time information on the Internet first, and then deploy it on a mobile website. – It is worthwhile to have only one service provider that knows the market, the new technology, and the agency’s data structure, interfaces, databases, and web services.
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6 – Strong relationships with communication providers and mobile device suppliers are critical. – The “one customer” approach (regardless of the mode of travel being used or the information that is being requested) with one application (or suite of applications that are rationalized) is an important driver. Users do not want to change between car parking, bus, train, subway, walking, and wayfinding applications; they prefer one application that is smart enough to respond to their needs. Further, the integra- tion of ticketing and these applications may be a useful consideration. The five key conclusions resulting from the synthesis are summarized as follows: • One of the most critical considerations for providing real-time information on mobile devices is the agency’s ability to develop, manage, and maintain mobile applications in-house or manage third-party application development and services. • There is a strong relationship between the open-data approach and the resources neces- sary to create useful and accurate real-time mobile applications. • Providing real-time transit information on mobile devices is beginning to be more prevalent than the use of other more traditional dissemination media, such as dynamic message signs and interactive voice response. • Although using third parties to develop innovative real-time mobile applications defi- nitely saves resources, agencies might consider that not all existing and potential cus- tomers will have mobile devices, and that not all applications will satisfy the needs of all customers. • Personalization of information is critical to the success of providing information on mobile devices. It should be noted that since this synthesis was initially written, many key developments related to the synthesis topic have taken place. The most significant development is in the area of “open data.” Between January and September 2010, the number of U.S. agencies with open data has increased from 102 to 113 (“Simplifying the Open Transit Data Debate: A Comprehensive Guide to Providing Real-Time Information to Your Passengers,” Feb. 8, 2010, http://www.mentoreng.com/blog/index.php/2010/02/simplifying-the-open-transit- data-debate-a-comprehensive-guide-to-providing-real-time-information-to-your-passen- gers/ and http://www.citygoround.org/agencies/us/?public=all). For example, after the initial draft of this report was prepared, Transport for London began providing free access to data that were either unavailable to the public or were restricted, the New York Metro - politan Transportation Authority opened its schedule data to the public, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority opened its real-time data to the public. Other develop- ments, such as the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon providing real-time information by text message, occurred in August 2010. This report covers the most relevant developments that occurred on or before September 2010, when the final version of this report was completed.