Lesson

Provide reliable travel time information to increase user satisfaction with ITS applications.

A retrospective of what's been learned since the first ITS Strategic Plan developed in 1992.


October, 2004
United States


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Lesson Learned

In this article, with the changing of the world over the past 11 years and the benefit of hindsight, there were issues not fully understood about ITS that are better understood today. One of the topics discussed in the retrospective review of anticipated versus actual ITS benefits is the importance of providing reliable travel time information to increase user satisfaction with ITS applications.
  • Emphasize improved travel times for key economic benefit and reliability: In the strategic planning exercise of 1991 and 1992, the benefits in improved travel times to drivers were emphasized as a key economic benefit of ITS. While this is true, it overlooked the importance of reliability to the highway traveler. Reliability is a measure of the variability in travel time between two points. For example, on Monday it may be a quick half-hour trip from origin to destination, but on Tuesday an accident, storm, or construction may cause that same trip to take twice that time. If travelers are risk averse about being late, they must build additional time above the quick travel time into their time budget. Often it is wasted time in the sense that one arrives at the destination earlier than intended. But it is a price travelers may be willing to pay to avoid, being late.
  • Provide reliable travel time information: It turned out that a greater degree of reliability available through real-time information about trip times proved to be more important than improvements in average travel time. This is a phenomenon that has been well understood for decades in freight transportation. The trucking industry has won considerable traffic from the rail industry, even while charging premium rates, because it provides more reliable trip times than railroads do. This succeeds because unreliability generates additional inventory costs for the customer. However, the understanding of the importance of reliability for highway travelers, for whom time management is critical, is relatively recent.
  • Produce better time management among travelers by providing reliable travel times: Indeed, it now appears that actual highway travel-time savings are often ephemeral or rather small. There is little empirical evidence to show that small improvements in average travel time are economically meaningful. When people get more reliable trips by receiving information about expected travel time in real time before the trip, some researchers suggest that they end up unconsciously converting that information into (often nonexistent) travel-time savings in their minds. When they receive real-time information about a trip that is about to be on the right-hand tail of the travel time distribution (or even the left-hand tail), what they have actually accomplished is better time management.

This lesson indicates that originally, the anticipated benefits in improved travel times to drivers were emphasized as a key economic benefit of ITS technology deployment. Now, with a retrospective review of those original assumptions, that benefit proves to be less important than originally expected. Instead, improved reliability available through real-time information about today’s trip time is proving to be more important than improvements in average travel time. The lesson highlights the importance of reviewing the original assumptions of ITS benefits with the actual post-deployment experience, for the future promotion of ITS technology.


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Source

What We Know Now That We Wish We Knew Then About Intelligent Transportation Systems: A Retrospective on the 1992 Strategic Plan

Author: Joseph M. Sussman

Published By: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board

Source Date: October, 2004

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Lesson Contacts

Lesson Contact(s):

Joseph M. Sussman
MIT Engineering Systems Division
(617) 253-4430
sussman@mit.edu

Lesson Analyst:

Jane Lappin
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
617-494-3692
jane.lappin@volpe.dot.gov


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Lesson ID: 2006-00212