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40 CHAPTER SIX STRATEGIES AND BUSINESS MODELS FOR INFORMATION DELIVERY Beginning with the ITS Traveler Information Operational Challenges Facing Public-Operated Traveler Tests in the early 1990s, there have been attempts to gener- Information Systems ate self-sustaining traveler information systems that would either generate enough revenue to cover the public sector Responders to this study's survey were asked to identify operating costs or allow private companies to recoup costs challenges they face in maintaining and delivering traveler through advertising and subscription services to relieve the information (and were allowed to select as many as appropriate). financial burden on the public sector. Projects such as Tril- Figure 22 illustrates the responders' input on challenges faced. ogy, Genesis, and SWIFT all involved private sector part- ners seeking to establish a role in ongoing operations. In addition to selecting the survey options, the respond- ers added the following comments further describing their In summary, any effective business model needs ade- challenges: quate funding to perform the needed operations, and to per- form system enhancements and modifications as needed to · One responder noted the challenges of keeping up with continue to serve the users' needs. This section presents a technology changes (and costs involved to continu- synthesis of the business plan challenges that public agencies ously update systems); and face operating a traveler information system, together with a · Another responder noted a shortage of in-house staff as summary of business plan approaches. required to continue to add components to the system. FIGURE 22 Challenges facing traveler information operations.
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41 Access to Information Challenges Facing Traveler and therefore suggests that travelers' expectation of website Information Service Providers availability is as high as their use of the site. A large portion of the population now regularly uses the Internet The reliability of the 511 phone system is critical and and cellular phones. However, the accessibility and quality of redundancies are built into the ODOT 511 phone system to connections still varies, particularly from rural to urban areas. ensure continuous operation. However, even when inclement Based on feedback from surveyed agencies and industry par- weather has caused the maximum number of phone ports to ticipants, the following are examples of the accessibility chal- be in use and additional callers receive busy signals (which lenges to both the phone and web information dissemination: happens only rarely), travelers have not provided consid- erable negative feedback. This suggests that travelers can · Cell phone coverage and quality of service. Traveler understand phone lines being busy and are more accepting of information phone systems offering voice recognition it than they would be of malfunctioning websites, as long as services can function only as well as the phone connec- receiving a busy signal is an infrequent occurrence. ODOT tion. The potential for cellular phone access to traveler further clarified that they believe that, if travelers received information systems to gain information about condi- busy signals more often, they would not be as accepting. tions in rural areas will be challenged by the rural cel- ODOT is taking steps in their next-generation system to lular phone coverage for some time. reduce or possibly eliminate busy signals. · Internet speed and mapping functions. Internet users have become accustomed to high-quality, online map- Reliability (accuracy) of the information presented to ping products because of the free access offered by travelers is another related challenge. This issue is further mapping systems such as Google Maps and Mapquest. complicated by the interpretation of information. For exam- However, without high-bandwidth Internet connec- ple, a snow-plow driver may report a road as having "patches tions, the sophisticated maps can be slow to load. This of ice," the information delivery system could accurately presents a dilemma to agencies operating traveler report this manual description of the conditions, and travel- information systems. If they solely offer a service that ers still may understand "patches of ice" to mean something requires high bandwidth access, it is not available to different than an experienced plow operator. The detailed all travelers. One approach used by some agencies is review and discussion about data accuracy and precision was to offer both a high-bandwidth and a low-bandwidth not included in this study. site; however, this requires multiple systems and forces travelers to select an approach. Budget Challenges Facing Traveler Information Service Providers Reliability Challenges Facing Traveler Information Service Providers Defining the budget and costs to operate a traveler informa- tion delivery system can be interpreted many different ways. For purposes of this report, the reliability of a system refers For example, the data collection typically involves a num- to the frequency of which the system is operational and ber of field devices (such as loop detectors) used for other available. Reliability failures would include times when a purposes. In addition, operations staff time is often used to website cannot be accessed by travelers and/or portions of enter incident or event descriptions and typically internal the website or links from the site are not available, as well staff time is shared among many activities. Therefore, cap- as times when the phone system either is not operational or turing the true costs of information dissemination is open to provides callers with busy signals. interpretation. The survey conducted in this study showed that agencies However, responders to this study's survey were asked to operating traveler information systems were as concerned select the category that best describes their annual budget for about reliability as they were with the timeliness and accu- the operations of traveler information delivery. As Figure 23 racy of the data, and were more concerned about reliability suggests, the majority of agencies responding to this survey than the ease of use of the systems. operate with a budget of $250,000 or less, and only a small number of systems have budgets that exceed $500,000. Specific feedback from the ODOT suggests that reliability and operational "up-time" of the traveler information web- Trends in Operations Budgets site is a critical requirement of their system. Any upgrades to servers or software related to the traveler information web- Another critical consideration to a business plan is the bud- sites is performed during overnight hours when no inclement getary trends. Each year, new technologies emerge and cov- weather is planned. Also, redundancy is built into the web- erage of traveler information systems increases. This study site. During the very rare outages of the traveler informa- believed it was necessary to understand the trend in opera- tion website, feedback from travelers is almost immediate tions budgets each year. Responders to this study's survey
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42 were asked to describe the trend in their annual operations Technology Challenges and Opportunities Facing budget for delivering traveler information. As Figure 24 Public Agencies indicates, the majority of agencies' budgets either remains the same or decreases each year, with only 4 of the 25 agen- As indicated in Figure 24, public agencies believe that cies indicating their budget increases each year. challenges remain in the sophisticated technologies used FIGURE 23 Summary of annual operations budget for traveler information delivery (Sample size = 22). FIGURE 24 Survey results describing trends in operating budget (Sample size = 25).