Development of Automated Transit Stop Inventory Model (ATSIM) Version 3.0
Transit stop inventories are needed to track the conditions of stop facilities and their amenities, determine how well areas of interest are served by transit service, assess the accessibility for disabled persons and ADA compliance, and support Advanced Public Transportation Systems (APTS) applications. The traditional methods of collecting transit stop inventory using clipboard, pencil, and paper are difficult, time-consuming, and costly. Advances in computer and communication technologies offer opportunities to significantly improve the process of collecting such data.
To help Florida’s transit agencies collect and maintain a standard transit stop inventory, the Public Transit Office at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) contracted with the Florida International University (FIU) and the University of South Florida (USF) to develop the Automated Transit Stop Inventory Model (ATSIM). The implementation of the system is expected to also contribute to the standardization of transit stop attributes and data structures and to allow FDOT to develop tools and applications that can be shared by all agencies, thus avoiding the duplication of development efforts by individual agencies.
The initial version of ATSIM was developed as an ArcPad GIS application running on a PDA that was wirelessly connected to a GPS receiver. As an option, the system also included a digital camera as a stand-alone component. Pictures from the digital camera were linked to the stop inventory database by matching the time stamps recorded from the PDA and the camera. In addition, to support data retrieval and analysis of the standard inventory, customized queries were developed as part of the Florida Transit Geographic Information System (FTGIS), a stand-alone GIS system customized for Florida's transit systems for transit planning.
FDOT subsequently supported a technology-transfer effort that aimed to facilitate and encourage the deployment of ATSIM by transit agencies. The project included the following three major tasks:
- Procure the software and hardware components of the system for distribution to transit agencies.
- Setup the ArcPad application such that the system would be ready to use by transit agencies.
- Conduct workshops at District Offices to distribute and demonstrate the use of the system.
At the onset of this second-phase development effort, the development team learned of the release of a new PDA (i.e., HP iPAQ model 6515) from HP that had a built-in GPS and a built-in digital camera. The availability of this integrated model offers an opportunity to significantly improve the ATSIM performance. Specifically, the following two improvements were expected:
- The built-in GPS will avoid the old Bluetooth GPS wireless connection, which can sometimes get disconnected. Reconnecting the GPS to the PDA can take several minutes. With the GPS as a built-in unit, the connection will be direct and stable and the operators have one fewer system component to carry with them.
- The built-in camera will avoid the tedious and often difficult task of matching pictures to their respective attribute records via time stamps—a step that is required when the camera functions as a stand-alone unit. With the built-in camera, there is only one time stamp and there will be no need for timer synchronization, thus the picture files can be accurately and easily linked to their attribute records.
To realize these improvements, it was decided that the ATSIM system would be re-designed to run on the new iPAQ, which also reduced the hardware cost of the ATSIM system by about 20%. Also, as part of the re-design effort, it was decided that the system would remove ArcPad as the application platform. ArcPad was originally used in the initial version for its Application Builder, which allowed an application to be quickly developed, and for its ability to interface with GPS as well as to store collected data in the shape file format. In addition, the ability of ArcPad to display street maps was first thought to be a desirable feature for ATSIM. However, it was found later that the street maps were actually non-essential to the ATSIM application and the extra time needed to load the street files only slowed down data collection process. At $500 per ArcPad license and 30 licenses (one license per agency), the decision to remove ArcPad provided a saving of $15,000 that went to support the redesign effort, which included the development of the following functions:
- Re-development of data entry interface and supporting functions using the C# language (with data stored in a MS Access database).
- Linkage to the GPS receiver to read GPS coordinates.
- Creation of shape files from MS Access files.
After these functions were successfully developed, the system was introduced to transit agencies in a series of six workshops conducted at various FDOT District Offices. The purposes of the workshops were to introduce ATSIM to transit agencies and obtain agency feedback on the system. Following the workshops a survey was conducted of the workshop attendees to find out agencies’ interest in applying ATSIM and to identify needs for technical assistance. In all, a total of 16 transit agencies responded to the survey, out of which 15 expressed their desire to apply the ATSIM system and one was uncertain.
The project aims to achieve the following four objectives:
- Improve ATSIM’s capabilities, functionality, and user-friendliness.
- Help agencies to convert their existing stop inventory to the standard ATSIM attributes and database structure.
- Work with up to seven agencies with the ATSIM conversion and with three agencies for in-depth analysis of agency needs and develop software programs in support of those needs.
- Acquire, test, and prepare a new PDA system for distribution to participating agencies.
- Conduct system demonstration and provide technical support.