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

Regional Concept for Transportation Operations

1. Introduction

1.1 Using Management and Operations Strategies to Address Customer Demand

1.2 Moving Toward Common Ground to Advance TSM&O

1.3 A Tool for Developing Regional TSM&O Strategies

1.4 Primer Overview

1.1 Using Management and Operations Strategies to Address Customer Demand

In every sector of our economy we see rising customer expectations and growing demand as the public becomes more aware of what is possible with advanced technology. Efforts to meet these expectations lead to increased complexity, cross-functional systems, and institutional relationships that transcend single entities. We see this in health care, homeland security, public safety, energy distribution, financial systems, and global supply chains. Similarly, increased demand on the transportation network and service expectations coupled with limited funds, time, and access to land has led to an emerging trend in transportation. Several regions across the U.S. have begun to make a shift toward optimizing the use of existing infrastructure across modes and jurisdictional boundaries through the application of transportation systems management and operations (TSM&O) strategies.

Examples of TSM&O Strategies

  • Traffic incident management
  • Traveler information services
  • Traffic signal and arterial management
  • Transit priority systems
  • Freight management
  • Road weather management

TSM&O strategies enable transportation practitioners to provide higher levels of customer service in the near-term without incurring the high cost associated with major infrastructure projects. Examples of TSM&O strategies include multi-State traveler information systems, electronic transit payment services, traffic signal coordination, and traffic incident management. Benefits can be seen in the Denver metropolitan area where the Denver metropolitan planning organization and traffic signal operating agencies have worked together since 1989 to reduce traveler delay and air pollution. Multiple jurisdictions participating in an arterial emergency response team in the Phoenix metropolitan region save time and money by calling on the team to manage traffic during major incidents.

TSM&O strategies have benefits for both transportation planners and operators. By working toward optimizing the transportation system with management and operations strategies, transportation planners are better able to demonstrate to the public and elected officials that progress is being made on reducing congestion in the short-term with lower cost techniques. Similarly, operators are able to make their limited staff time and other resources go further by collaborating with planners and other operators to pro-actively address operations from a regional perspective. Transportation operations improvements made in one jurisdiction are reinforced by coordinated improvements in neighboring areas enabling travelers to move seamlessly across the region without encountering, for example, inconsistent traveler information, toll collection technologies, or traffic signal timing. Overall, by working together to address transportation issues of regional significance with management and operations strategies, operators and planners are able to have a greater impact on the performance of the transportation system in the region than they would by working alone.

Two traffic signals at an unnamed intersection.

1.2 Moving Toward Common Ground to Advance TSM&O

Effective planning and implementation of TSM&O strategies requires planners and operators to make a fundamental cultural shift that allows them to meet on common ground. Management and operation of the transportation system is generally left to individual operating agencies (e.g., local departments of public works, transit agencies, State departments of transportation) within the region and is often performed on an ad hoc basis without a view toward the transportation system on a regional level. TSM&O requires operators to broaden their traditional perspective to one where individual facilities are viewed as interconnected pieces of a regional system and neighboring jurisdictions and agencies work together as partners in providing transportation services to customers. This transition necessitates new action: anticipating needs rather than only "putting out fires," managing the system on a 24/7 basis rather than only during the peak period commutes, measuring system performance rather than only agency output, and reaching outside of your agency to coordinate your piece of the system with other jurisdictions and modes rather than working in functional stovepipes.

As Lewis Carroll wrote, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there." By establishing specific and measurable objectives, partnering agencies can choose the best "road" to follow.

For transportation planners, the shift to TSM&O requires planners to expand their traditional focus on long-range infrastructure projects to include managing and operating the existing and planned infrastructure. This means engaging operations managers on a regular basis to address management and operations needs through regional strategies and establishing specific goals, objectives, and performance measures for the performance of the transportation system. Additionally, a shift toward TSM&O requires full consideration of management and operations strategies in the investment decisionmaking process.

Compass displays points north, south, east, and west.

1.3 A Tool for Developing Regional TSM&O Strategies

Successfully managing and operating the regional transportation system depends upon deliberate, sustained collaboration among operators, planners, and other key stakeholders to establish direction and decide how to move forward. Meaningful and realistic objectives are necessary to guide the effort. As Lewis Carroll wrote, "If you don´t know where you are going, any road will take you there."1 By establishing specific and measurable objectives, partnering agencies can choose the best "road" to follow. Lacking shared objectives to guide operations efforts, agencies risk unnecessary duplication with neighboring agencies, limited progress due to funding or staffing shortages, inconsistent traveler information, and underutilized or incompatible technologies.

Deliberate, sustained collaboration among participating jurisdictions is evident in a number of regions across the United States. In the National Capital Region more than 30 participating agencies from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have established a formal partnership to implement and use the Capital Wireless Integrated Network (CapWIN). CapWIN enhances information sharing and communications among public safety and transportation agencies as they coordinate their efforts during special events and incidents. In Detroit, Michigan transportation and public safety professionals have met regularly since 1992 as an incident management committee wherein the participants jointly plan and implement initiatives such as a freeway courtesy patrol and an incident management center. Although the group retains its incident management title, it has expanded in scope to freeway operations and arterial traffic management.

A common thread among these partnerships and others like them is the agreed objectives and the strategies for achieving them, including institutional relationships and performance expectations. This thread is the concept for how they want to improve regional transportation system performance by working together. A Regional Concept for Transportation Operations (RCTO) formalizes this thread by providing a framework that guides collaborative efforts to improve system performance through management and operations strategies.

The fundamental thinking behind an RCTO is not new. The RCTO brings together systems engineering concepts and the experience of successful transportation operations partnerships. The idea of an RCTO came out of a broad-based Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) working group on linking planning and operations in 2000 and 2001. The working group consisted of operations, planning, and public safety officials in local, regional, State, and Federal agencies. The idea was advanced in 2003 when a special policy committee of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) supported and endorsed it and recommended further development and demonstration.

1.4 Primer Overview

This primer will introduce transportation operators and planners to the Regional Concept for Transportation Operations, a blueprint for action. The primer will describe an RCTO and its essential components, explain its potential role in the transportation planning process, and illustrate its development through examples. Additionally, the primer will highlight the benefits gained from partnerships that develop an RCTO and the keys for success as partners work toward an RCTO.

1 Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, New York : Grosset & Dunlap, 1946.
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