National Academies Press: OpenBook

Mobile Data Terminals (2007)

Chapter: Summary

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Mobile Data Terminals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23176.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Mobile Data Terminals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23176.
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Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

The essence of transit is the movement of people through space and time. However, many transit agencies appear to concentrate on the movement of the transit vehicle that contains the passenger and overlook the information needs of the transit consumer. Defense-based technologists have always understood the information needs of the consumer in the move- ment of people and equipment. Military-oriented technologies have developed rugged and effective mobile computers, secure and resilient communications systems, and a host of web-based information services that are helping change the way transit service is delivered and designed. A marker of the military technological revolution is the development of the mobile data terminal (MDT). Although on its own an MDT is simply a rugged version of a pager with some flexible functionality, when viewed in the context of technology development in the transit industry, it can help attain new paradigms of service for the transit consumer and new levels of public accountability for the transit manager. The MDT and the supporting communications infrastructure can offer the transit industry the opportunity to change its business in response to consumer demand. This synthesis explores that concept in docu- menting the current state of the practice for MDTs in transit. Selected survey responses were received from 119 varied transit agencies and industry sup- pliers throughout the continental United States. Specific information is presented on the capa- bility of mobile data computers offered by the technology vendors to the industry, as well as related information on the hardware and software provided in support of MDTs. Importantly, this synthesis study explored the rapidly changing wireless communications infrastructure that supports MDT deployment in transit. Survey respondents were asked to provide detailed infor- mation on the MDT functions that they have designed into their fixed-route and paratransit systems. They also provided information on operational and management applications made with MDT-collected data. To the extent practical, the transit professionals attempted to estimate unit costs for purchasing, installing, and maintaining MDTs. Survey participants provided insight useful to policymakers about scarce transit resources and corporate researchers attempting to create products and services to meet the needs of the transit indus- try. All participants were asked to address their future needs and future plans for technology deployment. The survey results reported a rapidly changing MDT marketplace, largely driven by forces external to the transit industry. Several MDT manufacturers and intelligent transportation system (ITS) suppliers have existed for 25 years or more. There has however been consider- able shake-out in the transit ITS business. There is also a significant presence from manu- facturers and suppliers of European products and services. The European vendors provide a very different approach to designing and marketing their MDTs, reflecting a different service paradigm when compared with traditional U.S. transit technology approaches. Wireless communications, from the rapidly expanding transmission capacity by fran- chised cellular carriers to emerging municipal wireless local area networks (WLAN or WiFi), is changing rapidly. Again, the economic forces for this development are external to the SUMMARY MOBILE DATA TERMINALS

transit industry, but are changing the outcome of life-cycle cost calculations used to deter- mine the build or lease option for transit communications systems. Interestingly, as in busi- ness innovation, the smaller systems (see, e.g., the case study for Tyler, Texas) may be the harbingers of change. Small operators can enter the MDT business with a low-cost, data-only $10 per month cell phone plan and a $100 integrated global positioning system cell phone per vehicle. This may also be a way to get larger systems that are resource-constrained and necessarily cautious to establish a migratory path to fully featured transit advanced tech- nology at a later date. As with computing systems in general, there are marked advancements in MDT hardware and supporting software at every level. The synthesis survey shows an industry that attempts to upgrade when and where it can within the resources available. The survey also reveals the impact of technology companies that make one sale and go out of business. The wisest course for large systems may be exemplified by Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (see case study), which invests in its own staff to take charge of the tech- nology and find the better business solution rather than the narrow transit solution. The trend is clear, more functionality in the MDT at lower unit cost, lower installation cost, and lower maintenance and repair costs. This synthesis study revealed a growing marketplace of technically superior MDT products and ITS services for the transit provider. The transit industry needs to become educated in how to address the technology marketplace as an informed buyer. 2

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TRB's Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 70: Mobile Data Terminals explores the state-of-the-practice of mobile data terminals in transit and examines the capability of mobile data computers offered by technology vendors to the industry. The report also reviews wireless communications infrastructure that supports mobile data terminal (MDT) deployment in transit.

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