Impacts of Technology Advancements on Transportation Management Center Operations
Chapter 3 – Top Trends and Issues of TMC Operations
The top trends and issues of state-of-the-art TMC operations were identified as the result of the expert analysis of the multitude of trends and technologies gathered in light of the big picture, impacts, and successful practices as well as feedback from the PFS members. These eight high level trends represent the key developments as well as important influences and impacts. Additional factors that influenced development of the top trends from the myriad of possibilities included the magnitude of potential impact, the frequency of citation in literature and by practicing TMC operators, and the likelihood of the issue to be widely influential to TMCs within the 10 year project horizon. Some of the trends are emerging from within the transportation community and can be spread further within it as they continue to develop. Other trends, and their related technologies, originated outside the transportation community, but which TMC operators should be aware of as they can be adapted and utilized to help meet their needs.
Figure 3: Top Trends and Issues of TMC Operations with Section References
(Source: Parsons Brinckerhoff)
The trends are described in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 is also organized according to trend and it provides strategies and successful practices for addressing each of the trends.
3.1 Trends Emerging from Within the Transportation Community
While there is some overlap between trends emerging within and outside of the transportation community, the four identified in this section are firmly rooted in transportation. The first trend, a nimble service-oriented mindset and organizational structure, reflects the dynamic nature of ITS within a modern transportation system. The second trend, active transportation and demand management (ATDM), includes a set of tools developed by transportation engineers, operators, and companies to support proactive transportation system management, often using emerging technology. The third trend, accommodating toll and other pricing operations in TMCs, recognizes that TMC operators need to be positioned to accommodate such a change given the increasing frequency of tolling which is expected to continue over the next decade. The fourth trend, performance monitoring and management, reflects both the increased effectiveness possible through performance management and the requirements for performance management being imposed on TMC operators by their transportation funding agencies.
3.1.1 A Nimble Service-Oriented Program Mindset and Organizational Structure
This trend is a mindset of being positioned to successfully select and adopt rapidly changing technologies and strategies. From literature and experience, being nimble, constantly looking for ways to improve, and embracing change are hallmarks of successful TMC operations (as well as businesses and other organizations.) This trend focuses on how TMCs can position themselves to be able to effectively change. Some of the other trends are examples of changes that could be facilitated by having a nimble service-oriented program.
The need for this mindset is driven by three main influences:
- Rising expectations from the public (through elected officials) for greater customer service;
- Rapidly changing ITS technology and processes; and
- Lack of funding.
The first factor manifests as a pressure placed on the TMC operators. The second represents both a pressure and a critical opportunity. Some of the new technology allows for cost-saving alternatives to traditional ways of accomplishing transportation management system goals. This can help agencies deal with the third factor.
This mindset and organizational structure will also help agencies deal with specific changes in technology that are not yet able to be forecasted.
The principles in the trend Nimble Service-Oriented Program Mindset and Organization Structure are aligned with FHWA’s statement that, “Effectively addressing the congestion problem will hinge on the ability to reshape traditional transportation organizations into 21st century operations agencies using 21st century technologies.” (FHWA) Facets are shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Changing Elements of Transportation Agency Operations
(Source: Adapted from FHWA)
The trend also includes related systems and technical approaches that agencies can include that will help them adapt to new technologies and give them the flexibility to add new technologies as they develop. For example, in the area of multi-state cooperation and operation, a nimble service-oriented program provides a platform for multiple agencies to share experiences and develop joint solutions to problems.
Specific strategies related to the trend of a Nimble Service-Oriented Program Mindset and Organizational Structure are included in Section 4.1.1.
3.1.2 Active Transportation and Demand Management (ATDM) Concept and Toolkit
ATDM is the major outcome of a nimble mindset and organizational structure. It uses all of the tools at one’s disposal to proactively make operations more efficient, including through staff and technology.
ATDM includes a suite of concepts and tools based on a wide variety of new data types and data sources with widespread coverage using new holistic algorithms. Examples of ATDM include Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) and managed lanes. Decision support systems are part of ATDM, but in this report they are covered under the “Automation Tools” trend.
One of the underlying influences leading to ATDM is the inability to expand capacity. It leads to developing and implementing better tools to manage the system in a coordinated fashion.
The FHWA groups ATDM approaches into demand-side, traffic, and parking areas. Some example approaches for each approach are shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5: ATDM Areas with Example Approaches
(Source: Adapted from FHWA, 2012)
As the report focuses on approaches that are directly related to TMC operations, many of them are under the Active Traffic Management category. See individual ATDM strategies in section 4.1.2.
3.1.3 Accommodating Toll and Other Pricing Operations in TMCs
While TMC operators will have little, if any, influence on the policy decisions required to implement toll and other pricing operations, it is extremely likely that they will be affected when decisions are made to add tolling to facilities or to integrate operations with agencies that already toll.
Infrastructure pricing, including traditional tolling, high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, and congestion zone pricing will also grow and may be managed from TMCs, either by agency staff, in public-private partnerships, or through outsourcing.
One influence driving the trend of accommodating toll and other pricing operations in TMCs is the limited funding from traditional sources. This encourages obtaining revenue through tolling, including financing infrastructure expansion based on the expected toll revenue stream. Another influence driving this trend is the infeasibility of physically expanding capacity in some places. Tolling can promote better management of the existing capacity, including strategically pricing it to alter behavior and funding maintenance.
The strategies for addressing the trend, accommodating toll and other pricing operations in TMCs, are in section 4.1.3.
3.1.4 Performance Monitoring and Management
Over the next 10 years, it is expected that there will be an increasing need to both monitor performance through data collection and analysis as well as to apply the knowledge to promote more efficient operations. Performance management is also becoming critical to obtaining funding.
One specific part of the trend, and general good performance management practice, is measuring outcomes instead of outputs when possible. Challenges include isolating impact of the TMC operations from other factors, especially for the performance measures that are proxies for outcomes such as safety. Some measures are more geared to tracking and improving internal performance, while others help demonstrate value to other parts of the agency, especially those who allocate funding. A key challenge is the need to identify performance measures that are strong proxies for agency goals that may not be able to be measured directly.
Two factors that have influenced this trend are the reduction in funding pressuring greater accountability and the increase in emphasis on customer service.
A promising part of the trend is that regional data sharing can provide common performance measure and enhance planning activities. Also, private sector data can support performance measures. There could also be valuable information from third-party/private sector systems that could support better TMC operations (such as user responses to operational strategies). TMCs can look for ways to be able to obtain that kind of data to support performance management objectives.
3.2 Trends and Technologies that TMCs Can Adapt and Take Advantage of from Outside the Transportation Community
The four trends identified in this section originated outside of the transportation community, but have traits applicable to traffic management and operations. The first trend, automation tools, uses new technology to assist operators in many of their daily TMC processes. The second trend, involvement of third parties in data collection, data analysis, and the provision of traveler information, includes ways that agencies can benefit from working with rapidly growing third-party providers to increase and manage data resources. The third trend, mobile communications and wireless networks, recognizes the social dependence on mobile devices and suggests ways that incorporate updated wireless technology into TMC functions. The fourth trend, social media for traveler information and crowdsourcing, suggests ways that TMCs can use popular social media tools as a means to gather and disseminate traveler information.
3.2.1 Automation Tools
Advanced computing and communications technologies will allow more automation in TMC systems. With the reduction in traditional revenues, TMCs may need to rely on automation and technology efficiencies in order to function at current levels of productivity with reduced staffing.
New technologies are continually being made available to improve system management and improve cost-effectiveness and greater productivity. Advanced software programs and better traffic data from a wider set of integrated devices allow for many of the TMC operations to become automated, thus eliminating many of the tedious and time-consuming tasks normally performed by the operator. Machines are now handling some tasks such as monitoring and processing large quantities of data from different sources to make decisions on which traffic control methods to use.
Nimble and service-oriented decision support systems provide a knowledge base and options for making decisions on how best to utilize new communications technologies and improve existing tasks.
Automation tools can also improve the quality of decision support systems. Traffic device software can allow direct communication to a mobile device or traffic management tool that can archive, manage, and compare historical and real-time data for use by decision support systems. This allows for a broader range of alternatives to be added to the decision matrix for a more optimized response to both recurring and non-recurring situations that would otherwise negatively affect traffic flow. The TMC operator would have access to all the quantitative inputs in one tool upon which to make their decision.
Nimble and service-oriented decision support systems provide a knowledge base and options for making decisions on how best to utilize new communications technologies and improve existing tasks. They are designed to support operators and decision makers by taking into account a multitude of interrelated systems and providing pre-determined responses for commonly occurring roadway scenarios, while simultaneously encouraging thought processes outside their own experience. Decision support systems are also being designed with predictive aspects, which help the TMC operator identify when certain thresholds are being crossed and thus helping operators anticipate at which times certain strategies will be most effective.
The strategies for addressing the trend Automation Tools are in section 4.2.1.
3.2.2 Involvement of Third Parties in Data Collection, Data Analysis, and Provision of Traveler Information
A third party is defined as any organization outside the agency itself that indirectly provides a service to the agency. Third parties for traffic data and traveler information can include commercial traveler information vendors, the media, other agencies, and even connected vehicles as a potential source of data.
Third-party vendors sell and provide nationwide coverage of traffic data to agencies, under the Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) model. Agencies use this data to manage traffic on their roadway network and deliver traveler information to the public. Data is mapped to a GIS reference system, with speeds and travel times being the most common forms of data provided. Third parties utilize a variety of data sources such as agency-owned roadway sensors and Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras; Global Positioning System (GPS) and Bluetooth systems installed in commercial devices, Smartphones, and fleet vehicles; and historical traffic counts obtained from agencies. Third-party providers collect and process large amounts of real-time data as discrete, individual sets from specific sources which can then be sold as discrete or aggregate data packages to individuals or other organizations, including agencies. It is often the responsibility of the agency to validate the quality and accuracy of the data.
TMCs rely on a variety of data types for traffic management and traveler information. Some of the data collected from agency-owned devices and computer algorithms include real-time speed, volume, and occupancy data; travel time estimations; and live CCTV video feeds. There is a little overlap in the types of data that third parties generally provide, including real-time speed and travel time data, but they can also provide greater coverage and historical data from their own stored data sets. TMC managers will need to assess the agency’s data needs, look to what third-party providers are offering to supplement or replace the agency’s resources, and devise a plan for collecting data not offered by third parties but that is still a necessity for TMC operations. This may include devices installed and owned by the agency or a combination of third-party owned and agency owned devices. These devices may also collect other data.
Although the amount and types of data provided by third parties is vast and comprehensive, there may still be other types of data that may be uniquely developed by or needed by TMCs that will become significant to traveler information over the next 10 years. Construction events such as emergency closures and on-going or future construction closures that affect travelers come directly from the TMC. Third parties many not factor delays associated construction impacts in their travel time estimations. Axle loading data will be an important data set for agencies to receive as they budget for future roadway improvement and pavement preservation projects.
In order for agencies to remain nimble, they must plan for contingencies with third-party providers in case operations budgets don’t allow for third-party data or third-party providers stops providing needed data.
Third-party data providers that use primarily vehicle probe-based data include INRIX, NAVTEQ (product of Nokia), and AirSage. Third-party providers that use infrastructure, field- based equipment include BlueTOAD (product of TrafficCast), Digital Traffic Systems (DTS), and SpeedInfo (Athey Creek, 2012). Agencies need an efficient way of storing and managing all of this new data and are turning to cloud service providers (CSPs). A few of the top CSPs include Microsoft Windows Azure, Cisco, GoGrid, and Rackspace, to name a few (Athey Creek, 2012).
There are a few important factors to consider regarding the use of third-party data, which is often stored on a cloud server, and third-party developed mobile applications, including data coverage, formats, validation, intellectual property, security, and storage. Third parties often fill the gap in areas where agencies are lacking data coverage, and have capabilities for regional or national coverage. The diversity in data formats may require further processing on the agency side before it is in an open, useable format. Data validation techniques of third party data become the responsibility of the agency to perform through cross-data matching with other technologies, such as GPS or AVI. Data from third-party vendors remains the property of the vendor and an agreement on data sharing outside of designated traveler information purposes is recommended if the agency plans on coordinating this information with other agencies. Third party applications use encrypted data stored on their server and authentication tokens for data access from the server to the mobile device, guaranteeing that everyone viewing the data is authorized and data remains secure.
Cloud computing is a new business model that offers the flexibility and cost efficiency agencies need, through leased power, storage, and bandwidth, to supplement their data center, expand their resources, and deliver quality performance under tighter operating budgets. CSPs are effective at offering agencies high-availability architecture that makes the cloud server available 100% of the time from anywhere there is an internet connection. Resource needs are scalable which eliminate the need for increasing size of hard drives. Organizations such as the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) offers certification to cloud service providers that are in compliance with their management and configuration practices. Concerns over data security and ownership are addressed in (Jansen & Grance, 2011) and (NIST, 2009) that agencies can refer to when considering using the cloud.
Agencies must plan for contingencies if cloud storage is used to make certain that data archiving will meet the long term needs of the TMC. Some CSPs, such as Amazon Glacier, offer an archival service that is low-cost, long-term, complete with data encryption, multisite redundancy, and regular data integrity checks. Data retrieval isn’t as instantaneous as if the information was stored in an on-site server room and agencies should be cautious of the cost and frequency of retrieval requests.
The availability of private sector resources that were previously available only on the public side, such as displayed travel times on DMSs, leads to a competition between third parties to provide the same service at a potentially lower cost and at a higher quality.
The strategies for addressing the trend Involvement of Third Parties in Data Collection, Data Analysis, and Provision of Traveler Information are in section 4.2.2.
3.2.3 Mobile Communications and Wireless Networks
Mobile communications can generate data used by TMCs, transmit that data almost instantaneously, allow travelers to access information almost continuously, and provide more convenient platforms to monitor, test, and maintain field devices and other TMC equipment. Specific wireless technologies that will influence TMC operations include:
- Continued deployment of 4G networks,
- Development of the next generation (5G) in wireless communication (based on historic trends there is a 10 year cycle of developing and implementing new generations of mobile communications to 5G would not be expected to be prevalent until 2020),
- Increases in coverage areas, particularly in rural areas, and
- Overall system capacity increases in bandwidth.
Agency-owned wireless communication in the past has been transmitted over relatively low radio frequencies. Advances in technology are giving agencies options when it comes to modernizing their field equipment and increasing their data coverage while not overloading the system. The initial investment in the purchasing of wireless-capable devices, wireless infrastructure, and bandwidth is less than what it would cost to expand a fiber backbone but TMCs will have to commit to long-term maintenance and operating costs. Agencies can benefit from data obtained through leased wireless service agreements between other agencies or with commercial providers. Leased wireless equipment can be installed on agency or third party property, with the wireless devices operated and maintained by others. Many agencies have leased wireless and wireline communication paths.
New technologies are continually being made available to improve system management and coordination with other agencies. Advanced transportation management technologies include wireless traffic signal systems connected to an agency’s wireless network that allows TMC operators to view collected traffic data and use it to analyze and adjust signal timing in real-time, addressing immediate congestion and improving traffic flow. Data can be collected wirelessly from CCTV cameras, detectors installed in the roadway or mounted on other infrastructure, and even toll-tag readers. Adaptive signal coordination also benefits arterial operations across jurisdictional boundaries, such as at freeway ramp intersections, and along an arterial. An example is New York City’s technology-based traffic management system called Midtown in Motion.
The private sector has seen a significant increase in mobile application developments and wide implementation across popular mobile software platforms that allow users to view traffic conditions in the palm of their hand. Third party involvement can help guide agencies in the best use of Smart phone applications and in the creation of a customized application. For example, application add-ons are much more cost effective than adding another menu option to a 511 service and it has a much higher impact with users.
The strategies for addressing the trend Mobile Communications and Wireless Networks are in section 4.2.3.
3.2.4 Social Media for Traveler Information and Crowdsourcing
Social media, such as tools like Twitter and Facebook, allow targeted, real-time two-way communication among and between agencies, travelers, and third parties. This opens great possibilities for TMCs to both receive and distribute information.
There are several platforms in use by agencies to share information via social networking tools; however, social media tools, like many technologies used by agencies, also are evolving. Agencies also are changing the way they use these tools in response to public interest and feedback received on their social media, in terms of keeping content updated, providing more dynamic information, and even in response to comments about certain DOT policies. These tools allow DOTs to explain to the public why and how the DOT does what it does.
A September 2012 State DOT Social Media Survey by AASHTO indicated that Twitter is the most used social media tool as reported by those who responded to the survey, with 88% of respondents indicating they use Twitter to share information (AASHTO, 2012). Twitter is used for real-time notifications such as crashes, closures or major weather impacts to the road network, and several states also use this tool for “softer” announcements such as public service messages, project and meeting announcements. In addition to Twitter, 76% of states responding to the AASHTO social media survey (32 or 42 states) indicated they use Facebook for project information, feature stories, and as a customer service tool. Several reported that they are integrating more multimedia, video and photos, which are valuable education tools about real-world DOT activities and allow a more personal connection with projects or programs.
There is an underlying trend toward greater emphasis being placed on customer service with agencies making more and better use of social media and networking, coupled with greater demands for information and customer service because of the availability of informational tools.
Figure 6: Percentage of 41 States and DC Using Social Media Tools in 2012
(Source: Adapted from AASHTO, 2012)
While platforms like as Twitter, Facebook and video (such as YouTube or Vimeo) are growing in popularity; some tools have started to decline in usage, such as LinkedIn, blogs or podcasts. This is indicative of the rapidly evolving social media marketplace and user interest and activity. Agencies that can react to the changes in social media demonstrate their ability to be nimble and search for ways to stay connected in the most effective ways possible. Emerging tools include Pinterest, an electronic bulletin board, or Storify, which is one of the newest social media tools that actually integrates multiple other social media feeds (such as Twitter, video, Facebook and others) into a single story. Iowa, North Carolina, and Washington DOTs are early adopters of this emerging platform.
There is an underlying trend toward greater emphasis being placed on customer service with agencies making more and better use of social media and networking.
These tools provide a mechanism to distribute information to users, but they can also be used to provide valuable information from and about users to transportation agencies, such as:
- Pins, hits, likes and retweets – what information or types of information is being endorsed or getting re-distributed by users, and how does that influence what kinds of information the DOT will share?
- Real-time vs. non-real-time information activity – the response by users to real-time information about impacts or events on the network.
Approaches to social media applications vary; some TMCs have implemented processes for operators to be able to utilize these tools while other DOTs have tightly controlled social media messages sent through their PIO/communications staff. To actively integrate real-time social media into real-time TMC operations will require new processes for the TMC operator to actively monitor various social media feeds. This could be accomplished via a new position or dedicated resource, which may not fit within the current DOT resource model. The value of this information and its impact on TMC operations will likely be assessed in the coming years to determine viability of this approach and resource allocation.
TMC managers will need to find a way to link social networking activity regarding traffic and road conditions and the actual impact on the network. A challenge is that many social media "pushes" are not actively monitored in real-time by DOTs or TMCs. TMCs would need to establish new processes for how to manage that flow of information IN to the TMC.
Crowdsourcing has the potential to significantly influence TMC operational strategies. However, the operational strategies should include ways to figure out how to verify and integrate this user-generated real-time content.
An important challenge is validating and verifying information received from social media. As a matter of policy for many TMCs, verification requires TMC operator visual confirmation, DOT field verification or other “trusted source” such as law enforcement.
During peak congestion periods or incidents, a future strategy can be to correlate social networking activity (for example, re-tweets or Smartphone app use) with transportation network conditions. Some correlation is done today by some TMCs that are able to monitor 511 web and phone usage. However, there would be many more channels of correlation available if social media was also used. Crowdsourcing has the potential to provide rich context to agencies about how users are responding to information they receive, and the real-time impact that their response has on the transportation network.
The strategies for addressing the trend Social Media for Traveler Information and Crowdsourcing are in section 4.2.4.