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How Automobiles Work


For decades, transit agencies have provided
safe and efficient service on subways, light rail systems, buses and other modes. Today’s riders also expect transit agencies
to meet their evolving needs by providing such features as electronic fare cards, real-time
arrival information, bikeshare connections and wifi. Innovation – from new technologies to better
business practices – is one of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s top priorities. In its best sense, innovation adds value to
public transportation. Underpinning every successful innovation is
research to ensure new ideas work and are worth the investment. Through testing and deployment, the Federal
Transit Administration’s Research, Demonstration and Innovation program helps the transit industry
adopt tried-and-proven technologies. FTA supports research focusing on safety,
infrastructure and mobility innovation. Demonstrations of new technologies, overseen
and validated by FTA, can reduce risk and help create both supply and demand. FTA research supports fledgling industries
and American jobs. Before bus rapid transit became a go-to transit
option in communities across the U.S., FTA studied successful BRT systems abroad and
established the National BRT Institute to bring the mode to the U.S. Federal efforts
demonstrated the value of the new system – with enhanced buses, fare card automation and dedicated
lanes – which helped transit agencies make the transition. To help get the word out about promising innovations,
FTA partners with the Transportation Research Board and the National Transit Institute to
provide strategies to transit agency leadership and other practitioners. For more than a decade, FTA has supported
research on new technologies and safer vehicle designs to reduce the potential for incidents. FTA awarded $20 million in grants to test
safety enhancements – from collision avoidance technology in buses to warning systems for
subway track workers. In Atlanta, MARTA received a grant to test
a system of visual and auditory alerts to better protect workers during inspections
and track maintenance. Initial tests are encouraging. Like all its research projects, FTA will evaluate
the effectiveness of MARTA’s system and consider broader deployment to the industry. FTA’s Mobility on Demand program helps transit
agencies and communities integrate innovative tools and services like smart phone apps,
bike- and car-sharing, and demand-responsive buses. MOD projects aim to make transportation systems
more accessible, efficient and integrated. In the first year of the program, FTA awarded
$8 million to 11 projects. The Vermont Agency of Transportation, or VTrans,
received a grant to develop an online trip planner to help rural residents better access
on-demand bus service. Vermont transit agencies previously offered
various online tools, but VTrans integrated those into a seamless real-time statewide
network. Now, riders can better plan bus trips, which
often involve long headways and route deviations. The open-data system will allow VTrans to
offer future services, such as links to shared-ride companies, taxis and online ticket purchasing. Automation holds the potential to increase
flexibility and reliability in public transportation. FTA is working with other transportation modes
at DOT to explore vehicle automation as part of a coordinated effort to help move the industry
forward, with a focus on bus automation. Initial research into AV technology has shown
promise. In 2008, the California Department of Transportation
received $1.9 million from FTA and DOT to demonstrate Vehicle Assist and Automation
technologies to improve the safety and performance of 60-foot articulated buses in rapid transit. Evaluation of the technology — which uses
magnetic markers and global positioning software — found that it better centers the bus in
a narrow busways and guides safe and consistent docking at station platforms. Bus operators reported that the system reduces
driver stress. Completed in 2015, the bus automation system
was applied to a mile of Lane Transit District’s Emerald Express BRT route in Eugene, Oregon. After years of investing in testing new-technology
buses powered by fuel cells and low or no-emission propulsion, Congress in 2015 established an
annual grants program with dedicated funding. The Low-No program has since funded dozens
of grants to upgrade bus fleets with new vehicles and supported a growing industry in the United
States FTA research has contributed to an efficient
and safe transit industry that is capitalizing on 21st-century technology. What’s next will depend on the desires of
the traveling public and the needs of a rapidly changing industry.

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