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48 CHAPTER SEVEN FINDINGS, LESSONS LEARNED, AND CONCLUSIONS SUMMARY OF PROJECT SCOPE PROJECT FINDINGS The primary purpose of this synthesis was to determine the Based on the literature review, the responses to the ques- experience with providing real-time transit information on tionnaire, and the case studies, there are four key findings mobile devices in the United States and abroad, and how of this synthesis project. First, although a limited number of agencies are using this dissemination channel to serve the transit agencies in the United States provide real-time infor- needs of their customers. Thus, the project examined and mation on mobile devices as of September 2010, there is a documented the state of the practice in the use and deploy- growing trend toward deploying this technology. As shown ment of real-time transit information on mobile devices in the survey results, the majority of respondents decided using the following five dimensions: to deploy real-time transit information on mobile devices to augment providing real-time information by means of other • T he underlying technology required to generate dissemination media [e.g., dynamic message signs (DMSs), the information that will be disseminated on mobile Internet]. Also, in an era of service reductions and reduced devices. This dimension covers the required underly- overall budgets, transit agencies are using this type of tech- ing software, hardware, and communications. nology to provide better customer service. Nearly 40% of the • The mobile technology used for information dissemi- respondents indicated that they decided to deploy real-time nation, including handset capabilities, and the specific transit information on mobile devices as a more cost-effec- mobile delivery channels used, such as text messaging tive way of providing real-time information. [a.k.a short message service (SMS)], mobile Internet, and smartphone applications. According to CTIA—The Wireless Association®—the • The characteristics of the information, including mes- number of mobile phone subscribers in the United States as sage types, content, format, accessibility, and method of the end of 2009 was estimated at 285,600,000, constituting of dissemination (push/pull); the use of standards; and 91% of the U.S. population. This mobile device penetration the reliability and accuracy of the information. together with transit agencies seeking more channels through • The resources required to successfully deploy infor- which information can be provided to their customers have mation on mobile devices, including capital and opera- created a significant market for real-time information on tions and maintenance costs, agency staff requirements, mobile devices. In examining the transit agency members of customer costs, and other resources (e.g., managing an APTA, approximately 45 U.S. transit agencies are providing external application development program). some information on mobile devices, with approximately 15 • The contribution of mobile messaging to an overall of them providing real-time information on mobile devices. agency communications strategy, including “infor- mation equity.” Here, information equity is defined as Second, using a third party to develop real-time applica- providing real-time information through at least two tions and provide real-time information on mobile devices is dissemination media in both audio and visual formats. overwhelmingly the approach that transit agencies are tak- ing, for a variety of reasons. There are five key elements of The project was conducted in the following major steps: this study finding: • Literature review, • Many agencies have limited IT and related staff, mak- • Survey to collect information on a variety of factors, ing it challenging to develop applications and manage • A nalysis of survey results, and the information dissemination in-house. • Interviews conducted with key personnel at agencies • The myriad mobile devices and operating systems, and that have experience with providing real-time informa- the speed with which new devices are being released, tion on mobile devices. create a demanding environment within which to develop applications and keep up with new technology. This section of the report contains the project’s findings, • With mobile content being used in other industries, lessons learned, and conclusions. such as entertainment (e.g., television, radio, movies,
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49 and music), advertising, and consumer products, there information or using mobile devices for dissemination is a significant body of knowledge available to facili- requires not only a shift in traditional transit organiza- tate the development of useful and innovative mobile tions but also incorporating this type of information applications. dissemination into strategic planning. In addition, • With the large number of mobile phone and smart- using the information that is generated to dissemi- phone subscribers, there is a great deal of familiarity nate by means of mobile devices could be helpful to with mobile applications that are similar to real-time parts of the organization, potentially requiring a shift transit information. in organizational roles and responsibilities. Further, • The open-data movement is having a significant effect efficiencies may be realized from deploying mobile on agencies providing real-time information on mobile information (e.g., removing fixed assets or reducing devices. As seen in the survey results and case studies, the volume of printed materials), but to date it does not several agencies that have embraced this approach do appear that these are considered in strategic communi- not have to expend resources on in-house development. cations planning. • Embracing an open-data approach, which is used often Thus, the use of third parties that either specialize in pro- to provide information on mobile devices, requires viding mobile content or have the capability to develop tran- resources to ensure that the data are accurate and have sit-specific mobile applications has been widely accepted integrity. Agencies that have embraced this approach in the United States as an effective approach to providing recognize that there are fewer resources required to real-time information on mobile devices. As demonstrated ensure data accuracy and integrity than there are to by the applications described in the literature review and develop mobile applications, given the large number mentioned in the survey responses and case study inter- of mobile phones and operating systems in the current views, agencies in the United States, for the most part, are market. Also, agencies may need to “filter” data that are not developing their own applications. They are relying on made available for third-party application development third parties that specialize in developing, disseminating, because raw data can be misleading. Further, agencies and managing mobile content. may need to “educate” third parties (or even internal IT staff) that are not transit savvy but are developing Third, the costs of providing real-time information on mobile applications using agency data. mobile devices are not well understood and were discussed in a limited way in the literature and survey responses. The Specific findings based on the aforementioned dimen- costs include not only capital, operating, and maintenance sions are as follows. First, as expected, the top two under- costs for the underlying systems, but costs to the customer lying technologies are real-time arrival prediction software to use mobile services [e.g., access to the mobile Internet and automatic vehicle location (AVL). The top type of and short message service (SMS)], costs associated with real-time information provided on an ongoing basis is next the labor to develop and manage mobile applications and vehicle arrival/departure prediction time. The most common third-party arrangements, and costs associated with regis- dissemination media for real-time arrival/departure infor- tering common short codes (CSCs) that are used for SMS. mation are the Internet accessed using a personal computer Although the cost to customers is relatively small if mobile and the mobile web/Internet. access to the Internet and use of SMS are already included in their monthly mobile plan, the costs borne by the agency Second, the overwhelming reason for deploying informa- are not completely understood. tion on mobile devices is to augment information provided by means of other media. Further, many agencies think that However, many benefits are documented in the literature it is a more cost-effective way to provide real-time infor- and mentioned in the survey responses. The most significant mation. A limited number of agencies performed a study to benefits are improved customer service, better transit agency determine whether or not to deploy real-time information on image, potential increased ridership, and potential reduction mobile devices. To keep costs reasonable and owing to the in printed materials. lack of resources, many agencies use third parties to develop real-time applications for mobile devices rather than develop Finally, it is challenging for agencies to meet custom- them in-house. This trend coincides directly with agencies ers’ already high and escalating expectations for real-time that have embraced an open-data approach. A majority of information, given the way many agencies have previ- the mobile operating systems were covered by the agencies ously provided this type of information. Two primary fac- surveyed in this project. tors contribute to this finding (discussed further in another subsection): Third, mobile real-time information uses SMS, push (pro- viding information automatically when new information is • Transitioning to providing real-time information on available) and pull (accessing a mobile website to seek infor- mobile devices from either not providing this type of mation) actions, and a wide variety of transit-specific and
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50 mobile platform standards. Further, several of the survey The following issues are associated with providing real- respondents monitor the accuracy and reliability of informa- time information on mobile devices: tion disseminated by means of mobile devices. • There is still a need to provide information through Fourth, resource requirements for providing information other media when existing or potential customers do on mobile devices varied widely, but there was limited infor- not have access to mobile phones or smartphones. mation regarding the actual cost to an agency. In some cases, • From the user’s perspective, the biggest issue is having customers have to pay (beyond a regular fee from their mobile to wait for a mobile page to render. phone carrier to use SMS) for an SMS message with real- • Applications tend to be easy for the public to use, but it time information. For example, Singapore Public Transport is harder for the agency to determine how many appli- charges $0.30 Singapore dollars to receive an SMS. In other cations might be developed and for which platforms. cases, SMS messages are free to the customer (except for the • Keeping pace with multiple mobile platforms and regular charge to send/receive SMS messages imposed by the developing applications for them is challenging. mobile phone carrier). For example, Tri-County Metropolitan • Some users are not skilled on the use of mobile devices. Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet)’s SMS service is • General issues associated with push services are to free to customers, but advertising supports it. whom you push the information and when you provide information updates. In terms of saving resources, providing information • It can be challenging to inform customers about the on mobile devices has the potential to reduce the need for accessibility and use of mobile services. printed materials. Further, although participating in an open- • Funding, and internal policies, culture, and change data program requires resources to ensure data accuracy and present challenges. integrity, it appears to save significant resources if real-time • W hen there is no mobile signal along the routes, cus- information applications for mobile devices are developed tomers will not be able to access real-time information by third parties (at no cost to the agency). Successful third- on mobile devices. party applications have been developed for several agencies, including the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Several of these issues are contradictory, particularly the TriMet, Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), Transport idea that customers are both comfortable and uncomfort- for London, and New York City Transit. able with mobile devices. Further, the issue of relying on the dissemination of real-time information in areas where there Finally, information on mobile devices contributes is no mobile signal indicates that additional media must be to an agency’s communications strategy, even if a formal used to provide real-time information. strategy does not exist, and is considered a way to attract “choice” riders. However, some agencies consider informa- In terms of managing a program that supports third-party tion equity when selecting dissemination media/channels, development of mobile phone applications, the most signifi- such as mobile devices. The use of advertising to support cant issues are as follows: information on mobile devices varies widely among survey respondents. • Ensuring the accuracy of the data provided to and data generated from third-party applications; • Future maintenance of the program, branding issues and disagreements regarding payment for applications LESSONS LEARNED and owner rights; The four categories of lessons learned from the study are as • Lack of information governance, lack of understand- follows: ing of information ownership, and lack of integrated policy, leadership, and management; and • Issues and challenges associated with providing real- • The perception that the application comes from an time information on mobile devices; agency rather than a third party, resulting in questions • Issues associated with managing a third-party develop- directed to the agency that the agency cannot address. ment program; • Issues associated with operating and maintaining the In terms of operating and maintaining the hardware and hardware and software necessary to generate and dis- software necessary to generate and disseminate real-time seminate real-time information by means of mobile information through mobile devices, the following were devices; and identified as the most significant issues: • Overall lessons learned that would benefit transit agen- • Labor-intensive in terms of monitoring accuracy; cies that are considering providing real-time informa- • Mobile service providers and the effect they may have tion on mobile devices. on response time or signal availability;
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51 • Formatting the information to be displayed on various providing real-time information on mobile devices is the handsets; agency’s ability to develop, manage, and maintain mobile • AVL system up-time (servers, software, and onboard applications in-house or manage third-party application equipment); development and services. If an agency develops mobile • Number of mobile platforms and a rapid change in applications in-house, significant resources will be neces- operating system versions; sary to— • Maintaining interfaces from an agency’s platform to the great variety of mobile solutions; and • Ensure that data/information from the underlying • Cost, particularly the capital expenditure. technologies are accurate and reliable (e.g., institute a monitoring program); The overall lessons learned that would benefit transit • Develop and maintain the necessary software that agencies that are considering providing real-time informa- operates on all the possible mobile platforms being tion on mobile devices are as follows: used by existing and potential customers; • Consider the specific capabilities and requirements • A n executive or board sponsor is critical to deploying of the desired applications, including target mobile this type of technology. Without this “champion,” it is a devices, desired functionality, usability, software secu- challenge to obtain and maintain agency departments’ rity, and software performance; interest. • Use additional dissemination media to ensure infor- • A n architecture with a central source of all real-time mation accessibility and equity. This may require even information is important (from a regional perspec- more resources because some dissemination media tive). This simplicity has been instrumental in the require specific infrastructure [e.g., DMSs, interactive implementation. voice response (IVR)]; and • The source data (from the AVL system) must be • Keep current on mobile technology and update or mod- thoroughly verified from a reliability and accuracy ify applications as new technology becomes available standpoint. (e.g., when Windows Mobile 7 is released, Windows • Usage statistics to indicate customer preferences Mobile 6.5 applications may not run on smartphones among voice, SMS, mobile web, smartphone, etc., need with Windows Mobile 7). to be collected. • It is more difficult to ensure that the real-time informa- If an agency decides to use third parties to develop appli- tion on mobile devices is reliable than it is to provide cations or host and manage the dissemination of real-time the information on mobile devices. information on mobile devices, fewer resources may be • It may be useful to test the real-time information on the necessary than if applications are developed, maintained, Internet first, and then deploy it on a mobile website. and managed in-house and the dissemination is managed • It is worthwhile to have only one service provider that in-house. For example, using content/application provid- knows the market, the new technology, and the agency’s ers that specialize in software development and hosting for data structure, interfaces, databases, and web services. mobile messaging applications may require fewer resources • Exploitation of relationships with communication pro- than if development and management are done in-house. viders and device suppliers is critical. Further, “in addition to technical expertise, most applica- • Legacy systems lacking standards or with dissimilar tion providers support content providers with expertise on standards can be a problem, but a model that enables the best methods and techniques for maximizing participa- cloud deployment of such services can be helpful. tion and success of CSC applications” (Common Short Code • The “one customer” approach (regardless of the mode Administration, Find a Partner and Implement a CSC, http:// of travel being used or the information that is being www.usshortcodes.com/csc_partner.html, accessed May requested) with one application (or suite of applica- 20, 2010). tions that are rationalized) is an important driver. Users do not want to change between car parking, bus, train, However, the following activities are important to remem- subway, walking, and wayfinding applications—they ber in managing a third-party program: prefer one application that is smart enough to respond to their needs. Further, the integration of ticketing with • Ensure that data/information from the underlying these applications may be a useful consideration. technologies are accurate and reliable (e.g., institute a monitoring program). • A third-party developer program for individuals must include the following: CONCLUSIONS – Informing developers on the use of data and transit Several conclusions can be drawn from the results of the terminology; synthesis. First, one of the most critical considerations for
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53 fta.dot.gov/documents/TRANSPO_Feasibility_GPS_ manner. This issue might be studied from both the techni- Paratransit_Final.pdf, p. 30). cal perspective (e.g., mobile network availability) and user • “An SMS may fail to deliver to a handset on its first deliv- perspective (e.g., accuracy and reliability requirements). ery attempt for many reasons” (“Reliability of SMS,” Further, new technologies (such as 3G networks driven by http://www.cardboardfish.com/support/bin/view/Main/ Evolved High-Speed Packet Access, 4G networks, WiMax, ReliabilityOfSMS, accessed May 23, 2010). and Long-Term Evolution) might be assessed for reliability and usability. Fourth, although using third parties to develop innova- tive real-time mobile applications definitely saves resources, Much more information could be sought regarding the agencies might consider that not all existing and potential capital and operations and maintenance costs associated customers will have mobile devices, and not all applications with providing real-time information on mobile devices. will satisfy the needs of all customers. Thus, several survey Now that more agencies throughout the world are deploying respondents mentioned that traditional dissemination media this technology, research into these costs conducted over the for real-time information that can meet the needs of indi- next several years might yield more data than are available viduals without mobile devices should still be assessed for currently. Further, a study could be done into the resource deployment. For example, TriMet and BART recognize that requirements of working with mobile content/application they will not be able to cover all customers if they provided providers and independent application developers, as well real-time information only on mobile devices. Thus, they as the resource requirements associated with moving to an both have active marketing programs to continually assess open-data platform. the information needs of their customers. “Modeling” could be helpful to agencies in determining Finally, a few survey respondents mentioned personaliza- the most effective method for providing real-time infor- tion of information as critical to the success of providing mation on mobile devices. A model could help an agency information on mobile devices. The use of location-based select the most appropriate method, taking into account the services and social networking provides a certain level of mobile phone ownership of existing riders and the popula- personalization because customers will only receive infor- tion served by the agency, and resources required for each mation based on their location and interest, respectively. approach (e.g., open data and development of applications Further, many mobile applications allow users to customize by individuals), in addition to factors such as whether the the information they receive, such as signing up for real-time agency wants to attract new riders or maintain existing rider- alerts for only certain routes, stops, and time periods, and ship, and several other factors that have been mentioned in saving “favorites.” this synthesis. More in-depth information regarding the use of location- based services and social networking as mobile dissemination SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE STUDY media might be made available to agencies. This could be in Based on the survey results and literature review, the follow- the form of a guidance document that provides information on ing areas are suggested for future study to assist agencies in the state of the art of location-based services to provide real- determining how they might approach deploying real-time time information and examples of how specific agencies have information on mobile devices. First, one issue that is criti- used location-based services and social networking to provide cal for the success of providing real-time transit information customized real-time information. The examples could come on mobile devices is delivering the information in a timely from both the United States and abroad.