CNN Money Detroit

Taking public transportation in Detroit can mean a long wait for a rundown bus that doesn’t come on time.

But that’s changing thanks to a partnership between a startup and the Detroit Department of Transportation. Transit Labs, a company that uses data to make transportation systems more efficient, is in the middle of a one-year pilot program that’s analyzing how people move around the city, and where public transit is failing them.

Detroit’s transit system hasn’t changed in over 50 years, but in that time the city has gone through a massive transformation — its population has declined 63% since 1950. It’s finally starting to rebound from economic disaster and is taking a new approach to improving infrastructure.

“You hear all the bad stories about Detroit, but the transit system has great drivers, great mechanics and a solid management team,” said Dag Gogue, CEO of Transit Labs, which launched in 2012 and is based in Washington, D.C.

What the city doesn’t have is a comprehensive view of the entire network. That means there’s no way to look at community demand and match it with an appropriate schedule.

Transit Labs is comparing where people work versus where they live and evaluating the location of the stops compared to vacant houses. (A recent report found that about 30% of the city’s buildings are vacant.) The goal is to reposition existing bus routes to be more effective and efficient.

The partnership between Transit Labs and Detroit shows the value of entrepreneurs and city organizations working together. But it isn’t always easy.

“Public officials sometimes face a lot of scrutiny, so they tend to be risk averse, and startups, by their nature, embrace risk,” Gogue said.

These issues were highlighted in a report released Friday by 1776, a D.C. startup incubator, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The report surveyed 230 entrepreneurs in eight cities (Detroit, Austin, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.). The report found, among other things, that the strength of the local tech scene depended on people’s commitment to collaboration. Teamwork is key and city involvement is crucial.

“The government needs to understand that every single industry is about to change [because of technology],” said Donna Harris, co-founder of 1776.

The report identified ways to build those relationships and foster innovation, like making it easier for entrepreneurs to work with city officials to solve existing problems. The report also said it needs to be easier for startups to access capital.
Part of what helped get the Transit Labs partnership off the ground was the commitment of Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan. It also helped that Gogue was willing to work for free instead of waiting for government funding.

As a new business, Gogue is betting on the idea that if he can show that his technology helped turn around Detroit, other cities will sign up too. He already has programs in place with several other cities, including Birmingham, Ala. and Flagstaff, Ariz.
For entrepreneurs looking to work closer with city governments, Gogue had one word of advice: “Perseverance.”

Map: Deficient Bridges by Congressional District

In our nation’s horse-race style presidential elections, campaigns typically start more than a year and a half before Election Day. By late May, we can expect almost all of the presidential candidates to have officially declared – just in time to watch the Highway Trust Fund run out.

With four major candidates officially campaigning already, the expected fate of our infrastructure is shaky but ripe for national debate. With the last years of President Obama’s term and a Republican controlled House and Senate, now is the time to pass a long-term and impactful infrastructure solution. This discussion can not wait until November of 2016.

And given the alarming state of our nation’s bridges, it’s about time.

One in nine of our nation’s bridges is now structurally deficient. We know this because the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory houses data on each of these bridges, down to the exact GPS coordinates.

What makes a bridge structurally deficient?

The data shows that structurally deficient bridges are a problem for everyone.

430 Congressional districts have at least one structurally deficient bridge.

And that just scratches the surface, the distribution of deficient bridges by district is frightening.

9 members of the House have more than 1000 deficient bridges in their district. But they’re not the only ones with an unmanageable problem — 50 members have more than 300 structurally deficient bridges.

Distribution of Deficient Bridges

These 50 members, representing only 11% of our congressional districts, account for over half of our nation’s deficient bridges. This is an astonishing statistic. 45 of the districts with more than 300 structurally deficient bridges are represented by Republicans, many of whom represent large areas geographically.

Some perspective on that:

Districts by Political Party

Last year’s midterms literally put Republicans on the map. Republican districts represent 78% of all bridges in the United States, and 81% of deficient bridges.

Similarly, 22% of bridges fall in Democratic districts, which contain 19% of our deficient bridges.

The bottom line: this problem isn’t about Republican vs. Democrat. Virtually everywhere, throughout every Congressional district, our bridges are in real trouble.

How Did We Get Here?

At the end of 1992, there were 572,196 bridges in our country. Of those, 118,698, or less than 21%, were considered structurally deficient. Twenty years later, we had built an additional 32,799 new bridges, but managed to lower the number of deficient bridges to just 66,405 (less than 11% of all the bridges).

From examining our past efforts, we know that if we addressed our bridge deficiency at the same rate that we did in the early 1990’s (about 17,000 repairs every 4 years) — it would take 16 years to fix all of our structurally deficient bridges.

However, at our current rate of 5,000 repairs every 4 years, it will take 64 years.

From a micro-standpoint, our analysis reveals that the 1990’s rate of repair averages to 40 bridges in each Congressional district every 4 years. 173 districts have 40 deficient bridges or fewer. 252 districts have 80 deficient bridges or fewer.

By returning to early ‘90’s infrastructure investment levels, in 8 years we could fix all of the structurally deficient bridges in over half of our Congressional districts, which is a far better proposition than if the government continues lagging behind in repairing deficient bridges.

Fixing our nation’s infrastructure should not be a partisan issue. Americans drive over bridges every day going to work, taking their kids to school and visiting loved ones. We owe it to them to ensure every ride is safe.

5 Districts with No Deficient Bridges

Last week, we released a report finding that all but five members of the House of Representatives – Rep. Joe Heck (NV-3), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-32), Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (FL-12) and Rep. Alan Grayson (FL-9) have at least one structurally deficient bridge in their Congressional district. Leaving 430 of 435 congressional districts having structurally deficient bridges. This is everyone’s problem.

To recap what makes a bridge structurally deficient:
What makes a bridge deficient

In the map below you can see, Americans living in a district with structurally sound bridges. No your eyes are not deceiving you, it is a very small percentage of the population.

5 Districts with No Deficient Bridges

Now for the really bad news, 11% of congressional districts account for over half of our nation’s deficient bridges. If you break down the numbers from these districts (shown in the interactive map below) you will find more than 300 deficient bridges per district and more than 32,000 structurally deficient bridges in total. Rep. Steve King (IA-4) ranks worst district with over 2,300 deficient bridges in just one Congressional district.

At the rate the government is fixing bridges it would take two years alone to fix the bridges in only Rep. King’s district. This wouldn’t touch Rep. Frank Lucas (OK-3) with 2,074 deficient bridges, Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-3) with 1,838 deficient bridges or Rep. Tim Huelskamp (KS-1) with 1,393 deficient bridges. As you can see the time it will take to fix these bridges really adds up if we continue to only fix 5,000 bridges every four years.

50 Worst Districts by Number

In many states – Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania – there are at least 3 districts with more than 300 deficient bridges. 45 of these districts are represented by Republicans.

 

50 Worst Districts by # of Deficient Bridges



Structurally Deficient Bridges by Congressional District



Looking just at the number of deficient bridges per district doesn’t tell the entire story. Another way to look at the data is the percentage of bridges in each district that are structurally deficient. The map below shows the location of the 50 worst districts based on the percentage of structurally deficient bridges to structurally sound bridges. For instance Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) at 29% has the third worst district based on the percentage of structurally deficient bridges, there are a total of 99 bridges in her district.

Pennsylvania is ranked worst in structurally deficient bridges nationwide, and home to the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (PA-9). Pennsylvania contains 18 of the 50 worst districts by percentage deficiency, and when broken down even further, 16 of the 30 worst.

The good news for Pennsylvanians and Americans nationwide is Chairman Shuster has been on the road this month to shed light on infrastructure issues within his state, highlighting the importance of Congress passing a long-term transportation bill this year.

In total, 62,000 of the 596,000 or, one in nine bridges, in this country are structurally deficient. Look at the data, it’s telling us we need a long term plan to fix the structurally deficient bridges of today. We need that plan now.

Crain's Detroit Business Editorial

By Crain’s editorial board

The city of Detroit is getting some pro bono transit assessment services that might help it do a better job of delivering bus services to its residents.

As Bill Shea reports on Page 3, a Washington, D.C.-based startup called Transit Labs is providing some advanced metrics services to the city on things such as location of bus stops, whether routes are correctly drawn and other factors that affect route efficiency.

The services come for free because Transit Labs is building a client roster and was aware that cash-starved Detroit might well be interested.

Not included in the project is suburban system SMART, which declined to be part of the project.

Nonetheless, the opportunities are promising. If Transit Labs is able to help Detroit improve its bus services, that not only will help city residents, it will be a strong resume bullet for a young company.

DDOT Ridecheck

By BILL SHEA

Advanced metrics aren’t just for baseball fans: The oft-maligned Detroit Department of Transportation is using a pro bono analytics service in an attempt to improve performance.

A Washington, D.C.-based startup called Transit Labs is preparing a series of reports for the bus agency, and measurable changes — such as more buses running on time — could happen by summer.

The initial analysis has shown what everyone already knows: DDOT buses struggle to arrive on time, the routes are inefficient, some stations are not where people and jobs are located, and one-third of city buses never leave the garage because of maintenance problems.

The agency also struggles with costs, staffing, maintenance and financial record-keeping breakdowns that have drawn federal reproach.

Such problems have led to DDOT users taking 11 million fewer trips on the system over the past four years.

The hope is that a deep dive into fresh data can fuel some fixes as Mayor Mike Duggan’s administrator labors to meet a pledge to have the buses running on time by the end of 2015.

Unsurprisingly, the city’s effort to use data to create a more efficient city bus system isn’t a regional effort — the suburban bus system that links to DDOT chose not to participate in the analytics effort, opting instead to rely on in-house metrics. But Transit Labs hopes it can eventually segue the Detroit work into data that can help drive suburban-linkage improvements.

How it started

Transit Labs founder Dag Gogue pitched the analytics idea in September to DDOT Deputy Director Paul Toliver at the annual Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, which was held in Detroit.

A deal was struck that month that calls for the city to get the analytics for free.

Why free? Simple: Detroit is broke and Transit Labs, as a startup, needs résumé fodder to secure transit agency contracts.

How does it work? Transit Labs uses data, mapping, predictive modeling and game theory to create analytics. The company is using DDOT’s own data, collecting new information, and it overlays all of it with the latest census and economic activity data.

Numbers are crunched on issues such as wait times at stops, availability of functioning buses, and drivers.

“We want to look at the raw data to see if there is any pattern,” Gogue said.

The intent is to create a more efficient system that serves users and businesses — getting people to their jobs on time — by using data-driven analysis that tells transit planners where critical problems exist. An example: Flagging where bus stations are misaligned, an issue that can be quickly fixed.

“At the end, we hope to help develop a brand-new system,” Gogue said. “The changes are not going to be overnight.”

Transit Labs has its own proprietary software and services, and it uses mapping software from geographic information systems giant Esri. The analytics and data are stored for the city on Azure Government, Microsoft’s cloud storage infrastructure for government.

DDOT Director Dan Dirks said via email that he’s not yet seen recommendations from Transit Labs.

He is a Detroit native who was manager of SMART from 1998 to 2007.

New thinking, new buses

DDOT has struggled for a long time.

“The network needed a lot of help. Over the years, the ways DDOT and the city have tried to improve performance was hiring more drivers, buying more buses. That’s a pretty costly activity,” Gogue said.

Instead, the agency must focus on placement of stops in relation to where people live and where jobs are, he said.

There have been massive changes in population and jobs, but DDOT has done little evolving, Gogue said.

“Cities are changing very rapidly. People are moving around a lot more,” he said. “We can no longer afford to rely on planning every five years.”

To its credit, DDOT hasn’t been idle. It has ordered 80 new buses to replace its aging fleet, and has launched an app to help users track buses in real time.

A $13 million federal air quality program grant is paying for 31 buses, and another 49 buses are via $25 million from the Federal Transit Administration. The Michigan Department of Transportation is providing the required 20 percent local matching funds, DDOT said.

Seventy of the new buses are standard 40-foot coaches. The other 10 are 60-foot articulated buses, for use on the city’s most heavily traveled routes. Those are scheduled to arrive in September.

To expedite delivery, DDOT said it piggybacked bus orders already in production for the Connecticut Department of Transportation and for Pittsburgh and Rochester, N.Y.

Once the new buses are in service, DDOT will have a fleet of 294.

The agency in January rolled out the “Detroit Bus” app for Android and Apple mobile devices that allows users to track buses in real time and plan their trips. Android data shows it has been installed between 1,500 and 5,000 times, and Apple data wasn’t immediately available.

Getting DDOT to run on time has been a priority for Duggan since he took office last year.

He told reporters during a DDOT press conference in January that his goal is a first-class bus system — a tall order, given the systemic problems that have fueled public complaint for decades.

“We’re not close to that goal yet, but we’re heading in the right direction. And 2015 is going to be the year that DDOT actually runs bus service according to its published schedules,” Duggan said.

DDOT has experienced a drastic reduction in its ridership statistics: In 2014, the bus system provided 25 million rides, a decline from 31 million in 2013. It provided 36 million bus trips in 2011.

The decline should be attributed to DDOT’s inability to get enough buses on the streets, Dirks told Crain’s last year.

Duggan, who ran SMART in the early 1990s, and Dirks have promised improvements not only in timely bus service but also improved safety with the installation of security cameras on buses.

The city will spend $3 million for the cameras, which are from Canada-based Seon. Sixty now have cameras, and the entire fleet will have them by the end of August, according to DDOT.

DDOT relies on a $51.8 million subsidy from the city to balance its $138.2 million fiscal-year 2014-15 budget. It has 917 employees.

An old issue

While using 21st century data analysis is promising, the situation is imperfect. That’s because the analytics are solely for DDOT and don’t include the region’s suburban bus system, which, in theory, is supposed to work in conjunction with DDOT to move people around the region.

The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation balked at being part of a joint pilot project, Gogue said.

“I hadn’t appreciated the political dynamics between SMART and DDOT,” he said.

John Hertel, SMART’s general manager, said via email that the bus system he oversees now has its own data, thanks to a recently installed Automatic Vehicle Location system, and will do its own number crunching.

“We did not need to duplicate the effort and simply choose to utilize our resources and time in another way,” Hertel said, “The fact is the public believes we operate a good system, and that is evidenced by the 66 percent approval of the SMART millage last year.”

The historic lack of departmental cooperation, dating back decades and rooted largely in suburbs-vs.-city funding worries, has fueled embarrassment about local public transportation — culminating in a Detroit
Free Press story last month about Detroiter James Robertson and his commute to Rochester Hills that includes 21 miles of walking. The story got international attention.

In September, Gogue rode buses from Detroit’s downtown Rosa Parks Transit Center to Dearborn. It took hours.

“In the course of that trip, I met at least six James Robertsons,” Gogue said. “They have at least a four-hour commute because SMART and DDOT don’t talk to each other. That creates a lot of inefficiencies with routes and stops.”

DDOT’s woes run far more deeply than SMART, so tackling the city system is a good start, Gogue said.

“I’m still optimistic, as we release more and more tools for DDOT, that will there will an interest (from SMART),” he said.

New technology

Use of cutting-edge analytics in fixed-route transit planning isn’t common, Gogue said.

The Detroit work is to bolster Transit Lab’s work roster; for most clients, pricing is based on fleet size, and contracts are arranged so departments pay only when they use analytics services.

Trying to fix a bus system is a business for Gogue, but he also gets enjoyment from it.

“This is a lot of fun for us. We get to come into a system that hasn’t changed much and has so much potential. The before-and-after picture for DDOT can be amazing,” he said.

Bill Shea: (313) 446-1626, [email protected] Twitter: @bill_shea19

Detroit

When you hear Detroit, you probably think of cars before you think of transit.  The reality, however, is even in the Motor City, access to your own set of wheels isn’t a foregone conclusion — leaving many at the mercy of the transit system.  Take the recent story of James Robertson, a Detroiter whose job is located 10 miles beyond the reach of the transit system.

James’s story attracted international attention and inspired a number of people to help James purchase a new car.  It’s a great story, but the reality confronting thousands of households in Detroit is that they still don’t have a car. And they’re spread out all over the city.

Detroit Population Without Access to Cars

The solution is using technology to better understand the challenges facing Detroit — and its transit system.

Transit Labs is integrating data already collected by the city, including passenger counters, vehicle locators, next bus arrival data and more, to overlay with census, GIS and economic activity data.  Operators, planners and executive leadership desperately want a more comprehensive picture of their transit system and real tools that enable the evaluation historical performance, make real-time decisions and model future service and growth.

Using data and analytics, and with the help of our friends at ESRI, we produced data visualizations for the city government that reveal every Detroiter without a car.

Where are the Non-Vehicle Households, Vacant Houses, Detroit Residents, and Jobs?

The map above illustrates how many households in Detroit do not have access to a car.  Many residents are going to great pains just to fulfill the most basic of day-to-day life activities such as getting to work or school. In the worst cases, many simply disqualify themselves from even getting a job for lack of reliable transportation. Neither option is acceptable — especially in a city where the unemployment rate is triple the national average and neighborhood-level economic opportunities are limited.

Regional mobility challenges aside, how is transit doing for Detroiters commuting within city limits?

The transit system has shrunk — that’s no secret. A look at standard industry metrics collected by the federal government tells a discouraging story. Annual ridership, for instance, plunged from 47 Million in 1996 to 33 Million in 2012 — contrary to the national trend.

What’s Detroit to do? Give up? Stop offering transit service altogether?

If we focus solely on the ridership numbers, that’s the only conclusion we’ll ever reach. But if we’re looking to improve transit rather than simply watch it disappear, perhaps it’s time to ask different questions.

That’s exactly what was on Paul Toliver’s mind when he met us last year at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in Detroit. Paul is the Deputy Director of the Detroit Department of Transportation. On any given day, he deals with challenges ranging from fleet availability to labor relations to funding volatility. As day-to-day issues stack up, with elected officials and the media circling, there’s little room to zoom out and consider the very foundation of the transit system: the bus routes.

Paul saw the value in our approach, and enlisted Transit Labs for a pilot project — starting with a comprehensive review of the route network. If we were starting from scratch, how would we build Detroit’s transit system?

This partnership deploys data visualization and analytics, as well as cloud computing, to evolve public transit in Detroit.  We began by considering external data — population changes, employment figures, demographic trends. None of this is transit data, but it all affects the transit system.

As Paul said last year, “strong data analytics and visualizations will assist us in our efforts to increase accessibility to public transportation options, reignite economic activity throughout the city and offer an improved quality of service our customers deserve.”

We can reframe the current discussion by introducing these factors into the equation. Rather than judging the transit system strictly on internal numbers, we’re understanding transit in its living habitat.

READ PART II: A Deeper Look at Detroit’s Routes and Population Density

Learn more: Interactive Map of Detroit’s Routes and Population Density

Transit In Detroit

In case you missed it…

Here’s Part I: How “People Data” can Help the James Robertsons of Detroit and Jump-Start Transit Improvements

Now that we’re all caught up! Let’s start with population. Areas of medium population density make up most of Detroit. Then, there are clear swaths of low density areas. And a few pockets of high density stand out:

Detroit Population Density

To be effective, a transit system must reflect population density. Let’s see what Detroit’s bus routes look like in relation to population density:

Detroit Transit Routes

Bus routes are, for the most part, evenly distributed across the city. Does that strategy result in effective transit? What does it mean at the neighborhood level? Let’s zoom in.

Here, we see an area of low population density. It’s criss-crossed by bus routes. In a low-density environment, are these routes a wise investment of limited resources?

Detroit Near East Side

Here’s one of the highest density areas in Detroit. Transit coverage is less extensive. Is this an appropriate service level? If transit service were to change, what impact could that have for local residents?

Southwest Detroit

The city is changing: quite apart from the tired old narrative of neglect and decline, many segments of Detroit’s culture and economy are growing. To remain relevant, the transit system will need to evolve along with the city. What if transit could lead the city’s evolution rather than follow it?

Thanks to city, state, and federal leaders, 80 new buses are on their way to Detroit. How will we maximize the utilization of these buses? How are we going to deploy these new resources so that they meet the needs of today’s Detroiters?

Detroit New Buses

As living, breathing networks, transit systems require constant analysis — both quantitative and qualitative. Whereas full, in-depth system reviews are only practical once every few years, live visualizations can help transit providers to be much more responsive, much more often.

The simple truth is you cannot plan a transit system if you can’t see your data — and combine it with external data.  Our visualizations highlight conclusions that are hidden in disparate sets of numbers, enabling planners and policymakers to pursue data-driven transit solutions.

There are many parts to a transit system — it’s all about fusing them together to form a complete data picture.

That’s what we do.

Learn more: Interactive Map of Detroit’s Routes and Population Density

Follow the Money

#STUCKINTRAFFIC

With the State of the Union over and the new residents in town all settled in, it seems like some people in Washington are ready to go to work for their employers – the American taxpayers.

The last two weeks have given the transportation world much to be hopeful about. Initial committee work has begun on the Hill and both sides of the aisle are talking about being agreeable. In releasing a six year, $478 billion budget proposal last Monday, POTUS is definitely giving our industry much deserved love. And after releasing a futuristic blue paper for transportation in 2045, our Secretary, The Fantastic Mr. Foxx, has been beating the transportation drum from DC to Silicon Valley.

It is with this background that Washington is gearing up for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s first hearing of the year on a comprehensive Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill. The good news is we’re all in agreement that more funds are needed all around and questions of modal allocation of transportation funding have been tabled for the time being. The hearing will be followed by #StuckInTraffic, a Twitter Town Hall held by Secretary Foxx and Chairman Shuster to engage the people and set an example for bipartisanship on transportation.

WHERE WE ARE

Everyone recognizes that our roads, bridges, and freeways are deteriorating and in desperate need of repair, upgrade, and investment. Mass transit ridership is growing faster than ever, but struggles to meet demand and help reduce congestion as fleets age and budgets remains static. We all care about transportation because it is literally the lifeblood of how our day-to-day lives are operated and because the people care, so should policymakers.

As we work towards a long-term transportation bill, the defining question posed by Secretary Foxx is how will we align decisions and dollars to invest the trillions of dollars our transportation system needs in the smartest possible.

Aligning Decisions with Dollars

Through MAP-21, Congress attempted to assess our current system’s condition and make real data-driven investments toward improving state of good repair. Congress has set the stage for us to assess where we’re at today and put us on a trajectory toward a transportation network that enables very efficient flow of goods and people, eliminates wasted hours spent in traffic, and accounts for environmental impact.

WHERE WE COULD GO

Meanwhile, this afternoon’s #StuckInTraffic Town Hall further emphasizes the infusion of technology and innovation in the transportation and infrastructure industry, a sector considered archaic for a very long time. For that, the entire team at Transit Labs is very thankful! With the arrival of 43 years young Foxx (and Fast Company’s 7th Most Creative Person in Tech), we’re seeing the Department move toward technologies it has thus far been unable to leverage.

The technology of today has the power to inform us, with certainty, on how to build an efficient transportation and infrastructure network with real-time data analytics and predictive models. And the time has come for us to look at our commitments using data analytics and see what’s working where.

That’s why today, we’re releasing a new interactive data visualization that enables policymakers and taxpayers alike to track and follow how much money states and cities are receiving for transit and highway via the website http://followthemoney.transitlabs.com.

Using data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) National Transit Database (NTD), we created an interactive data visualization that traces the transportation funds appropriated by Congress, through DOT, down to the states and cities who are on the frontlines of our transportation projects.

ON THE FRONTLINES – STATES AND CITIES

While the growth of federal funds has stagnated, states and cities aren’t going to just call it quits. Year after year, more and more state and local elected officials have gone directly to their voters and received overwhelming approval. 72% of local and county transportation ballot measures were approved in 2014.

Approved vs Proposed Ballot Measures

But make no mistake, states rely on the federal government for over 50% of their highway and bridge capital investments. The amount is closer to ⅔ in Georgia. Failure to pass a long-term transportation funding bill has forced the Georgia Department of Transportation to delay over 70 projects indefinitely.

In the coming weeks and months, elected officials and government workers across the country will be hard at work to provide solutions to our transportation challenges and put our communities and nation on a path towards economic success and prosperity.

The words of Governor Nathan Deal (R) during the week of his inauguration last month should give hope to all transportation enthusiasts across the nation –

“We all, of course, agree that we need to have additional revenue for our transportation in this state. Some will have a preference for more transit than others will have, but that’s just the nature of where people come from and who they are in terms of their constituency. But I think that those are the kinds of things, that at the end of the session, we’ll resolve them. And they won’t be marked by partisan bickering.”

 

Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal warmly greeted at his second inauguration last month.
Flagstaff earns $384,000 in additional STIC funds

For the last few months, we’ve been talking a lot about the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Small Transit Intensive Cities Program (STIC) – which rewards high levels of transit service in small cities. In November, we released a report identifying 50 cities that were within decimal points of qualifying for new or additional STIC funds. And we’ve started holding Congressional briefings on the topic to ensure the federal government has small city priorities top of mind.

This month, we’ve been hard at work helping small cities on their quest to earn up to $1.1 million to fix buses and buy new ones, hire more drivers, and provide cheaper and more convenient transportation options to the public.

Meet Flagstaff, Arizona. With only 100,000 rides 14 years ago, Flagstaff is a true example of a small transit intensive city, reporting over 1.8 million trips this year.

That growth has been fueled, in part, by over $1.5 million in STIC funding awarded to Flagstaff’s Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA) over the program’s 8 year life. Now, with the help of Transit Labs, Flagstaff expects to earn almost $2 million in funding over fiscal years 2015 and 2016 alone, and over $1 million each year thereafter.

Performance Recommendation

Flagstaff STIC earnings

STIC Factors

As these graphs clearly show, Flagstaff has consistently worked its way up to the FTA thresholds over the last 8 years, earning 3 STIC factors for the first time in Fiscal Year 2011, and earning an additional fourth STIC factor in 2014.Flagstaff Factors

NAIPTA’s growth and STIC eligibility have been on a consistent positive trajectory, largely because of the agency’s diligence in constantly tracking and re-assessing the needs of the community they serve. This has resulted in a constant and efficient growth in service consumed as well as an increase in their STIC eligibility. Looking to FY2017, we are working with NAIPTA to coordinate data collection, calibration, and reporting to the National Transit Database (NTD) for university and vanpool services in the Flagstaff area that will help NAIPTA continue to earn more funding.

Cities and transit agencies across the country can better position themselves to qualify for STIC funds by retrieving unreported data, correcting inaccuracies in their collected data, and ensuring that all transit providers in their city report and contribute to the city’s overall KPIs used to determine STIC apportionments.

Key Takeaways from Transit Labs STIC Report

If you’re one of these fifty cities, we believe there’s an opportunity for you to earn more funds than you are currently, at minimum by $200,000. Flagstaff was the first city in our report, help spread the word to the other 49!

50 Cities from Transit Labs Report

TL-website-blog-STIC-5-Briefing-header-image-v4

Transit in small cities is playing a bigger role than ever in connecting people to jobs, schools, and local communities. In Q3 of 2014, public transportation provided over 2.7 billion trips — the highest since 1974. Small cities like Wenatchee, WA (with a population of 31,925) are being recognized for record-breaking ridership alongside transit-intensive metropolises like Oakland, Denver, and New York City.

With the recent exponential growth of large cities, small localities have been clamoring for a seat at the table both at the Federal and State levels. In an effort to help address the public transportation needs of smaller cities, Congress developed the Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) program to provide additional federal dollars for cities with high transit service consumption levels.

In August of last year, eighteen members of Congress led by Sam Farr (D-CA) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS) co-authored a bipartisan letter to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee requesting that the funding for STIC apportionments be increased from 1.5% to 3% of the Urbanized Area (5307) formula fund.

Right before the holidays, we organized a roundtable on this very topic: STIC funding for cities with awesome transit, where Congressional staff learned how to help their cities qualify for more of these funds. (Read more about our STIC report here.)

Microsoft’s Policy and Innovation Center was gracious enough to host us along with policymakers, representatives from STIC cities, and transportation advocates to discuss the program.


Discussing FTA's Small Transit Intensive Cities program.

 

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) implemented the STIC program in 2005 (read more here). By rewarding transportation performance, Congress is using data to spend money where it makes sense. Small cities can now earn up to $1.1 million to fix buses and buy new ones, hire more drivers, and provide cheaper and more convenient transportation options to the public.

Panelists discussed some of the cities earning the most STIC funds by serving large elderly, military, and university populations.


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Non-emergency Medical Transport. Medicaid is the largest of the 80 federal programs providing transportation services, spending $2-3 billion each year. This is a crucial service to ensure that the elderly have access to medical care. States independently implement their programs, including transportation, as long as they follow the federal framework. Coordination with local transit agencies has been a discussion point since the ‘90s for budgetary and customer experience efficiency. Medicaid Transport service data can contribute to cities and earn them more funds.

Military. Serving 3 of California’s military bases, Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) has earned over $6,000,000 in STIC funds. Creating several express routes for military men and women, MST has allowed the area to enjoy the benefits of a military base without the traffic congestion.

“MST now has 13 new routes connecting military personnel and the general public to work, school, and shopping destinations with ridership growing to more than 530,000 annual boardings,” said Carl Sedoryk, CEO of Monterey-Salinas Transit.

Universities. Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia (UGA), has had transit for college students dating back to the late 1960s. In 2009, Athens Transit CEO Butch McDuffie teamed up with UGA to report their service data to the FTA. In the four years since, Athens has earned over $1,600,000 in STIC funds and ranks fourth nationally in trips/person behind only New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

As the debate over transportation funding heats up in the coming months, it is important that all leaders across transit whether big or small, plays their part in communicating the impact the transit has on the entire nation. Making sure that the public has a truly comprehensive picture of service consumption would be a great starting point to inform our nation’s infrastructure investment decisions.

Want to join the conversation? Look out for another briefing next month.

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Thanks to everyone who attended the roundtable briefing. Special thanks to Scott Bogren of Community Transportation Association of America for sharing his expertise on the STIC program and insights into the efforts to expand it. And of course, a big thank you to our good friends at Microsoft for providing the venue.

HTF Balance by President

It’s January in our nation’s capital. The weather is miserable but with a new Congress and new majorities, the town is buzzing with anticipation. For the first time in a decade a sitting president is facing consolidated opposition. From one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, to K Street, the talk is about veto or break-through. Six months from now, it’ll be summer and the collective attention will have shifted to the 2016 elections.

Over the next 6 months our super intelligent and highly effective government has the opportunity to tackle issues through legislation or (earmuffs!) executive action that can set the stage for renewed American exceptionalism, or set us back a few decades. Pick your issue – immigration, health care, education, the environment, tax reform – everything is on the table. With Obama and Congress circling each other, the media giddily gauding one side or the other, the American public is left waiting to see if we bet on the right horses last November.

Our transportation infrastructure, responsible for everything from

  • providing access to employment, education, and health care to
  • facilitating the flow of energy, goods, and products across the country and to foreign markets

is on life support!

Bridges are collapsing, roads and highways are falling apart, and it takes longer and longer to get anywhere whether flying, driving, or even on public transit.

It is with this backdrop that this morning, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will be testifying, along with a number of state governors, at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s first hearing addressing the Highway Trust Fund this session.

Transportation Leaders to Testify

It’s important to understand the history of how and why we got here… so we put together some data visualizations! Check them out!

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HERE’S THE STORY:

Since 1957 America has paid for its transportation infrastructure (Highways, Bridges, Airports, Trains and Buses) largely through a gas tax. Proceeds from the tax are used to fund our Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Failures of recent administrations to adequately fund infrastructure projects coupled with an ever-increasing demand for transportation has left the HTF on the brink of insolvency. Without legislative action, the HTF runs out in May.

The lack of a long-term transportation funding solution is collapsing our bridges and bottlenecking economic growth, while the rest of the world from the UAE to Singapore to Hong Kong, is driving full steam ahead, literally.

Historically, up until President George W. Bush, Congress increased the gas tax whenever infrastructure spending exceeded gas tax revenues. Since 1993, we haven’t increased the tax or found a long-term solution — instead using budget gimmicks to pay for complex infrastructure projects, 3 bills and over 10 short-term extensions in the last 15 years. This creates an environment where governors, mayors, and transportation leaders (including everyone testifying today) are constantly fighting to keep our infrastructure going, in lieu of modernizing and planning ahead for growth and sustainability.

Net Change in HTF Balance
SOURCES: US Department of Energy (USDoE), US Energy Information Administration (US EIA), Tax Foundation

The story gets worse. Since the mid-2000s, we haven’t been driving as far as we used to, and now cars are getting more mileage than ever before. That’s a double whammy for the “per gallon” gas tax.

SOURCE: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

This has meant real consequences for our nation’s infrastructure.

1 in 9 bridges are structurally deficient — 250 million crossings a day are made on bridges that require speed or weight restrictions to ensure safety.

1 in 3 of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition — costing the average car owner $324 a year for vehicle maintenance and increased fuel costs, not including the cost of sitting in traffic and higher prices for consumer goods as the cost of doing business increases.

If you think roadways and bridges are bad, take a look at our public transit network. Many of the largest cities in this country still lack reliable, safe, and cost-effective public transportation options. While we celebrate the recent rise of the Ubers and Lyfts of the world, public transit as an industry — largely due to persistent underfunding at the local, state and federal levels — has literally been stuck in the last century.

With a very modern, truly multi-modal network that reaches all parts of the city, the Berlin Transit system is only 9th on the list of best systems in the world. In large part due to the sheer volume of people that rely on it day-in day-out, our beloved NY MTA does make the list at a respectable No. 10.

Berlin Transit

But wait. In spite of all the issues mentioned above, federal investment in infrastructure has grown consistently with overwhelming support for the last 50 years. How then, do we find ourselves with a crumbling infrastructure?

Infrastructure Investment Growth
SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office (CBO)

The answer, ironically enough, is the gas tax. The revenue source that pays for our infrastructure investments has also been its greatest constraint. Our infrastructure investment is capped, by what we are willing to tax ourselves at the pump.

In fact, relying on the gas tax — we would need to raise it by at least 15 cents to shore up the $112B funding shortfall to achieve a state of good repair within the next twenty years — fixing our structurally deficient roads and bridges and preventing another collapse like the one in Minnesota.

Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

Relying solely on the gas tax, we’ve been falling behind as a nation and are paying the cost — sitting in more traffic, driving on roads and bridges that we know are not safe, and paying more for all the goods and services flowing through our transportation networks.

Emerging economic superpowers are making huge investments in their infrastructure; earlier this month China announced $1.1 trillion dollars to be spent on 300 infrastructure projects in 2015. Last year between October and November alone, China approved 21 new projects worth $112B, twice our annual transportation budget.

None of this means a gas tax increase is a bad idea. But relying solely on the tax to fund our investments is. It’s why the trust fund keeps running out. And why other countries have gotten ahead by pouring hundreds of billions into their nation’s transportation networks.

We must find a sustainable long-term solution to our transportation infrastructure that scales with our country’s growth to foster thriving communities and a vibrant economy.

Good luck and godspeed to you, Mr. Secretary!

 

Farhan Daredia, James Mietus, and Molly King contributed to this report.

Graphics courtesy of Anna Tulchinskaya and Paul Miller.

Data and technology are the future, and the National Transit Database is the key.

Deep inside the labyrinths of the Department of Transportation complex in southeast DC, there is an office with four mild-mannered folks sipping on their coffees. These are the people responsible for collecting data on the operations and public usage of every public transit agency in the nation.

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This data collection is called the National Transit Database (NTD) and holds the potential to help us understand what our transit investment dollars buy for us today, and where we should invest future dollars.

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Congress established the NTD 40 years ago to collect information about all of the nation’s transit systems and to distribute funding to all of them. Now we have over 2800 transit systems across the nation who report their data to NTD to be eligible for over $6 billion in federal funding annually.

 

WHY IT MATTERS

NTD covers everything from how much transit authorities spend, to where they get their funds, the condition of their buses and trains, how safe their vehicles are, and how much service they provide. With this data:

  • Congress can inform public transportation investment decisions.
  • Public transportation providers and planners can understand how their systems work, track their progress over time, and adopt best practices from their peers.
  • Cities can improve transportation access to schools, jobs, and healthcare to strengthen local economies.
  • Bus and train manufacturers can improve their vehicles.
  • The private sector can identify new investment opportunities for commercial and residential developments that leverage growing transit networks.

 

THE CHALLENGE

Both the legislative and executive branches want efficient, performance-based, and data-driven transportation policy to get the most out of every dollar spent, but progress on the development of an intuitive, efficient, and accurate reporting system has been very slow. The Healthcare.gov rollout highlighted the numerous obstacles government faces with legacy systems that often preclude its ability to create and use new technologies, such as few contracting firm options and security requirements. These structural and procedural obstacles are only exacerbated by the arcane nature of transit data collection and database architecture.

Starting back when recipients had to fax in their reports and slowly progressing to the point when recipients mailed their reports on floppy disks, the evolution of technology became both a saving grace and a massive obstacle for the NTD. The amount of time and labor sunk into old systems holds the entire process back from advancing into new technologies and getting better results out of our existing transit systems.

Where technology was the problem in the past, we see potential for it to be the answer in the near future. Today, NTD reporting is completed through a web-based reporting interface — a definite sign of progress. But still not enough to provide the 2,837 transit systems with the right tools to make daily improvements to their systems, safety and investment value.

While technology changes are slow, local leaders are hard at work to collect better data and expand the amount of information they collect for the federal database. CEOs of transit systems across the country are aggressively embracing sensor technologies to collect more accurate data. For instance, the immense amount of data that comes from installing Automatic Passenger Counters and GPS systems present a wealth of information for the NTD. Sensor technologies are now in vogue as small cities refine their methodologies to qualify for more Small Transit Intensive Cities funding.

Fueled by a strong Congressional mandate, former FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff led a valiant effort to add safety and asset condition reporting requirements to the database in MAP-21 legislation. When fully operational, these new requirements will provide a clear picture of the performance and condition of our nation’s transit assets. This data will help make vehicles last longer, prevent accidents, and inform short and long term vehicle investments.

As we collect more data with more hardware, the sheer size of the database continues to grow. Last year, large city public transit systems reported over 1.4 million data points to NTD. With so much data coming in, it’s time to “put down the glossy brochures, roll up our sleeves, and target our resources on repairing the system we have,” as Peter Rogoff put it.

 

THE KEY

There is room for improvement. The key to an effective national database system that allows our transit systems to be efficient and cost effective is to focus on the opportunity presented by new technology and online information sharing. And the federal government is moving in this direction.

Back in September, the Office of Inspector General issued a report on the NTD. In response, FTA’s Acting Administrator Therese McMillan made several commitments to continue improving the NTD, from algorithms that find data inaccuracies to dedicated processes for analyzing the specific data points (out of those 1.4 million) used in federal grant calculations.

In an ideal world, anyone should be able to make use of the wealth of information and insight contained within the NTD to help improve America’s transit systems. Here’s a simple example showing federal assistance for capital and operating expenses over the last 10 years.

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The information paints a striking picture. The federal government increased its investment in capital and operating assistance, but because of how far behind operating assistance started, the gap is only growing. The jump in operating assistance in 2010 and 2012 came from $750 million in dedicated operations funding from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), as well as some of ARRA’s discretionary grants. Overall, the data tells us that investments to repair and maintain our tracks, trains, buses, and escalators take a backseat to expanding our transit systems.

This is the NTD at its most basic level. As state and local governments collect more and better data, the federal government needs to make more progress on a robust federal database that is actionable. With the roll-out of NTD 2.0, slated for December 15, FTA is hoping to overcome the challenges and enable stakeholders to fully leverage the NTD.

Data and technology are the future, and the National Transit Database is the key.

Austin, NLC

We’ve just arrived in Austin, Texas for the annual Congress of Cities, hosted by the National League of Cities! Will we see you here?

Stop by and say hello at CityNext booth #921. We’re a featured Microsoft CityNext Partner, leveraging Microsoft’s Azure Government Cloud (currently in Preview) to analyze cities’ data across:

  • Asset Management
  • Scheduling
  • Stop Placement
  • Funding Apportionment
  • Mobility Management
  • and more

Our goal is to bring real-time operations and efficiency to cities nationwide by crunching data to produce easy-to-understand visualizations that enable data driven decision-making.

We’ll be there alongside ADX Studio, a fellow Microsoft Partner that’s increasing productivity, improving operational efficiencies, and maximizing customer investments in Microsoft technologies.

We’re really excited for a number of sessions as well. Mike Walsh will keynote the opening general session with his futuristic approach to cities based on global trends. On Friday, Steve Case, the founder of AOL, and Ariel Schwartz, senior editor at Fast Company Co.Exist will take the stage and share their insights on city innovations and how they are affecting the future of cities.

And, a special shout-out to the National League of Cities as they celebrate their 90th anniversary — they were founded in 1924!

Can’t make it to the conference? Follow the conversation on Twitter with #NLCATX, and stay tuned for more.

 

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We might have just rolled back the clocks, but the Transit Labs team is springing forward!

We’ve been hard at work on a number of projects: rolling out updates to TAP, our enterprise application; finalizing a small cities transportation funding analysis with Microsoft; planning for a few conferences, including the Congress of Cities in Austin, Texas; extracting data for our work with the Detroit Department of Transportation; among other things…

And as some of you might know yourselves, the startup life is not just wearing jeans and drinking beer in the office (although we might be guilty of that on occasion). In fact, we’ve also been thinking a lot about the what the future of our company will look like, and how we’ll get there. It just so happens that the mountains of West Virginia were the perfect canvas for sketching out that future.

Now we’re rested and rejuvenated after spending a few days in Berkeley Springs, just two hours from DC. We highly recommend you go: be sure to hike, eat the best carrot cake in your life, and call the fire department in advance if you’d like to build a bonfire (we didn’t learn this from experience, our wood got rained on!). Bonus points for finding the original spring.

The team agreed to abandon cellphones and laptops during our trip — pretty impressive for a tech startup. “Being present” is catching a lot of buzz right now, and it rang true for us — the atmosphere was much clearer and more focused without the distraction of connectivity.

We kicked off our sessions with a homemade lunch by our research director, James. His famous chicken salad gave us the strength to draft our very own Preamble, Mad-Libs style. We’re so pleased with the final result that we’ve decided to adopt it for real.

"...in order to form a more perfect journey..." -The Transit Labs Preamble.
The Transit Labs Preamble

Envisioning the future in the midst of the day-to-day is difficult, to say the least. But our Preamble laid the framework for our big picture goals, and from there we brainstormed words that describe where we are now, where we want to be, and what we want to continue or shed as we continue to grow. Both the consensus and the discussion around these words was really helpful to define specifically what we want to be. A few words that stuck out were technical, intensity, and disruptive.

Our technical prowess extends to archery as James, our research director, demonstrates out in the woods.
Our technical prowess extends to archery as James, our research director, demonstrates out in the woods.

From wrangling immense data sets and building out our product to understanding the ins and outs of how transit is funded, how its data is reported, and how it functions, we are extremely technical. What we love about our work is that we are also a bridge. Our product is a bridge to making huge data sets informative — combining data visualization and intelligent design to provide actionable intelligence to inform the planning and delivery of public transit.

Maintaining intensity requires brain food.
Maintaining intensity requires brain food.

We had a great discussion about intensity. At Transit Labs, our intensity is opportunity driven, and our goal is to be grounded in it. As #DagSays: “Biology is intense — that’s how you feel alive!”

We do things differently.
We do things differently.

Our work is disruptive. We’re doing something different. And being different is never easy. There’s a lot to be done, and we’re excited for the challenges ahead.

But hey — we didn’t just limit our chats to the fireside. As a team, we did a lot of walking and talking, and had great conversations over home-cooked meals. We even had a couple of four-legged friends who tagged along for the weekend too.

Feeding our biology.
Feeding our biology.

Our company is growing a lot right now and we’ve been seeking a balance between how growth can drive process, and how process can drive growth. In the past few weeks we’ve nearly doubled in size, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon! It’s a really exciting time for Transit Labs. Another word we talked about… it’s going to be amazing.

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Joint Press Release by Transit Labs, ITS America, and 1776
Joint Press Release by Transit Labs, ITS America, and 1776

Major Southeastern Transit Authorities Signed On Include Miami-Dade Transit, Atlanta Regional Commission, Macon Transit Authority, and Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.

Washington D.C. (May 28, 2014) – Transit Labs today announced the launch of the Transportation Application Platform (TAP) Pilot Program which allows 24 state and regional transit authorities to be more competitive for funding and more effective with their existing funds to increase schedule adherence, accessibility, reliability, capital efficiency, safety and energy efficiency.

Transit Labs informs, streamlines and speeds up the transportation decision-making process by tracking over 100 key performance measures in real-time through an elaborate data analytics engine, an effective visualization interface, and various predictive analyses and models.

By making key metrics accessible, the TAP program facilitates accurate, real-time data flow by distributing intelligence along the chain of any transportation organization, from operations to planning to executive management and across local, state and federal government — ensuring goal alignment and optimized performance-based management.

“Tracking maintenance and mechanical incident issues in real-time and using the data to inform inventories and maintenance plans will enable us to save a lot in capital and operating expenses,” said Sandy Amores, Chief of Performance Management at Miami-Dade Transit.

“By standardizing best practices for the organization and analysis of transit data, we can significantly enhance the quality and safety of public transportation across the country,” said Dag Gogue, Chief Executive Officer of Transit Labs. “The lag time between the collection of data and the use of that data to make decisions will now entail a matter of weeks, even days, versus the six-month and longer time frames transit providers currently deal with. TAP helps systems determine, among other things:

  • Optimize schedules to decrease passenger wait-time and have less crowded vehicles
  • Strategically place new stops to maximize people’s access to jobs and housing through public transit
  • Better invest in purchases and maintenance of buses, trains, and escalators
  • Optimize operation and capital expenditures for capital efficiency and fund new projects
  • Manage staff schedules and maintenance to minimize safety incidents
  • Increase energy efficiency

It gives administrators the ability to make real-time decisions, rather than waiting on a report or a study that tells you what to do.”

“Having an accurate and timely picture of public transportation delivery cost, demands and reliability within our region plays a critical role in our ability to develop a sound, long-term travel demand plan that informs huge transportation infrastructure financial decisions for the next few decades” said Charles Ball, Executive Director, Regional Planning Commission of Birmingham-Jefferson County.

“We will use TAP to revise and clean-up our bus stop data.” said Jade Daniels, Operations Manager of Macon Transit Authority.  “Getting the passenger miles correct for FTA reporting has a meaningful impact on the amount of funding we receive.  Doing that manually would require driving every route pattern to get that data.”

“At a time when demand for public transportation is skyrocketing and funding is declining, Transit Labs has sparked a conversation around innovation in transportation that will have far-reaching benefits for America’s cities,” said Donna Harris, Co-founder of 1776, a platform for startups disrupting education, healthcare, energy, transportation and other major world challenges.  “This could be revolutionary, and we look forward to seeing it used in our city — Washington, D.C.”

“Transit Labs exemplifies the expanding field of smart transportation startups working to increase safety, and improve efficiencies throughout the transit system for the traveling public, said Sabrina Sussman, Vice President for Membership and Development at ITS America.  “Through real-time data collection, analysis and reporting, Transit Labs is paving the way for advancing mobility with intelligent transportation solutions and we look forward to supporting their initiatives on a national scale.”

Pilot requirements and applications are available at transitlabs.com/pilot.

About Transit Labs

Transit Labs is a data analytics and visualization company dedicated to building smarter cities by improving transportation data collection, reporting, analysis and modeling practices and harnessing the power of big data to better inform transportation decision-making.

Media Contact: Farhan Daredia | [email protected] | 404.388.8855

About 1776

1776 is a major initiative focused on helping entrepreneurs seeking to reinvent our lives as citizens. Located just blocks from the White House, 1776 convenes and accelerates startups from around the world by connecting them to the political, intellectual, social and financial capital that make Washington, D.C. unique.

Media Contact: Lisa Throckmorton | 703-287-7803 | [email protected]

About ITS America

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to advancing the research, development and deployment of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to improve the nation’s surface transportation network.  Founded in 1991, ITS America’s membership includes more than 450 public agencies, private sector companies, and academic and research institutions.

Media Contact: Ashley Simmons | 202.721.4218 | [email protected]

DOT Data Innovation Challenge

Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the US Department of Transportation Data Innovation Challenge on Fast Lane, DOT’s official blog.

You’ve seen the apps. The commuter at the bus stop is using one. The father shopping for a safe car is using one. The student booking spring break bus travel is using one. I’m not talking about Plants vs. Zombies or Candy Crush 2; I’m talking about the apps that put useful transportation information –real-time transit arrivals, 5-star car safety ratings, motorcoach safety records– in the palms of our hands.

Although good transportation apps have been created, we also know that a nation like ours can do more.

That’s why, today, we’re launching our Data Innovation Challenge.

Here at DOT, we think it’s time to take transportation data to the next level, and we need your help to do it. If you have an idea for an innovative tool to help meet transportation challenges, this is your opportunity. If you’re ready to revolutionize our transportation system, this is your opportunity. From now until April 30, it’s time to show us what you can do!

We’ll be submitting the Transportation Application Platform (TAP), our flagship application for state and regional transit authorities to be more competitive for funding and more effective with their existing funds across finance and operations.  Wanted to put this out for everyone else working on interesting transportation solutions.

Good luck with your entries!

It’s all part of a balanced and responsible approach to improving our transportation system. Yes, we need to continue investing in infrastructure, but we also need to make better use of the resources we already have, and one of the most valuable resources we have is data.

Over the last few years, there has been a tremendous change in government at all levels–rather than sitting on their datasets, from city to county to state and across the agencies that make up our federal government, organizations are making their data publicly available in formats that make it easier for innovators to convert that data into information and useful tools for the public, urban planners, policymakers, journalists, and others.

Even with thousands of datasets open to the public, we still need innovators like you with the vision to develop tools that help people use data to make decisions.

What kinds of decisions are we talking about? For DOT’s Data Innovation Challenge, we’re specifically looking at three categories:

  • Safety: how can we address safety concerns and challenges? What communities have the safest roads and transit, and why?
  • Transportation Access: how can planners improve the way transportation connects people to jobs, school, housing, and community resources?
  • Traffic Management and Congestion: how can we better understand and reduce traffic, congestion, and emissions?

A trove of data is out there, free for public use, and our challenge website can get you pointed in the right direction. All it takes now is a little creativity and ingenuity on your part. So, if you can think up an idea or two for web-based tools, data visualizations, mobile apps, or other innovative technologies to address these categories, this challenge is for you.

Even if you don’t know how to build an app, you probably know what works for you. If you share your favorite transportation apps with us, then others will be able to learn about them as well. All you have to do is add a comment to this blog post, write on our Facebook wall using #dotdatachallenge, or send a tweet with that hashtag.

Collage of several travel apps

And since spring break is coming up, and many college students, younger students, and their parents will be traveling soon, let’s start by hitting us with your favorite travel apps. Next month, we’ll follow up with a different category.

Learn more about the challenge at www.transportation.gov/datachallengetoday! And don’t forget to share your favorite travel apps with us by commenting below or using social media with the #dotdatachallenge hashtag.

Earlier this week, 1776, the collaborative space for start-ups that we call HQ, asked our CEO Dag Gogue for insights regarding the challenges Transit Labs has faced in the world of public-private partnerships for better transportation.

You can check it out here: http://1776dc.com/2013/11/21/navigating-startup-pitfalls-in-the-public-private-partnership-world/

Or read it in full below!

Navigating Startup Pitfalls in the Public-Private Partnership World

By: Dag Gogue, CEO of Transit Labs

Within the DNA of every startup is a desire to solve an existing problem.

Whether addressing issues in health, education, entertainment, or—as in the case of Transit Labs—transportation and sustainability, startups must be able to work effectively with local, state and federal government agencies.

At Transit Labs, our core focus is to make public transportation cheaper, safer, more efficient and more eco-friendly. We are diligently working toward these goals by harnessing the power of technology and big data, placing it into the hands of dedicated transportation officials in order to enable them to:

  • Collect high quality data in order to provide a more accurate picture of transportation operations, cost, service consumption, supply, and demand — and streamline the reporting of this data.
  • Extract powerful analytics and intelligence on key performance metrics such as cost efficiency, quality of service, and safety.
  • Effectively share intelligence within and between public transportation agencies as well as across the transportation industry and surrounding urban and rural communities through peer analysis and benchmarking.

Unfortunately, cultural differences can make public-private partnerships very challenging and difficult to navigate. This is especially the case for startups. Even companies looking to improve and streamline government services face huge obstacles.

Challenges with Government Contracting

Procurement Process

Doing business with government usually centers around a procurement process built on Requests for Proposals. The RFP process is designed to make sure that all interested parties have the same comprehensive materials at their disposal to submit their proposals. This ensures that the government does not play favorites in determining the winners and that costs are minimized.

The RFP timeline that Transit Labs typically deals with is as such: After receiving the proposal, we evaluate it and send questions or attend a pre-proposal conference. Then we draft the proposal, submit it, and wait on government evaluation. If we make the short-list, we engage in further negotiations before finally closing the deal. This process is extremely challenging—not to mention time consuming—for a startup.

After successfully executing a year-long pilot with one particular government agency, turnover within the division brought negotiations for a full contract to a complete stop. The new leadership took over a year to put together a new RFP, which we decided to pursue. After another six months, we were selected and were able to finally sign a full contract. It took another five months to receive any payment for our work.

Although the process was arduous and seemed at times like a futile effort, through dogged perseverance and flexibility we were able to exceed the expectations of our clients and win a second contract.

For many startups, though, the capital costs of the process coupled with the risk of not being selected, are a significant barrier to entry. The RFP process is a financial and strategic commitment; you commit and follow-through on a comprehensive strategy for an extended period of time. This requires significantly more preparation than the typical fast-moving, “pivoting” tech start-up expects.

It is also important to be aware that the best technical and cost-effective proposal does not always win. Additional factors such as the lowest-cost bid, size of the team, firm experience, and previous collaborations can also play a large role in the awarding of government contracts. Unfortunately, these are areas in which start-ups are usually weak.

Lastly, even after successfully navigating through this process and being awarded a contract, a startup must deal with a payment timeline that is exponentially slower in government than in the private sector.

Aversion to Change

The biggest problem for start-ups is government’s risk-averse nature. Government services typically impact large facets of the population and different government functions are inextricably intertwined. Implementing the smallest change in one sector usually requires an extensive analysis in order to assess and address all potential effects. While the common perception of government is that bureaucrats are afraid of change, the truth is closer to the fact that wariness of unintended consequences can paralyze constructive change.

Start-ups are antithetical to such paralysis: The very nature of startups combines change, innovation and risk. As a result, though, startups typically experience a lot of resistance when entering the government arena. It helps a great deal to have the right advocates and ambassadors, or team members with a proven track record of execution with industry, private sector and government experience.

Multiple Stakeholders with Different Perspectives

Transit Labs often deals with entities that combine multiple forms of government under a single umbrella, such as Metropolitan and Regional Planning Organizations (MPO). This makes the landscape within which we operate even more colorful.

Embedded within our mission is the seemingly insurmountable challenge of addressing issues faced by a number of starkly different types of government entities: local, municipal, and county governments, state governments and finally the federal government.  The differences between these various types of government are not only evident in terms of size, budgets and location, but more importantly in terms of priorities, incentives and overall culture.

There is no simple solution to this issue. However, the time-tested business rule of understanding the goals and interests of all your customers can go a long way in helping to develop and maintain a successful relationship.

The combination of these factors creates a challenging environment for start-ups catering to government. However, it is important to focus on optimal execution of one’s strategy, instead of on the daunting nature of the obstacles.  Risk aversion, a costly procurement process and projects with multiple owners and stakeholders are also the main reasons why the government sector is rife with opportunities for innovation.

A Guiding Compass Throughout the Process

Despite all of these complexities, one constant factor that Transit Labs has used as its guiding compass—and which has served us well to date—is the fact that we, along with our government partners share a single customer: the American public at large.

This fact, more than anything else, has enabled us to craft a strategy that allows us to find areas of consensus within which we can operate freely and innovatively alongside our government partners, in order to effectively serve our common customer.

Our experience has helped cement for us the fact that the principles that enables startups to succeed in the private sector—flexibility, perseverance, ability to pivot, cost and time efficiency and passion for one’s work—are even more crucial when operating in the government arena.

Thanks to everyone that came!  We are truly appreciative of all the support we’ve received from the DC transit community and we couldn’t be happier to be here!  Here are the highlights:

Last night, we had the pleasure of welcoming friends, family, and colleagues to the official launch of Transit Labs and introduce everyone to our data collection, analysis and modeling services for public transit.

Party-goers had the pleasure of meeting our proprietary transit data management tool, the Transportation Application Platform (TAP), which works with the various parties in the transit sector (urban and rural transit systems, state transportation departments, local transit entities and Federal analysts) to foster better transit.

We also announced that we’re adding another module to TAP that integrates NTD data reporting requirements and FTA formulas to forecast funding allocation formulas and optimize funding opportunities.

“The importance of filing accurate data with the FTA cannot be underestimated,” said Dag Gogue, chief executive officer of Transit Labs.  “Having the right tools to optimize funding opportunities really cannot be underestimated.”

Our launch comes just as the FTA begins the process of developing new data reporting requirements for public transit providers in response to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).  Section 5326 of MAP-21 establishes new requirements for transit asset management by FTA’s grantees as well as new reporting requirement to promote accountability. The Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Federal Register on October 3. (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-10-03/pdf/2013-23921.pdf)

Happy Monday!  Thanks to everyone that came to see our CEO, Dag Gogue, present at the DC Challenge Cup last week!  It was a truly great experience: full of exciting start-ups disrupting every industry you could think of, public and private sector leaders eager to get involved, and some great beer and barbeque.

We met a number of people excited about our mission, from transportation experts that immediately understood the impact that the Transportation Application Platform (TAP) will have on the day-to-day internal operations of transit systems across the country — to regular people that were excited about the end-result: better transit for smarter cities.

We made it to the finals in the smart cities category, which was won by our friends at RideScout, a free mobile app that simplifies your life by aggregating public, private, and social transportation options in real-time including bus, rail, taxi, Car2Go, SideCar, and BikeShare.

It’s always great to see people inside and outside the industry, and the amazing work that they’re doing to innovate.  Thanks again to everyone that came out to support us!  And congratulations to RideScout, eduCanon (education), Dorsata (health), and Ethical Electric (energy) for being selected to represent Washington DC in May’s world-wide competition!

You can read more about the great companies that participated here: http://challengecup.1776dc.com/news/top-10-takeaways-and-4-winners-from-d-c-s-challenge-cup-kickoff/

Hey readers! Mark your calendars because we’re celebrating and you’re invited!

The Transit Labs launch party will bring together 150+ influentials from DC’s transit, government, and think tank industries to celebrate transportation. The goal of the event is to showcase our new software solution and spark a conversation around innovation in transit with the thought leaders of the industry.

Here’s the invite: http://transitlabs.com/transitlabs-invite/

Please RSVP by COB on Monday, November 11 to: [email protected]

Transit Labs Launch Party Invitation

While we were drafting copy for the Transit Labs website, we had a question:

What is the difference between “transit” and “public transportation?”

None, according to the National Transit Database (NTD).

NTD defines the word “transit” as:

Synonymous term with public transportation. Can be found in: B-10

Below is the definition of “public transportation,” you can find more definitions of important transit terms at the NTD Glossary of Definitions.

Public Transportation
As defined in the Federal Transit Act, “transportation by a conveyance that provides regular and continuing general or special transportation to the public, but does not include school bus, charter, or intercity bus transportation or intercity passenger rail transportation provided by the entity described in chapter 243 (or a successor to such entity).”

Notes: (1) Passenger rail transportation refers to Amtrak. (2) This definition does not affect the eligibility of intercity bus service under the Section 5311 Other Than Urbanized Area (Rural) Formula Program. (3) The intercity bus and intercity rail (Amtrak) portion of Intermodal terminals is however an eligible capital cost. Can be found in: Introduction, B-10, A-10, A-20, A-30, MR-10, S&S Introduction, RU Introduction

1776 just announced this coming Tuesday’s DC Challenge Cup participants, including yours truly: Transit Labs.

1776's Challenge Cup Logo
1776’s Challenge Cup

A full list of companies participating in the October 29 event at 1776 can be found here: http://challengecup.1776dc.com/news/washington-dc-challenge-cup-participants-announced/

The event starts at 5:30 PM, don’t forget to RSVP here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/challenge-cup-washington-dc-tickets-8392882337

Looking forward to seeing some friendly faces!