Research Issue Area Three: The Application of Information Technology to Rural Mobility and System Connectivity

Managers: Thomas Horan, PhD (1), Steven Lawe (2), Larry Harman (3), Advisor

(1) Claremont Graduate University, University of Minnesota, (2) RSG Inc., (3) Geo-Graphics Lab


NETI will examine the use of emerging new information systems as a "Green Technology" to be applied to make our rural public transportation systems more sustainable. Building on the results of Issue Area One, NETI will examine the possible uses of Intelligent Transportation Technologies specifically designed to deal with the issues of rural isolation. It can be argued that there is more need for Advanced Traveler Information Systems in rural areas (with long headways between services) than in urban areas (with relatively frequent and well patronized bus services.) Basic examples of the issue of connectivity exist at the points where the long distance service (such as Amtrak or Greyhound) meets local rural services of varying forms and varying qualities. Given that only a limited number of rural services exist, it becomes critical that information systems inform the passenger of the services and combinations of services actually available.

The Research Approach

NETI will explore new combinations of public roles with private roles. In the area of emerging technology, a revolution is now underway concerning "location specific" information services. Commonly used products such as the cell phone will soon be providing information specific to the exact location of the user. It is critical that, as these privately operated services develop the needs of the rural public transportation user be considered. The program will explore new combinations of public roles (producing standardized route and schedule information) with private roles (presenting that information in the context of the precise location of the user.) NETI will collaborate with research currently underway at the University of Vermont, (e.g. the creation of a statewide "systems architecture") and the I-95 Corridor Coalition which is currently exploring the concept of a three-state rural passenger information system for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

NETI will undertake a review of the possible role of information technologies to deal with phenomenon of "isolation" in rural areas, building upon the results of Issue Areas One and Two. The result will be both a free standing report for public distribution, and the actual technical results in "Appendix" format. This report will also document the results of work jointly undertaken with other partners. This work will be made available via the Institute web site, including information formats consistent with the requirement of Section 508.

Technical Approach

Using the State of Vermont as a test case, the NETI research team will first create a graphic summary of all of the public mode services, (Amtrak, intercity bus, and local fixed route and schedule bus) in the state, in some form of interactive map. This interactive map would be used to explore, and document the existence of publicly available services, with an emphasis on those services that meet with and serve longer distance services such as Amtrak. NETI will undertake a data collection exercise that explores the extent to which improved passenger information could serve to improve the perceptions of the traveler about the use of fixed route and schedule service to minimize the impacts of rural isolation. The project will document what is known about the nature of the market for improved passenger information throughout the state. This deliverable could have a major effect on the development of rural passenger information systems nationwide.

Management Approach

The NETI study of the possible role of Information Technology in dealing with rural isolation will be led by Prof. Tom Horan of Claremont Graduate University, one of the world's experts in the study of technology and society. Local applications of emerging information technology to improve transit in rural areas will be developed under the leadership of Steven Lawe, of RSG, an expert in applied mapping and GIS technologies. Mr. Lawe will be advised by Mr. Larry Harman, Co- director of the GeoGraphics Lab at the Moakley Center, Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, a national leader in the application of information technology to public transportation.

The Information Technology project will work closely with planned similar projects at the University of Vermont.