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PASSENGER COUNTING SYSTEMS SUMMARY TCRP Synthesis 29, published in 1998, summarized information from selected transit agencies regarding the benefits and pitfalls associated with various passenger counting technologies, as reported by users. The synthesis provided advice for agencies considering automatic passenger counter (APC) systems. At that time, manual passenger counting was the most prevalent technique in the transit industry. This report documents the state of the practice in terms of analytical tools and tech- nologies for measuring transit ridership and other subsidiary data. Results of a web-based survey of a cross-section of transit agencies in North America document tools and technol- ogies used to count passenger boardings and alightings. Forty-one completed surveys were received from the 56 transit agencies approved by the panel for inclusion in the sample, a response rate of 73%. In addition, 45 agencies responded to an invitation to all American Public Transportation Association (APTA) members to participate in the survey, for a total of 86 transit agencies. Survey results include transit agency assessments of the effective - ness and reliability of their methodologies and of desired improvements. The survey was designed to emphasize APC systems, but agencies using manual systems were also sur- veyed to gain an understanding of why new technologies have not been adopted. Key survey findings include the following: The most common reason to collect ridership and travel time data is to compile rid- ership data by route, although the majority of respondents also collect ridership and travel time data for more specific microlevel uses at the route segment or stop level. Tracking ridership changes, calculating performance measures, and adjusting sched- ules were the three most common uses of ridership and travel time data. A majority of respondents use a combination of automated and manual methods to collect ridership data. The most common combinations involve APC plus manual data collection and farebox plus manual collection. In many cases, an older technol- ogy is retained to test the validity of the new technology or for a specific purpose, such as National Transit Database reporting or data validation. Agencies that continue to collect ridership data manually cite cost as a reason, fol- lowed by low priority for automated data collection at the agency. Smaller systems (fewer than 250 peak buses) are more likely to continue to rely on manual data collection. Only a portion of most agencies' buses are APC-equipped; however, more than one- quarter of responding agencies have installed APCs on all buses. Nine of the 12 agencies that are 100% APC-equipped bought APCs as part of a broader intelligent transportation systems (ITS) purchase. Changes in professional staffing levels as a result of APC implementation were mini- mal in most cases: More than 70% of all agencies reported no changes or decreases in

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2 staff levels. However, there were notable decreases in the size of traffic checking units. The case studies suggest that assigning analytical and maintenance staff specifically to the APC program is an important factor in successful implementations. The median reported capital cost per APC unit was $6,638 among the 26 agencies responding. The median reported annual operating and maintenance cost per APC unit was $600 among the 11 agencies responding. Cost data from the survey should be interpreted cautiously, as respondents varied in their ability to break down cost data (especially for older systems or for APC systems purchased as part of a larger ITS procurement). Processing APC data often requires changes to existing data systems, such as addi- tion of global positioning system coordinates for stops and an updated or new bus stop inventory. A few agencies noted the establishment of defined interfaces between computerized scheduling software packages and APC or automatic vehicle location systems. For data storage and analysis, the most common changes were the addition of servers for data storage and new database software for analysis. Automated data validation programs, provided by the APC vendor, developed in-house, or purchased from a third party, can simplify the process of converting raw APC data into usable data. Agencies reported various thresholds for determining validity at the block or trip level. A majority of agencies rely on the hardware vendor for data processing and report generation software, but several indicated in-house software development or use of an outside vendor other than the APC vendor. Anyone who has been through the process of implementing a new technology knows that there is a "debugging" period. The debugging period, during which start-up prob - lems are resolved, averages 17 months for APCs, identical to the finding of the 1998 synthesis, with a median of 18 months. The planning department is the most common location for management of the APC sys- tem, followed by the operations department. There is widespread involvement across departments in procurement of the APC system and use of the APC data. Downstream users typically access APC data electronically by means of standard reports, and 41% of agencies noted that downstream users could query the database directly. Implementation of APCs necessarily involves multiple departments within the tran- sit agency. Positive aspects include improved communication among departments, greater value placed on ridership data, improved decision-making ability, greater responsiveness, and the ability to provide the needed data to end users. Difficulties include problems ensuring that assignments were completed, new demands for reports, low priority for APC equipment in the maintenance department, and unrealistic expec- tations regarding turnaround time and data quality. Implementation of APCs creates a need for training. A majority of respondents noted increased training needs in the areas of software/computer, analytical, and hard- ware skills. Only one-quarter of responding agencies reported no additional training needs. The primary benefits of APCs included data disaggregated at the stop, segment, and trip levels; better quality of ridership data; availability of running time data to adjust schedules; and a better basis for decision making.

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3 Problems encountered with the APC system included reporting software, data process- ing and analysis, data validation, and hardware problems. One-quarter of all respondents reported either no problems or only the usual start-up issues. Results regarding agency satisfaction with the performance of its APC system in terms of counting passengers are positive: Eighty-five percent of respondents were very or some- what satisfied. Forty percent were very satisfied, and 45% were somewhat satisfied. Contract elements, procurement procedures, purchase of additional APC units, and the overall approach to APC implementation were the most frequently mentioned aspects of the APC process that transit agencies would like to change. Regarding procurement, stricter contractual requirements, purchase of a complete system through a single vendor, and changes to internal procedures were all important. Changes to the overall approach included being more informed about APC hardware and software choices, involving main- tenance personnel at the start of the process, dedicating one or more technicians to work full time on APCs, completing the bus stop inventory before installation, and hiring a stat- istician to develop a methodology for passenger counting before vendor selection. Almost three-quarters of all survey respondents that have implemented APC systems shared lessons learned from the process. Agencies focused on use and validation of the APC data, purchase and implementation, and ongoing agency maintenance in the discus- sion of lessons learned. Agencies offered lessons in many areas, but the emphasis on data systems and agency procedures suggests that these areas are critical to the success of APC implementation. Major conclusions include the following: APCs provide a rich ridership and travel time database at a finer level of detail than farebox or manual counts, even for agencies with only a few APCs. The increased number of observations lends greater confidence to decisions regarding changes in service levels. An agency does not need APC units on all vehicles to establish a work- able APC system, although installation of APCs on all vehicles produces a richer database and avoids vehicle assignment problems. An APC system does not work automatically. Successful agencies have developed procedures (in-house or through an outside vendor) to match APC data to bus stops, clean and validate data, generate standard reports, simplify the process of creating ad hoc reports, and flag potential hardware and software problems for the mainte - nance and information technology departments. The data processing and reporting software is the most important part of an APC implementation. Integration of APC data with existing agency databases, which may also be changing as a result of new technologies is challenging. Agencies' business practices and procedures may not be designed to make optimal use of available data. APC implementation is not simple, and the first year is the most difficult. There is a steep learning curve, particularly on the software side, and there are likely to be internal agency issues regarding responsibilities and priorities. Ownership of the APC system is important, as is collaboration across departments. The ownership part of the equation, in which one department assumes overall respon- sibility, ensures that the APC system receives priority, whereas the collaboration part works best when the lead department is attuned to the needs and procedures of other departments and can adjust to meet these needs. A good working relationship between the lead department and the maintenance personnel assigned to APCs is critical.

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4 Staffing presents a challenge, especially to small and medium-sized agencies. Successful implementations are characterized by close review of APC data as part of a quality assurance program, particularly in the first year when bugs are being worked out, and a dedicated maintenance technician or group of technicians who assumes primary responsibility for hardware issues. Agencies may not have the staff available or may not have staff with the right mix of skills. Transit agencies that have worked through the myriad issues associated with APC implementation cannot imagine life without APCs. These agencies reap the benefits of extensive and statistically valid data that are used with confidence to make important service-related decisions. Findings from this synthesis suggest eight major areas for future study: In-depth investigation of critical factors to success. Are there optimal routines to match APC data to specific bus stops? What elements of a validation program are most critical to ensuring quality data? Which elements of reporting software are most useful, and what is the best way to create ad hoc query ability? How can APC data be integrated most usefully with existing agency databases? How can an agency "manage" the learn- ing curve? Are there techniques to foster APC system ownership and collaboration? What if adequate staff is not available and added staff is not an option? How important is a strong commitment from senior management to the APC program? Exploration of various avenues to success. Both in-house and third-party approaches have been successful. Are there circumstances in which one is preferable to another? What is the state of the art in software packages? Ongoing developments within the transit industry, such as deployment of ITS technology, increased vendor attention to complete (hardware plus software) product packages, and a wider choice of hardware and software options (including off-the-shelf software), affect the answer to this ques- tion and suggest additional possibilities. Evaluation of data cleaning and validation techniques. This is an important barrier to success and is perhaps the major source of frustration to agencies that indicated dissat- isfaction with their APC systems. Confidence in the accuracy of APC data is critical to their widespread use and acceptance within and outside the transit agency. Many agen- cies struggling with this step view it as a hardware problem, but its solution resides in considering both the hardware and the software used to clean and validate the data. More precise identification of factors preventing success and ways to overcome them. Data validation is not the only barrier to success. Broader hardware, software, and personnel issues need to be addressed and overcome, and a closer examination of suc- cessful strategies would serve the transit industry well. Exploration of new technologies that may improve APC data collection accuracy. As ITS technologies evolve, new hardware and software options that improve the accuracy of APC data are likely to emerge. What are the most promising options in this area? Investigation of alternative techniques, algorithms, and methodologies that can improve the state of the art of APC systems. As more agencies implement APC systems, the market for innovation grows larger. Using existing technology, what improvements can address the needs of transit agencies? Identification of business intelligence and data reporting tools that can be used with APC data. As data systems are integrated and downstream users begin to rely on APC data, new approaches and innovative analytical strategies can be expected. Additional

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5 uses of APC data will continue to emerge as users become more knowledgeable and will affect data needs or the priority afforded to the APC system. Establishing a data warehouse can provide an opportunity to take advantage of many business intelli- gence techniques such as data mining. Institution of new methods of disseminating information on APC systems. This syn- thesis has provided a snapshot of the state of passenger counting systems in 2008. An APC forum or workshop, webinars on APC implementation and use of APC data, and an electronic mailing list devoted to APC-related issues are all possibilities to extend the findings of this report and to provide a continuing means for agencies to share information and learn from each other's experiences.

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