GIS/GPS/Transit agency builds GIS to plan bus routes
GRTC Transit, the public transportation agency serving Richmond, Va., and Chesterfield County, Va., has created a geographic information system (GIS) to improve its route planning process and to track assets. The system has helped the agency adjust its routes to serve the rapidly growing population in central Virginia and to keep its asset inventory current.
Planning for growth presents a major challenge to the transit agency, which serves both urban and suburban residents. “As the metro area continued to grow, we realized the need for better planning tools,” says Jakob Helmboldt, GIS coordinator/planner for the agency. “We did not have our own in-house database of bus stops and routes. When we needed a new bus route, we had to guess where the areas of high ridership might be. As demographics [changed] and the population [grew], we had to adjust routes and add more stops. We needed a more accurate planning tool, rather than relying on history.”
In 2000, GRTC Transit began building a GIS of its 2,500 bus stops in its jurisdiction. The agency received a portable GPS/GIS receiver and software from Brookfield, Wis.-based Leica Geosystems and GIS software from Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI as part of a demonstration grant from the two companies.
In January 2001, Helmboldt began using the GPS/GIS receiver to record the exact location of each bus stop. He also collected information about other bus stop attributes such as curb length, the type and condition of signs, benches, shelters, ramps and trash cans. He downloaded the field data into software, which automatically created shapefiles for the GIS.
Within a few months, GRTC Transit was using the GIS to analyze some routes and customer requests for amenities. By January 2002, the agency had completed collecting data about all stops. “Now we have a tool to help us perform more concrete scientific analysis,” Helmboldt says. “We are managing our resources better. We know for certain which bus stops and routes need improving. We can plan for additional stops and add new stops. We have also utilized the GIS in terms of handling customer requests for more amenities at bus stops.”
The GIS has consolidated information that previously was stored in separate spreadsheets or in paper records. “From a data management perspective, GIS and GPS have been great tools,” Helmboldt says. “Every week we update our GIS with the GPS information, and we also update our bus stop list. We have been able to sort through a lot of data that, over time, has built up a lot of errors that are hard to identify by looking at data manually in a database.”
In November, when northern and central Virginia were terrorized by sniper attacks, GRTC Transit used the GIS to provide data to police to identify at-risk bus stops. “It would have been virtually impossible to pull together this data without the resources we had developed with GIS and GPS technology,” Helmboldt says. “Within a couple of hours, I was able to give them a list of over 300 bus stops and attributes that matched their criteria for safety concerns, primarily access to highway on/off ramps, and also provide maps for them. It would literally have taken days and several people to do so under our old system.”
GRTC Transit is planning to print a new route system map and schedules based on the information in its GIS. In addition, the agency plans to roll out access to the GIS to other agency departments, including the customer service department. The GIS will help staff members look up street addresses and identify the closest bus stops to callers, as well as identify routes that service the callers’ origins and destinations.