Flexible trip planner update: project kick-off!

The flexible trip planner project has commenced, and we could not be more excited.

Last Thursday I spoke with the local agencies who will be featured in the new trip planner, along with representatives from VTrans, Cambridge Systematics, the Federal Transit Administration, and FTA MOD Sandbox partners Booz Allen Hamilton and Noblis. The executive directors or a proxy for each of the nine public transit agencies in Vermont met with us at Green Mountain Transit headquarters in Berlin, VT to review the project plan and scope, and begin the discussions of exactly what needs to be done to launch a trip planner that provides access to all public transit in Vermont.

We had a great discussion, that brought up critical questions about the outcome and purpose of the project, and also the opportunities (and challenges) that would be created by the new trip planner. The leaders at Vermont transit agencies are an impressive group, dedicated to their riders and investigating a number of ways to make their services even better.

The day actually started with a discussion of options for a statewide implementation of Automated Vehicle Location technology. Over the last year, Vermont has run three separate pilot projects with different vendors (including a Trillium-led pilot) investigating different approaches to real-time customer information. It was invigorating to see and hear transit leaders consider distinct approaches and review technical details and customer interfaces with rigor and a concern for rider needs. It speaks to the leadership of VTrans and the support of the local agencies that multiple innovative statewide efforts are being pursued simultaneously.

Addressing agency questions in person

The MOD Sandbox kick-off meeting was our first opportunity to present in person the full and complete scope of the flexible trip planner project direct to the agencies who will be involved. While they had previously reviewed the grant application and concept, transit—not open source technology—is their expertise. There were important questions and considerations for Trillium to address face-to-face.

With so much of flexible public transit being dedicated to the transportation of individuals to medical appointments, a critical question was how we would prevent the accidental sharing of medical information. Would it be a HIPAA violation to have a general public rider in a van when a Medicaid beneficiary was picked up? How could we help moderate such risks, and verify that all trips were compliant with privacy regulations? (Such information will never be shown or stored in the public trip planner itself.)

One of my personal concerns was about whether the agencies would want to expose some flexible trip possibilities to the public in the first place. It’s no secret that demand-response trips can be expensive to provide, and collecting the appropriate fare could be logistically difficult. To my surprise (and great pleasure) the agencies had a thorough dedication to identifying ways to make rural transit as efficient as possible. The attitude was “let’s do what we can to fill up these vehicles, while sharing costs equitably with all riders.” Vermont public transit agencies take seriously their mission to move Vermonters and visitors around, and also their duty to use public resources wisely.

What else we’ve been up to

While this was the official kickoff for our project, our work has been proceeding now for nearly two months. In January, we held two meetings with groups of developers and transit advocates, setting the stage for last week’s official launch.

On January 9 Aaron, Paul Sorenson of Cambridge Systematics, and myself held a session at Transportation Camp DC, showing off early mockups of a possible user interface, and requesting technical feedback on our proposed design and approach. Two weeks later, we participated in the TriMet MOD Sandbox kickoff in Portland, planning collaboration with that project team (also working on augmentations to OTP), to ensure that our projects stay aligned and yield the best possible software by the end of the year. Check out a few of our concepts below.

Next steps

Now we get to the details. In the next three months, we’ll be identifying each and every transportation service in the state of Vermont, and building a complete set of GTFS-flex data for the state. Meanwhile, Cambridge Systematics will begin adapting the OTP source code, beginning with the complex problem of representing the essentially infinite possible origin and destination “bus stops” along hail-and-ride routes.

These tasks will be hard work that have not been done before. Trillium is thrilled to have a team and client willing to experiment and take risks, project partners dedicated to serving their riders through innovative means, and a community of transportation advocates following along with our progress and supporting our success.

Flexible trip planner mockup showing hail-and-ride service
Flexible Trip Planner mockup up showing deviated-fixed service
Flexible Trip Planner mockup showing deviated-fixed zone