The National Academies

TCRP Synthesis J-07/Topic SG-17 [Active (Synthesis)]

The Use and Practice of Intelligent Transportation Systems in Real-Time Headway Based Service Bus Operations
[ TCRP J-07 (Synthesis of Information Related to Transit Practices) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $45,000
Authorization to Begin Work: 5/24/2019 -- estimated
Staff Responsibility: Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Research Agency: Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Principal Investigator: Paul Anderson
Fiscal Year: 2019

Final Scope

Over the past two decades, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), and in particular Computer Assisted Dispatch and Automatic Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL), have become quasi-universal in urban bus operations, and support a variety of functions, including: performance monitoring, service reliability, security, passenger information, ticketing, contract management, multimodal integration and many other functions facilitating progress towards Mobility as a Service (MaaS).


The origins of ITS date back to the 1970s and 1980s, to automated vehicle location and monitoring, and a key goal was to use knowledge of the real-time situation of buses on a route, relative to their scheduled position and relative to the location of other buses on the line to control operations in real-time. It was anticipated that, with such knowledge and intelligent functionality suitable combination of the human, the machine, processes and organizational structure would empower transit agencies to get the best possible outcome from whatever circumstances they faced.


The envisioned potential use of ITS to greatly improve bus service reliability has not been fully achieved. Observed experience with the use of these systems shows that they continue to be primarily used for ad-hoc incident management in cases of street deviations, broken buses, sick passengers, security problems, etc.; they rarely appear to be used for continuous proactive monitoring and control to identify and correct service problems as they occur. Systems today are slowly looking to transition to a dynamic headway based service that have a more proactive approach to manage the operations. The promise of headway based service is that it will deliver more consistent and reliable service. ITS tools will assist in optimizing this service.


The objective of this study is to synthesize the national and peer international state of the practice of headway based service operations. The Synthesis should focus on the proactive use of ITS technologies which include:


·         Analysis of technology options and operational challenges for headway based service

·         Consultations with operation stakeholders (dispatchers, drivers, planners, and management) to identify a typology of incidents and scenarios

·         Collaborations with stakeholders (city, county, MPOs, vendors, data providers, etc.)

·         Context of successful headway based service implementation (dedicated lanes, stage vehicles, etc.). It should include metrics used.

·         Two-way communication with riders

·         Development of business strategies for each type of incident and scenario including infrastructure implications

·         Working with ITS vendors to tailor the interface and architecture of the system to assist with prioritizing scenarios, communications protocols, report logging, formulation of suggestions to dispatchers, etc.

·         Incorporating all of the above into the training of dispatchers

·         Lessons learned (including costs)



The information will be gathered by conducting a Literature Review, a survey of transit systems and in–depth case examples of transit agencies who have developed innovative practices. The case examples should highlight successes, challenges and lessons learned. Gaps in information and future research needs will also be identified.

TRB Staff

Mariela Garcia-Colberg

Phone  202/334-2361

email    mgarciacolberg@nas.edu


Meeting Dates

First Panel: October 4, 2019

Teleconference with Contractor: October 18, 2019

Second Panel: June 2, 2020


Topic Panel

Devin Braun, Manager, Transportation Communication & Technology

Eric T. Hill, Metro Plan Orlando

Al Martinez, Los Angeles  County (CA) Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Nathan Reynolds, Trapeze Group

Jarrett W. Stoltzfus, Proterra

Roberto Trevino, Houston Metro

Hao Xu, University of Nevada, Reno

Melissa Foreman, Federal Transit Administration- Region VI

Sheila Moore, Transportation Research Board

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