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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Regional Concept for Transportation Operations

2. What is an RCTO

2.1 Benefits of an RCTO

2.2 Foundations in Systems Thinking

2.3 RCTO Scope

A Regional Concept for Transportation Operations is a management tool to assist in planning and implementing management and operations strategies in a collaborative and sustained manner. Developing an RCTO helps partnering agencies think through and reach consensus on what they want to achieve in the next 3 to 5 years and how they are going to get there. The RCTO formalizes the collaboration and defines its direction for the future, essentially "getting everyone on the same page." By implementing an RCTO, partners put into action within 3 to 5 years operations strategies that will be sustained over the long term. The 3- to 5-year timeframe allows time for many management and operations strategies to be implemented while keeping the RCTO tool responsive to current system performance needs. Additionally, the timeframe offers a middle ground between operators who are focused on day-to-day activities and planners who are looking out 20 to 25 years.

An RCTO is a management tool to assist in planning and implementing management and operations strategies in a collaborative and sustained manner.

An RCTO focuses on operations objectives and strategies within one or more management and operations functions of regional significance such as traveler information, road weather management, or traffic incident management. The topic of an RCTO is determined by the collaborating partners who are interested in advancing TSM&O in their region and it is driven by operations objectives that reflect regional expectations and opportunities. The partners may be motivated by a growing awareness of diminishing levels of service, a mandate from officials, a recent natural disaster, a special event, or shortage of resources.

Within any given region, there may be multiple RCTOs that focus on different operations functions or services. For the purposes of an RCTO, a region is considered to be any multi-jurisdictional area defined by the collaborative partners. That area may or may not coincide with the boundaries of a metropolitan planning organization (MPO).

The RCTO fosters objectives-driven collaboration by focusing the partners on a specific operations objective and strategy to achieve it.

Participants in developing and implementing an RCTO may be managers and decisionmakers from local, State, or regional transportation agencies responsible for day-to-day operations, metropolitan planning organizations, and public safety entities. Depending on the scope of the RCTO, non-traditional participants such as freight operators, tourism bureaus, and economic development agencies may need to be engaged. Well-respected leaders who are willing to champion the common goals of the partners and guide the development of the RCTO are necessary for its success. It may be most effective to have a leader involved with transportation planning as well as a leader from the operations community in order to bridge the two communities and bring an understanding of both planning and operations to the task of developing an RCTO. Frequently, collaborative operations efforts have a hosting organization. The selection of host depends on the composition of the partners, the operations focus of the collaboration, and available time and skills among the participants.

For the purposes of an RCTO, a region is considered to be any multi-jurisdictional area defined by the collaborative partners.

A sample is given below of transportation-related participants who could be involved in developing an RCTO:

  • Traffic operations engineers and managers.
  • Transportation planners.
  • Transit operations managers.
  • Police and fire officials.
  • Emergency medical service (EMS) officials.
  • Emergency managers.
  • Port authority managers.
  • Bridge and toll facility operators.
Four people are seated at a nondescript meeting or conference.

Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Concept of Transportation Operations

As a trailblazer in coordinating regional operations, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Committee spearheaded the development of a concept for advancing coordinated operations in the Phoenix metropolitan region in 2002. Over the next year under the leadership of MAG, the concept took the shape of a Regional Concept of Transportation Operations, a product that helped inform what is referred to as a Regional Concept for Transportation Operations in this primer. The members of the MAG ITS Committee are representatives from Federal Highway Administration, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), Arizona Department of Public Safety, Valley Metro, Arizona State University and twelve MAG member agencies. Additionally, stakeholders such as police, fire, and public safety answering point managers helped develop the MAG RCTO. Eleven initiatives were selected for the MAG RCTO including a regional traffic signal optimization program, transit signal priority, and travel information.

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2.1 Benefits of an RCTO

An RCTO imparts several important benefits to operators and planners who are part of a collaborative effort to advance TSM&O strategies in a region:

  • Increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the partners by forcing them to collectively think through what they want to accomplish and how they will work together to reach that operations objective in the near future.
  • Guides the collaborative effort by bringing together varied transportation operations perspectives, priorities, and cultures from different agencies and jurisdictions.
  • Presents a mutual direction for one or more aspects of transportation systems management and operations based on a holistic view of the region.
  • Creates operations objectives and performance measures that can be used in the transportation planning process.
  • Facilitates coordinating priorities, leveraging resources, and alleviating duplicative efforts.
  • Clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the partners in the collaborative effort.
  • Garners commitment from agencies and jurisdictions for a common regional approach to transportation management and operations.
  • Provides an opportunity to strengthen the linkage between regional planners and managers responsible for transportation operations by offering a coherent operations strategy for consideration in the planning process.
  • Establishes credibility with decisionmakers and the public by demonstrating that multiple agencies are standing behind the same operations objective.

2.2 Foundations in Systems Thinking

The RCTO elevates the focus from agencies' individual responsibilities to a holistic view of the region's transportation system.

The RCTO promotes a more systemic and sustained approach to collaboration. Consistent with well established systems engineering principles, the RCTO elevates the focus from agencies' individual responsibilities to a global view of the region's transportation system. By considering the interconnections within the region's transportation system, partners develop higher level operations objectives that address those systemic issues that cut across multiple agencies and jurisdictions. The RCTO is a living guide that partners update and amend as circumstances and priorities evolve in the region and among partners. While it may require some initial investment in operations infrastructure, an RCTO is more than a "project" because it effects lasting changes in how partners work together to improve system performance.

The RCTO is a living guide that partners update and amend as circumstances and priorities evolve in the region and among partners.

In this sense, the RCTO encourages sustained collaboration:

  • An RCTO requires developing and sustaining working relationships between agencies that transcend particular individuals.
  • An RCTO defines a new way of "doing business" for the participants that is stimulated through the development of the RCTO.
  • The result of developing an RCTO is not a collection of projects stapled together, but a coherent collaborative strategy that sets the future direction for operations in the region.
  • Although the time horizon for an RCTO is only 3 to 5 years, the RCTO establishes collaborative activities that typically must continue beyond that timeframe in order to maintain the operations objective.
  • An RCTO creates a precedent in the region for how to organize multiple participants interested in working together to improve transportation management and operations.
  • Once developed, an RCTO can serve as a template for further collaboration on other aspects of transportation operations.

2.3 RCTO Scope

The scope of an RCTO is defined in terms of three major dimensions: functional, institutional, and geographic. The functional dimension defines the operations areas addressed within the RCTO, the institutional dimension defines the partnering entities engaged in the developing and carrying out the RCTO, and the geographic dimension defines the region (i.e., political boundaries) for which the RCTO is developed. Each dimension is shaped by the collaborative activity among transportation operators from multiple jurisdictions.

Operations functions that tend to be of regional significance and could benefit from an RCTO include:

  • Congestion management.
  • Traffic incident management.
  • Traveler information.
  • Electronic payment services (e.g., transit, parking, tolls).
  • Emergency response and homeland security.
  • Traffic signal coordination.
  • Road weather management.
  • Freight management.
  • Work zone traffic management.
  • Freeway management.

Construction worker on a roadway holds a stop sign. One truck is traveling on the road.

Functional Scope

An RCTO can address a single TSM&O area (e.g., traffic incident management, traveler information services, or electronic fare payment), a collection of related areas (e.g., congestion management for arterials and freeways), or capabilities that cut across several functions (e.g., area-wide communications, surveillance and control, or vehicle detection and location). The functional scope of an RCTO may change over time in response to changes in the collaboration between participants. For example, an RCTO can help expand collaboration on incident management to include emergency management.

Geographical roadmap.

Geographic Scope

The geographic and institutional scope of the RCTO may coincide with the jurisdictions and agencies represented in an MPO. However, an RCTO may be developed for a multi-state corridor, adjoining transportation management areas, neighboring local jurisdictions within an MPO area, or any other self-defined multi-jurisdictional area. Many non-urban or rural areas may find significant benefit in creating an RCTO as they often do not have a regional planning process or metropolitan planning organization to bring focus to the region.

Four hands join together four puzzle pieces.

Institutional Scope

An RCTO"s institutional scope may range from corresponding agencies in neighboring jurisdictions that collaborate around a function that falls within their individual responsibilities, to all of the transportation and public safety agencies within an MPO area that collaborate on multiple functions throughout the metropolitan region, to a collection of agencies that span several States along a major interstate corridor.

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