By Dick Ruddell
When Fort Worth Transit Authority, better known as The T, sought public input during the development of its long-range strategic plan in 2005, our citizens told us they wanted faster public transportation that is more regional and includes more rail.
The T has numerous strategic plan projects related to all three. Among them, we are completing the final environmental phase of a new commuter rail, and we are collaborating with the other two transit agencies in North Central Texas to get state legislation to allow local funding options for an expanded regional rail network.
This month The T has implemented Transit Signal Prioritization (TSP) in its first phase to speed up bus service on several of its most heavily traveled Fort Worth routes.
The timing for this start-up could not be better as we strive to retain first-time riders who converted to transit during the period of $4 gas prices. Funding was not a problem because TSP is relatively inexpensive.
Transit has difficulty attracting new bus riders, more so than new rail riders, because a bus cannot go as fast as a car in heavy traffic, plus there are bus stops. Cars can always beat the bus, but TSP uses infrared technology to override preset traffic signal controls so the bus can minimize its stops.
As a bus approaches an intersection an emitter on the bus will send a signal to a detector on the traffic signal to hold a green light longer or change a red light to green sooner. The T expects this project to create an 8-percent decrease in bus running time and a 39-percent reduction in bus delays at signalized intersections.
One of our board members, Gary Havener, recommended that The T evaluate TSP. In fact he championed the idea, believed in it and brought it to our board and staff to see if it would be applicable. We really appreciate his initiative on this, which is a great example of an involved board that supports public transit.
TSP is not new
Fire and police departments have used TSP for years. Transit agencies in other cities have tried it, and we found that The T had some corridors ideally suited for the technology.
Our challenge was getting the cooperation of the city, traffic engineers and fire department. Our director of planning, Curvie Hawkins, worked over a year with these departments to enlist their support and demonstrate it would be a win-win situation.
We proposed a cost-effective approach for all parties in which the city would allow The T to share its existing TSP infrastructure, and The T would cover the cost of technology for additional traffic signals, thus giving both the city and The T an expanded signal prioritization system.
The T has reassured the city that TSP will not in any way deter the priority of fire vehicle access through traffic signals. This is because our transit vehicles have a different level of priority. T buses have signal priority, while fire vehicles have signal preemption. As a fire vehicle approaches a red light, the light immediately turns green to allow the fire vehicle to pass through. The T buses have signal priority only. If a bus and fire engine approach at the same time, the higher priority goes to the emergency vehicle.
Once we received sign-off from the city and our board, it took less than six months to procure equipment, install and set up TSP software on intersection detectors, equip and test 130 buses with emitters at a total cost of $350,000.
The T installed its initial TSP service on the heaviest bus route along East Lancaster Avenue and at two intersections in a rapidly developing, extremely congested area where multiple streets converge. We also have received city approval for future TSP use on additional streets.
By reducing stops at traffic signals, TSP will improve on-time performance, resulting in greater reliability of our buses to get people to their jobs and other destinations on time. TSP will give advantages to the bus over the car. It still will not beat the car, but it is a step in that direction.
The implementation of this TSP project is a major milestone toward addressing one of our strategic goals to provide rapid travel options. TSP is also a key component of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The signals and other technology will already be in place when The T is ready to move forward on some proposed BRT corridors. In the meantime, TSP will buy us time to assess routes and acquire the additional funding for a BRT system in the future.