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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

4. Virtual TMC Benefits and Challenges

4.1. Benefits

There are a number of benefits for agencies considering the implementation of a Virtual TMC. These benefits can also extend to partner agencies (stakeholders) participating in the program. Some of the benefits include:

  • Remote system accessibility – provides operators and other users with the ability to operate the system(s) by establishing a remote access connection from any location
  • Shared control of the agency's existing (and future) ITS devices and data
  • Data sharing/exchange among partner agencies
  • Improved information collection and dissemination
  • Software alignment across partner agencies – use of same software applications across partner agencies facilitates information sharing
  • Ability for agencies to combine facility infrastructure and staffing resources to operate in a multi-agency coordinated manner
  • Operations alignment across partner agencies - use of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) during multi-agency events facilitates integrated response
  • Backup capabilities including systems and operations – anyone with appropriate privileges can access the system from anywhere
  • Regional Stakeholder buy-in – improved cooperation and collaboration among partner agencies
  • Improved communication among partner agencies. Coordinated response to multi-agency events
  • Improved relationships with partner agencies
  • Cost savings – capital and staffing cost savings may significantly lower in the Virtual TMC model vs. a traditional TMC
  • Innovative approach that requires coordination and cooperation between agencies
  • A Virtual TMC can be at the service of many agencies

Some of these benefits are discussed in more detail below.

4.1.1. Cost Savings

One of the most important factors in planning a TMC is accounting for the cost associated with its implementation and operations. Agencies have the laborious task of finding one or several sources of funding in order to build, operate, and maintain a Centralized TMC facility. For example, traditional deployment models require larger initial capital investments for the construction or remodeling of a facility. These costs include, but are not limited to:

  • Capital Expenditures – facility planning and conceptual design. Cost to buy or lease the land, construction permits, civil infrastructure, utilities, landscaping, power supply, etc. The facility also needs to be equipped with the proper communication infrastructure, central system hardware, security systems, furnishings, etc.
  • Staffing – eliminating operational redundancies, eliminating superfluous staff and administrative functions, sharing specialized personnel, coordinating efforts of staff, etc.
  • Maintenance costs – staffing, building, supplies, utilities, replacement costs, etc.

There is available data on the costs for the construction of TMC facilities in various locations in the United States. It ranges from $3.5 million for a small 7500 square foot facility to $45 million for a multi-story 88,000 square foot building. From the data gathered, the average TMC cost is $10.6 million at an average size of 31,000 square feet, or $340 per square foot. For these TMCs, the ITS JPO Costs Database reported that operations and management (O&M) costs can range from $50,000 to $1.8 million for the TMC physical plant and from $55,000 to $1.3 million for TMC personnel.40 Table 19 provides a further summary of costs.

Table 19. TMC Operations and Management Costs
Type of TMC Number of Personnel Annual Physical Plant Operations Costs ($) Annual Personnel Operations Costs ($)
Regional 27 1,838,823 1,278,100
Large 7 180,700 476,000
Medium 4 109,400 277,900
Small 1 46,900 53,600

Not a great deal of cost data or cost comparison data is available on the Virtual TMC model. One of the reasons cited by agencies that implemented virtual or hybrid virtual models was the reduction in capital costs for TMC facilities. Since TMCs require supplemental hardware maintenance and replacement associated with video walls, uninterruptible power supplies, generators, lighting, fire protection and other facility-related contingencies, it can be concluded these long-term life cycle costs will be reduced, likely significantly. There may be some additional network communication or IT costs associated with the Virtual TMC model, but this depends on the existing systems that the agencies already have in place. To some agencies, these costs could be higher but to others it could be no additional cost. Such recurring costs should be investigated on a case-by-case basis before the decision is made to implement the Virtual TMC model.

Other cost-saving factors include the integration of systems that can help create significant staffing efficiencies. Depending on the scope of work and the objectives of the Virtual TMC, there may be no need for dedicated operational staff. Existing agency staff may be responsible for monitoring and managing the system. In scenarios such as ICMS in San Diego or RIITS in Los Angeles, both systems can operate entirely on their own with no human interaction (not accounting for system health monitoring). The cost reduction in TMC personnel costs (e.g. salaries, benefits, overtime) including managers, supervisors and operators can be significant.

4.2. Challenges

There are a number of challenges for agencies to face when considering a Virtual TMC. These challenges are described in the following sections and include:

  • Regional Stakeholder Buy-In
  • Legacy System Migration/Updates
  • Servicing Agreements
  • Lines of Communication
  • Security
  • Risk Avoidance

4.2.1. Regional Stakeholder Buy-In

In a Virtual TMC setting it is crucial to build and establish relationships between regional stakeholders (e.g. local jurisdictions, local law enforcement, bordering states, state agencies, federal agencies, EMS, fire, transit) in order to improve communication and the ability to respond more efficiently to events, incidents and emergencies. Closer working relationships can lead to stronger interagency cooperation and more efficient responses to multi-agency events.

Regrettably, interagency relationships can sometimes be challenging because each agency has their own point of view on how issues need to be handled. Also, there may be certain unwillingness to change established practices.

Overcoming Stakeholder Conflicts

Sometimes, stakeholder goals will be in conflict, with no clear way for the system to address both. In such cases, a sort of horse-trading between the opposing stakeholders can be used to reach an agreement on the contentious issue.

For example, the USDOT TMS ConOps report provides an example from an Emergency Transportation Operations meeting in which it was determined that sometimes a quid pro quo system of negotiating is necessary to get stakeholders on the same page. The example used was a traffic management center asking what it could give local law enforcement to get on the same page in responding to an emergency. Dialogue among stakeholders here was important—many transportation officials here felt that law enforcement did not even know what transportation organizations could bring to the table.

Another example applicable to Virtual TMC project planning concerns jurisdictional control issues that can stall project planning discussions. In this example, Capital Wireless Integrated Network (CapWIN) was developing a system to share incident information between public safety and transportation agencies operating within metropolitan Washington, DC. Jurisdictional concerns were at the heart of the issues involving the development of the system. Stakeholders were forced to migrate from informal inter-organization arrangements to formal ones, which put a tremendous weight on defining, conceptually and legally, who would do what and when.

Presented below is a list of best practices for regional stakeholder buy-in.

Best Practices
Build and establish a network and relationships between agencies prior the handling of any incident.
Encourage staff interaction on both an assignment basis and casual basis.
Consider different approaches to problem-solving and routine activities. Be open to suggestions.
Foster cooperative joint operations by assessing situations in a group setting. Use scenario planning to build cooperation amongst stakeholder group.
Be willing to share information both formally and informally (e.g. phone calls, emails, CAD) as needed
Establish processes and procedures beforehand for incident response of a multi-agency event.
Consider fostering relationships with liaisons (e.g. police, fire)
Assign roles and responsibilities to each agency along with incident response priority levels.
Create and implement Standard Operating Procedures for multi-agency event response

4.2.2. Legacy Systems

There are some transportation agencies that have established TMCs and traffic management systems. For example, the Caltrans District 7 region has a co-located TMC with the highway patrol. This was a new building that was established primarily for the traffic management system. This building is less than 10 years old and for the agency to transition to a Virtual TMC is not the most cost effective option. Also the district has a robust traffic management system that is fairly current with the industry's technology.

A number of transportation agencies are reevaluating whether to move from a centralized TMC to the more Virtual TMC. A key factor in these discussions is the building where the TMCs are located. Is there enough space to "grow"? Is the building old (older than 10 years)? Will the building sustain new infrastructure technology if the traffic management system is replaced? These answers will enable the transportation agencies to make informed decisions about their TMCs and their next steps.

Another question that agencies are asking themselves is "Is my traffic management system up-to current technology standards?" If traffic management systems are current with the industry, then the cost effectiveness of transitioning to a newer system could be outweighed by the benefits of a Virtual TMC and a newer system. Therefore the agency's "legacy" system is the most effective tool for the transportation agency.

4.2.3. Servicing Agreements

The Virtual TMC operations workstation has crashed. Who does the operator contact for repair? If the Virtual TMC is located in a state office building, who is responsible for the TMC workstation? Is it the building IT department? Is it the transportation IT department? These are questions that influence the decisions of Virtual TMC versus the established TMCs.

In most established TMCs, there is a defined maintenance group. This group is responsible for maintaining the TMC equipment, including workstations, video wall equipment, server equipment, the TMC infrastructure communications equipment, etc. Yet for a Virtual TMC, who is responsible? Who does the operator contact when their workstation fails? Or the communications from the field has disappeared?

If the Virtual TMC is located in a transportation department or building, then it's a fairly easy decision to make. The transportation IT department could be the maintainers of the TMC equipment. But what about when the Virtual TMC is located in a different State building? Does the State IT department become the maintainers of the Virtual TMC workstation and the associated infrastructure equipment? These answers, again, are key to determining costs and making the decision whether to establish a Virtual TMC versus a physical one.

4.2.4. Lines of Communication

As discussed in the training section, staffing could be different in a Virtual TMC. Centralized TMCs have dedicated workstations with multiple operators. Each operator could be assigned a specific area of responsibility or region. Either way, these operators are communicating with the other operators face-to-face.

In a Virtual TMC, one (1) operator may perform multiple duties or all duties that may typically be assigned to multiple different staff in the standard physical TMC model. VTMC operators may be responsible for operations, as well as administrative duties and possibly maintenance duties. The Virtual TMC operator must be able to make decisions in a timely fashion, without having the ability to discuss the situation with other operations staff.

They are the sole contact point in unplanned events. The operators need to be able to monitor and control the event as well as contact the personnel needed to address the event (local agency, emergency responders), as well answer the questions from the local agencies and the transportation directors. The Virtual TMC operator must know who to contact in all situations. These contacts could include the following:

  • Media relations personnel
  • Maintenance personnel
  • Emergency Operations personnel
  • Local agency personnel
  • Department IT personnel

Again, the Virtual TMC operator must be able to make quick decisions and perform multiple tasks quickly and efficiently.

4.2.5. Security

Many established TMCs require a specific security clearance to enter a TMC. Many TMCs that are co-located with highway patrol or other law enforcement agencies also have strict security, so an operations staff member may have to have multiple levels of security clearance to work in a TMC. But in the case of the Virtual TMC residing in a separate State building, there may be only a single level of security.

What about the TMC infrastructure equipment? Does it reside in a separate secure room? Is access to the traffic management system accessible only through a secure network connection? Where does that equipment reside? Again, similar to the servicing agreements, who is responsible for this equipment? What is their security level? Does the transportation IT personnel have a higher clearance than other state IT personnel?

These questions and answers all must be addressed when determining the cost effectiveness of a Virtual TMC versus a physical TMC.

4.2.6. Risk

There are different types and levels of risk with Virtual TMC operations and established TMC operations. Some of these risks have been discussed in the previous sections. These include:

  • Maintenance of equipment (workstations, communications, etc.)
  • Operations staff communications
  • Legacy traffic management systems
  • Security

Each type of Virtual TMC operation has its own level of risk. Do you provide additional security for a Virtual TMC residing in a state office building? Do you provide additional operations staff during peak hours? Or do you provide another area for an additional Virtual TMC workstation that can share the responsibilities? But if that is the option selected, how do the operators communicate? Is there a dedicated radio system for operations?

Again, the answers to these questions affect the cost effectiveness of a Virtual TMC.

40 ITS Joint Program Office Costs Database. [ Return to note 24. ]

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