The National Academies

Transit IDEA J-04/IDEA 52 [Completed (IDEA)]

Travel Assistance Device (TAD) to Help Transit Riders
[ TCRP J-04 (Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis--The Transit IDEA Program) ]

  Project Data
Staff Responsibility: Harvey Berlin

This project developed a Travel Assistance Device (TAD) for transit riders with cognitive disabilities through the creation of an intelligent software system that integrates cell phones with transit agencies’ automated vehicle location (AVL) systems. This project built on the initial TAD work funded through the National Center for Transit Research at the University of South Florida (USF) by the Florida Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Transportation.
The TAD prototype software application was developed at USF and was tested with the participation of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) Authority, which serves the Tampa area. TAD uses multimedia cell phones with built-in global positioning systems (GPS) to overcome the challenges facing new transit riders, especially those with cognitive disabilities. The TAD provides many services to the user, including ringing, vibrating, or playing a message as a reminder when the rider is approaching their stop. This tracking system can also monitor their travel behavior in real-time and notify the travel instructor or guardian if the rider deviates from the expected route.
This project enhanced the TAD by providing a link to HART’s real-time AVL data. This data can be used to provide services including: (1) delivering information to the rider via their mobile phone while they are waiting at the bus stop and while they are riding on the bus, (2) notifying riders when their specific bus has arrived, (3) providing the rider with identifying information so that they board the correct bus if multiple buses are present, and (4) alerting the rider and officials if the rider boards the incorrect bus.

Completed Investigation

Software for GPS-enabled cell phones and an intelligent server system was developed to link the existing TAD system with the AVL system of HART. Open standards such as XML Web services were utilized to provide a high level of interoperability with outside organizations’ information technology (IT) infrastructures. The Internet was used to transfer XML-formatted data to and from the transit agency so that AVL information is accessible to any authorized user with an internet connection. This flexibility also extends to the mobile phone. As a result, real-time "push" information delivery systems that are based on real-time transit data are made possible.

Project Payoff Potential  

The TAD software system aids new transit riders by overcoming traditional barriers such as learning where and when to request a stop. Also, the TAD could help transit agencies reduce costs by shifting able cognitively impaired riders from paratransit to fixed route transit, while increasing the rider’s independence and monitoring their safety. The integration of the TAD and AVL systems will also serve as a model to other transit agencies for making internal AVL information accessible to outside agencies using standardized methods such as XML Web services. Such integration will support innovation in transit information distribution through personalized channels such as mobile phones and will also promote the use of accessible AVL data in other external systems with no additional cost to the transit agency.

Product Transfer

Implementation of the TAD technology will be relatively low cost for transit agencies. The basic system uses consumer-owned cell phones. The TAD phone software could be distributed electronically over the cellular network to the clients, with little deployment cost. HART’s participation assures that the TAD system will be relevant to real-world transit operations. As companies add or update AVL systems or electronic records of transit routes, the standardized communication model based on XML Web services could enable the integration of TAD into transit systems’ daily operations, as well as provide this information to the public and commercial agencies.

USF currently has several patents pending for the technology that supports the TAD, and USF’s Division of Patents and Licensing (DPL) provides support in the areas of marketing, patent prosecution, drafting and negotiation of license agreements, and the management of active licenses. USF will disseminate information about the TAD system through presentations at national conferences as well as written publications. The project research team at USF obtained follow-on funding from other sources for demonstration and testing in 5 other cities of the device that was developed and tested in this Transit IDEA project. The final report is available.




Figure 1

TAD application on GPS-enabled mobile phone alerts transit riders when they are about to reach their stop.

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