Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

3. Getting Started - Engaging Stakeholders in Developing Regional Operations Objectives

3.1 Regional Coordination and Collaboration

Integrating operations in the metropolitan transportation plan requires regional collaboration among transportation planners and operations, as well as non-transportation entities (e.g., public safety officials, major employers, chambers of commerce, convention and visitors' bureaus, port authorities, and special interest groups) that routinely affect or depend upon transportation. The inclusion of such a diverse set of participants ensures a regional perspective of transportation system performance informs the planning process, rather than a focus on narrower issues involving single components of the system or a limited set of stakeholders.16

The MPO can play a crucial role in bringing stakeholders together in a regional forum. In turn, operating agencies may want to work together to take the lead in developing regional operations objectives - since, in many ways, their performance will be assessed using these metrics. Inclusion of both operators and planners in the MTP development process is vital to ensure that the objectives set forth in the plan are realistic and achievable.

3.2 Who Is Involved?

A first step in the process of integrating M&O in the MTP is to involve key regional transportation system operators in the metropolitan transportation planning process. This is often quite challenging, since it requires operators and planners to make a fundamental cultural shift to integrate the near-term considerations that are the focus of transportation system operators with the long-range considerations that are the focus of transportation planners. In most regions, operation of the transportation system is the responsibility of individual operating agencies (e.g., local departments of public works, transit agencies, and State departments of transportation), exacerbating the challenge of viewing the transportation system from a regional perspective. An objectives-driven, performance-based planning process will result in operators broadening their traditional perspective to one in which individual facilities are viewed as interconnected pieces of a regional system. Neighboring jurisdictions and agencies will work together as partners in providing transportation services to customers.

While the MPO serves a coordinating function in developing the MTP, the process of developing operations objectives requires involvement of a full range of agencies involved in operating the transportation system. This includes:

  • State DOTs
  • Local jurisdictions
  • Transit agencies
  • Bridge and toll facilities
  • Port authorities

Moreover, there is a need to reach out to broader customer stakeholders, including the freight and business communities, and agencies responsible for emergency management, such as:

  • Police and fire officials
  • Emergency medical service (EMS) officials
  • Emergency managers
  • Public works officials
  • The tourism industry
  • Freight shippers
  • Business organizations, such as chambers of commerce

Elected officials and the general public also need to be included in stakeholder involvement.

The process of integrating M&O strategies into the metropolitan transportation planning process often calls for strong regional leadership. Often this comes from MPO leadership that recognizes the practicality of solutions in the near-term that may be achieved with operational solutions. This may be as simple as the mayor of the central city responding to his constituents' demands for greater travel time reliability along major routes. It may come from the manager of the regional transit system recognizing the utility of a "smart card" that may be used for all transit systems in the region. Or it may arise from the State department of transportation's need for improving the management of work zones. These concepts may arise in the context of the MPO planning process or they may surface in the arena of transportation operating agency coordination. No matter how an issue arises, in most cases it takes a 'champion' to push it and support it through the planning process (both internally to an operating agency and in the regional transportation planning process). It usually helps if the concept is pursued both at the technical level and the policy level. This can be facilitated by an MPO having a policy committee that champions operational strategies and a technical committee that develops the "nuts and bolts" of a concept. Elected officials often can also play a key role in placing an emphasis in the MTP on the operational performance of the transportation system.

3.3 Engaging Participants

Engaging stakeholders in thinking about M&O is a critical factor in developing regional operations objectives, and in the ultimate success of incorporating M&O strategies in the MTP. This requires engaging operations agencies currently involved in the metropolitan transportation planning process, and engaging new stakeholders, in a new manner - one that addresses M&O as well as capital projects.

Engage Existing Operations Agencies in Thinking about M&O

Operating agencies are typically already at the MPO table and involved in the transportation planning process. However, it is important to engage day to day operating agency managers from a systems operations perspective and not simply as advocates for capital projects. As they participate, operators should identify existing operational programs and strategies that they are using and others that should be considered across agency line and jurisdictional boundaries. Currently, many operating agencies are implementing M&O strategies; the MTP should identify regionally significant activities, which may already be occurring, as well as help to identify additional areas for coordination across jurisdictions and agencies.

Wasatch Front Regional Council Traffic Management Committee - In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) recognized that it needed to make better use of the existing transportation system by expanding traffic signal coordination within the region. WFRC hosted a forum for city and county engineers to address signal coordination. This coordination helped gain the support of legislators. Based on growing interest, a signal coordination committee was formed under the Utah DOT. Committee members included representatives from cities, counties, WFRC, and the Utah Transit Authority. Over time, the committee's focus expanded, and it evolved into a traffic management committee. A significant achievement of the committee was the implementation of the traffic management system led by UDOT.


Puget Sound Freight Roundtable - In 1993 the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the MPO for the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, with the assistance of the Economic Development Council, gathered public and private freight sector representatives to form the Puget Sound Freight Roundtable. The Roundtable was created in an effort to better involve the freight industry in the planning process. The first task of the Roundtable was to provide input on freight issues to the update of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Since then, the Roundtable has influenced the transportation planning process by advising PSRC on freight needs and the potential impact of proposed projects on freight mobility. It educates policy-makers and the public on freight issues. And it helps to develop performance measures, data collection systems, and analysis techniques necessary to study freight movement.


Engage New Stakeholders in the Planning Process

New stakeholders also need to be engaged in the metropolitan transportation planning process. One way to achieve greater stakeholder participation is to focus discussions on specific operations concerns. This makes it clear to both operations practitioners and policy makers when the forum is within their area of expertise. For example, someone who manages first responders is more likely to attend a committee dealing with regional incident management than a committee dealing with the very broad topic of regional management and operations coordination. A focused forum will also likely benefit from participants who have a grasp of both the technical and the institutional challenges associated with regional coordination for that specific topic.

Freight transportation planning is an area where focused forums have been successful. Engaging shippers, freight carriers, and freight terminal operators in the regional planning discussion has been challenging, in part because the long time frame of planning is foreign to most private sector entities. Freight companies may also be mistrustful of government planners, and concerned about divulging proprietary business information. Some regions have successfully developed forums or task forces specifically to address regional freight operations planning. Such committees have succeeded at bringing freight needs and perspectives to the planning process, helping to promote a regional perspective on operations challenges.

3.4 Institutionalizing the Process

In order to sustain a successful integration of objectives-driven, performance-based M&O in the planning process, MPOs need to institutionalize the process of engaging operating agencies and stakeholders in developing operations objectives.

Five major elements form a framework that can help institutionalize working together as a way of doing business among transportation agencies, public safety officials, and other public and private sector interests within a metropolitan region to create strategies for improved transportation system performance:

  • Structure. The regional structure that supports collaboration and coordination within a region is the set of relationships, institutions, and policy arrangements that shape the activity. It provides the "table" at which operators and service providers sit with public safety and other key transportation constituencies.
  • Processes. Processes are the formal and informal activities performed in accordance with written or unwritten, but collaboratively developed and accepted, policies involving multiple agencies and jurisdictions in a region. Processes describe how the "regional table" works to achieve its objectives.
  • Products. The products of collaboration and coordination are the results of processes. They include a regional concept of operations, a regional ITS architecture, baseline performance data, current performance information, and operating plans and procedures that inform regional entities (public and private sector) about how the regional transportation system must operate over time (including planned improvements).
  • Resources. Resources govern what is available within the region for sustaining and implementing the regional concept of operations and other operations plans on an ongoing basis, not just plans for special events, issue resolutions, or the completion of specific projects. The resources include staff, equipment, and dollars.
  • Performance. The performance element comprises how performance will be measured, and individual and collective responsibilities for monitoring and improving regional transportation system performance.

The framework creates structures through which processes occur that result in products. It implies a commitment of resources needed to initiate and sustain regional collaboration and coordination and for implementing agreed upon solutions and procedures. The collaborative spirit is motivated by a desire for measurable improvement in regional transportation system performance. The five elements of the framework are interactive and continuous.

National Capital Region's Management, Operations, and ITS Task Forces

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) initiated the Washington Region ITS Task Force in 1997. After the region received federal earmark funding for ITS, the task force attracted interest from a number of agencies in the region. These agencies collaborated to develop CapWIN, a wireless integrated mobile communications network that supports coordination between public safety and transportation agencies. Later that year, the TBP divided the Task Force into a technical task force and a policy task force. This facilitated the direct involvement of policy-level officials in ITS activities, while maintaining the capacity to address technical details associated with ITS integration and coordination. In 2001, the TBP changed the name of the two task forces to the Management, Operations and Intelligent Transportation Systems (MOITS) Policy Task Force and the MOITS Technical Task Forces to reflect a broader focus on management and operations from a regional perspective.


Developing MPO Committees Focused on Operations Issues

An increasing number of MPOs support interagency committees that deal directly and regularly with regional systems management and operations. In hosting such committees, the MPO facilitates a vital forum where inter-jurisdictional coordination, funding strategies, and data sharing can be addressed. In addition, the MPO can use the committee's diverse operations expertise to inform M&O issues in regional planning process, to identify ITS systems and data needed to support operations and to influence the MPO's annual work program. The forum will allow operations managers to increase their awareness of broader regional trends, needs, and strategies, and can be a key mechanism for developing regional operations objectives for inclusion in the MTP.

Developing an effective structure for these MPO committees can be challenging. One reason is that regional management and operations planning must often deal with narrow technical issues. For example, one committee might address topics such as how to provide back-up power at signals, use of various signalization software programs, and measures of effectiveness for signals. These types of regional forums may be invaluable as an information exchange for operations practitioners, but less useful as a forum for addressing broader coordination issues. As a result, some MPOs have created separate subcommittees for technical and policy issues. A technical subcommittee focuses on the details of equipment coordination, while the policy committee addresses regional funding strategies and prioritization of regional operations initiatives. Periodic meetings of the full committee allow exchange between technical and policy staff. MPOs should take advantage of the existing ITS architecture committees that are experienced in bringing diverse stakeholders to the planning process.

As noted above, it may also be beneficial to develop specific forums around aspects of operations, such as freight management, emergency management, and incident management.

Building on the ITS Architecture

Developing a regional ITS architecture and forming ITS committees can be the starting point for collaborative efforts among operators, and for interface between the MPO and operating agencies. During the development of the architecture, collaborative relationships between stakeholder agencies are formed that may serve as the foundation for stakeholder partnerships in developing the MTP.

Like the blueprint for a house, a regional Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) architecture creates a picture of ITS deployment and use in a region as envisioned by a broad base of stakeholders. SAFETEA-LU requires that ITS projects funded through the Federal Highway Trust Fund conform to the National ITS Architecture and applicable standards. A regional ITS architecture tailors the National ITS Architecture to the region's specific needs and interests.

Hampton Roads ITS Architecture Leads to Inclusion of ITS and M&O in Regional Long-Range Plan

One of the lasting benefits to developing a regional ITS architecture in 1995 for the Hampton Roads, Virginia region was the formation of an ITS committee hosted by the MPO. The collaboration started off with a simple meeting where several area traffic engineers got together and exchanged contact information so that they could communicate in the event of an accident or special event. This led to regular meetings where operators and planning staff got together to discuss technical and institutional issues, their individual needs, and how to work together better. They envisioned compatible technologies throughout the region that would allow for interjurisdictional cooperation.

During the 2003 update of the ITS plan and architecture, and the Hampton Roads ITS champions saw the opportunity to include ITS projects in the long-range plan, which was in the process of being updated. ITS and management and operations strategies and projects were presented to the MPO's technical committee and approved for inclusion with funding in the Hampton Roads 2026 Regional Long-Range Plan.


An ITS architecture defines existing or desired sensor, computer, electronics, and communications technologies, the interconnections and information exchanges between these systems, stakeholder agreements, and standards. In addition, the architecture describes the regional needs, ITS services that can address these needs, and the envisioned operational roles of agencies responsible for these systems.

The primary purpose of developing a regional ITS architecture is to "illustrate and document regional integration so that planning and deployment can take place in an organized and coordinated fashion."17 This can be furthered through the MTP process and feed into establishing common M&O objectives and a collaborative operations strategy to achieve those identified objectives. Regional operations objectives are often identified as part of a regional ITS architecture, and these can serve as a good starting point for identifying regional operations objectives in the MTP. Moreover, the regional needs and user services identified in the architecture may accentuate needs and deficiencies that should be addressed in the planning process.

Developing a Regional Concept for Transportation Operations

A new way of thinking about collaboration among stakeholders on operations strategies is exemplified through what is being called a "Regional Concept for Transportation Operations" (RCTO). An RCTO is a management tool to assist in planning and implementing management and operations strategies in a collaborative and sustained manner. An RCTO can be developed and implemented by a group of transportation operators, planners, public safety agencies, or other stakeholders who want to improve regional transportation system performance by working together. An RCTO typically focuses on one or more management and operations functions of regional significance such as traveler information, road weather management, or traffic incident management. Therefore, within any given region, there may be multiple RCTOs that focus on different operations functions or services.

The partners that develop an RCTO agree on a common operations objective and then create a specific, actionable approach to achieving that objective within the next 3 to 5 years. The RCTO specifies the relationships, procedures, resource arrangements, and physical improvements needed to achieve the operations objective, which may include specific protocols for responding to incidents, specifications for equipment, communications procedures, or other parameters.18

An RCTO can either feed into the process of developing regional operations objectives in the MTP, or an RCTO can build on activities that take place as part of the metropolitan transportation planning process. Operations objectives in an RCTO are similar in form and content to the regional operations objectives in the MTP. Consequently, regional operations objectives developed for the MTP may be adopted for an RCTO by partners in a metropolitan region. The partners would then use the RCTO as a tool to translate that regional operations objective into a specific and actionable strategy for achieving the objective. Therefore, the RCTO can be a tool to help planners and operators develop management and operations strategies or project descriptions that support the MTP's regional operations objectives.

Alternatively, partners developing RCTOs may create their own operations objectives, focused on a specific aspect of operations, such as traffic incident management or traveler information systems. Additionally, partners may develop an RCTO around an existing operations funding program or a combination of regionally significant projects that need to be coordinated. In these cases the RCTO development process may generate operations objectives that could be included in the MTP or could be used as a basis for developing measurable regional operations objectives. This relationship between regional operations objectives in the MTP and operations objectives in an RCTO is illustrated in the diagram below.

Graphic describes the relationship between the MTP process and the RCTO process.
Figure 4: Relationship between the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Process and the Regional Concept for Transportation Operations.

16 For a more detailed discussion of collaboration and coordination, see Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination - A Primer for Working Together to Improve Transportation Safety, Reliability, and Security, U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration, Publication Number FHWA-OP-03-008.

17 U.S. Department of Transportation, Regional ITS Architecture Guidance: Developing, Using, and Maintaining an ITS Architecture for Your Region Version 2.0 (Washington, DC, 2006).

18 More information about the RCTO can be found in FHWA's document, "The Regional Concept for Transportation Operations - A Management Tool for Effective Collaboration."

Office of Operations