GIS Has Transformed the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority
Route to success
Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping has become a standard in the transit industry, providing customers with real-time predictions for arrivals and departures. The technology allows transit systems to better track trains and buses, providing useful data to better manage operations and delays. As transit agencies are challenged to do more with less, GIS can also be leveraged to provide safer, better service to riders in a changed environment.
One of Esri’s GIS clients, is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), one of the largest transit agencies in the US, spanning multiple cities and states including Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The transit agency supports fixed-route bus services (Metrobus), rapid transit (Metrorail), paratransit (MetroAccess) and its own Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD).
Through GIS technology, Metro and transit agencies across the country are able to gain operational efficiencies, bring greater certainty to management decision-making and maximize dwindling budgets while maintaining safe operations. In this context, highly accurate locational information provided by GIS may prove invaluable in terms of infrastructural and operational awareness.
Esri introduced its GIS software to Metro to support service planning, bringing together a wide range of demographic data, stop and route data, along with passenger count and activity data to help design the most appropriate and efficient routes. This technology continues to support Metro’s dedicated GIS analysts to help with their analysis, and route planning activities.
In addition, ArcGIS Business Analyst and other Esri supplied data is used by Metro’s long range planning group to look at longer range forecasts and growth areas for future service. This group looks at land use, economic development and other variables to determine the best locations for future expansion plans.
After joining Metro in 2016, Chief Information Officer Al Short, oversaw a significant expansion of GIS.
“The rail division didn’t have an integrated system to provide accurate location data to support asset and maintenance management,” said Short. “Using GIS we were able to create a uniform system and efficiencies saving both time and resources.”
The rail maintenance division used Maximo, which lacked a very precise location component associated with their assets. As a result, each engineer had to create individual location data for their assets with no uniform system leading to inconsistencies when trying to locate assets in the field.
Metro utilized GIS to create a single linear referencing system (LRS) to manage the rail assets. All track, switch, signaling and communication assets were put into the GIS with proper location referencing. The LRS was linked to GIS based track charts, allowing the engineers and maintenance workers to more easily locate assets in the field. With the comprehensive rail GIS asset database, they could now link to Maximo to provide a single, precise location for each asset.
Metro continued to innovate, capitalizing on GIS to develop at least a dozen applications designed to help engineers quickly locate assets, convert between different measurement systems, and locate assets both in the real world and on track charts in the field. Some of the latest techniques in AI and machine learning were applied to extract location from text descriptions that cannot be easily geocoded or located. The GIS staff took advantage of newly emerging technologies to extract text descriptions and convert those into a more precise LRS location.
The positional information, combined with easy-to-use interactive maps, is now used to drive work orders. This includes scheduling, materials estimation and accurate details of time back into service — something that is hugely important in terms of managing customer expectations and maintaining good communications.
The success of spatially locating every asset in the field enabled Metro to accurately digitize stations and station interiors. These interior configurations had changed from the initial construction plans, some of which were more than 40 years old. Working with the maintenance and station staff the GIS team came up with precisely geo-referenced station maps to identify all assets and other locations. This provided maintenance crews with precise calculations from the GIS to estimate needed materials for station maintenance, as well as to calculate areas for snow plowing in winter.
In addition, the GIS data proved useful for Metro Transit Police to perform safety inspections and respond to emergency incidents, building precise station data into MTPD’s emergency response command center and EOC dashboard.
In an effort to improve emergency response and communication, the GIS group built an application that maps real-time radio outages so that outages are quickly identified and restored. First responders throughout the Washington D.C. area now use the application to help ensure comprehensive radio communications in the event of an emergency.
“Rail is a heavy engineering environment, and ultimately the considerations associated with heavy engineering will drive decisions. But IT and GIS have very clear supporting roles when looking to achieve efficiencies, save money and help strengthen Metro’s core mission to provide safe, reliable and convenient service to our customers,” said Metro GIS Manager Minhua Wang.
Through a working group formed by Chief Operations Officer, Joseph Leader, Metro identified additional opportunities for GIS focused on four operational areas – rail, bus, paratransit and police. As a result, Metro’s bus, rail and paratransit operations centers incorporated GIS into their real-time monitoring system, tracking the movement and location of the region’s buses, trains and paratransit vehicles. This real-time data helps provide important information when incidents occur. GIS is also utilized by the police operation command center and supports the agency’s computer aided dispatch system.
Additionally, the GIS group continues to develop specific applications to support an ever expanding list of users within the agency using a small staff to drive efficiency improvements.
Customer-facing and the future
All of these applications exist in the background, supporting internal agency business units at Metro, as well as public facing applications that improve the customer experience. Metro’s GIS train map provides riders with real time information at each station, showing train information, location and arrival estimates so that customers can plan their trips. StationView, a new mobile navigation application, is also in development. Using the station maps, the panoramic virtual tour helps riders navigate connections between various lines within the station, entrances and assisting those with accessibility needs. This navigation includes routing through elevators and precise guidance on transfers between the six lines serving the city and region, as well as panoramic pictures of station interiors.
Within Metro’s Department of Parking and Real Estate the application of GIS software also supports the potential for future revenue growth through transit-oriented development. Metro is using GIS to help map travelers’ habits. Working in cooperation with local developers, this data is helpful in analyzing the best utilization of space within stations and the surrounding areas for both residential and commercial opportunities.
Keys to success
The GIS group was able to gain support of executive management, allowing them to leverage this powerful tool to improve operations and develop business solutions across the transit agency.
“Integrating the use of GIS technology has been essential for Metro to better manage our assets and streamline work processes across our various departments,” said Short. “Real-time GIS data is a necessity today, using intelligence-driven management to provide cost-effective solutions with limited resources.”
As transit agencies across the country look to do more with less, Metro’s success is a roadmap for how GIS technology can be a game-changer.