- Author: Kevin Chambers
- Date: May 12, 2020
Not everything is about the pandemic these days… But most things are. ? COVID-19 & Transit Get ready for a…
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, The National Center for Mobility Management (NCMM) has pivoted their classic peer exchanges to a virtual format. This new way of connecting has allowed for more participation and connection than ever before, as evident during the February 2021 virtual NCMM Peer Exchange: Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) to Promote Customer-Centric Solutions for All.
Transit providers, governments, and others from all over the country got together to share progress on their AIM grants, build connections, and answer questions about this innovative grant program.
This peer exchange was planned, organized, and facilitated by NCMM staff members from the American Public Transportation Assocation (APTA), in special coordination with The Shared Use Mobility Center (SUMC), another FTA technical assistance center through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) with a focus on Accelerating Innovative Mobility, among other initiatives.
This peer exchange emphasized customer-centric improvements through FTA’s Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) grants. These grants highlight FTA’s commitment to support and advance innovation in the transit industry. AIM will drive innovation by promoting forward-thinking approaches to improve financing, system design and service. Attendees discussed several key questions: What real-time data improvements should be prioritized by transit agencies and providers? How can AIM be leveraged to promote transit first/last mile connections? How can AIM be leveraged to improve payments and address fare equity issues? What are some lessons learned before and during planning AIM initiatives?
These questions were answered partially through presentations from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT). Both organizations are using their AIM grants to promote customer-centric solutions, albeit in very different ways.
KCATA received funding to equip bus rapid transit (BRT) with an advanced driver assistance system that uses precision guidance sensors to dock at stations and provide level boarding across the agency’s BRT sytem. The project will improve accessibility, reduce dwell time, provide a better customer experience, achieve more cost-effective operations, and support the agency’s mission to connect people to opportunities. KCATA also shared updates on their adaptive concrete that melts ice and snow, which makes BRT service and walkability more accessible throughout the year.
KCATA is leveraging their AIM grant to make their service even more accessible. These improvements are being integrated into RideKC navigator, a wayfinding app for the blind. KCATA is also expanding training capability for level boarding and adding rub rail to allow drivers to better align to platforms, making it easier for customers with disabilities to enter and exit BRT vehicles. The improvements in BRT docking, accessibility, and walkability are components of mobility innovation like mobility as a service (MaaS).
MaaS is being operationalized through AIM grant funding awarded to MNDOT. The Minnesota Department of Transportation received funding for a regional platform to enable multi-modal trip planning and payment for residents in a 13-county area in southern Minnesota. The project integrates transportation services across rural, small urban and large urban communities and informs strategies for increasing transit ridership and improving service quality, especially in rural areas. MNDOT strongly emphasizes transit as the backbone of MaaS and all shared mobility and is leveraging AIM to integrate other services. This will allow for better planning to address community need and achieve MNDOT’s goal to facilitate all the mobility options in Southern Minnesota.
Transit agencies and service providers will have access to several data feeds in order to leverage for future mobility partnerships. MNDOT is focusing on two required data specifications: GTFS and GTFS-flex. This will be pursued through public data feeds for agencies to make available on their state platform as well as Google Maps, Apple Maps, Transit, among others.
MNDOT is also working closely with University of Minnesota to research how low-income riders benefit from MaaS, how this AIM grant and additional initiatives will help to reduce VMT, and more. MNDOT looks forward to building on their AIM grant progress with eventual statewide deployment, standardizing data and billing transactions and improving nonemergency medical transportation (NEMT), parking policy, curb management, distance – based fees, etc.
Discussion revolved around several key themes and challenges with innovation in the public sector. Many attendees suggested that agencies and other organizations should take a more modular approach and move towards hiring in-house technology professionals to steer the process for goal setting, requests for proposals, and more.
Attendees asked questions about how the COVID-19 Pandemic has disrupted the planning of this grant work. Additionally, how is COVID-19 pushing transit operations to evolve? How can these grants be leveraged further to address equity issues in transit services and drill down to focus on customer centric solutions for specific customers?
Forums like this virtual peer exchange allow transit agencies and transit providers that are leading in AIM and mobility innovation to be featured, to connect with others, and to share their best practices. NCMM gives a unique opportunity for transit agencies and their partners to build on AIM and other mobility initiatives. When agencies hear of these innovations already happening, they can build on successes rather than starting from scratch. This allows transit agencies and providers to innovate quicker and to provide better and more cost-effective service to more transit riders.
Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Kirby Wilhelm (firstname.lastname@example.org).