Transit agencies are tasked with gathering high-quality data about sidewalk conditions to enable passengers – including those with disabilities – to access their services. MV Transportation, with the support of DXC Technology, developed an open-source application that collects, processes and distributes pedestrian pathway data that empowers transit agencies to improve mobility and accessibility to transportation services.
Established in 1975, MV Transportation is the largest privately-owned passenger transportation contracting services firm in North America. The company’s efforts to help communities’ most vulnerable citizens preceded the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) act, so it was prepared to be compliant with the regulation when it took effect. MV's customer base includes public transportation agencies, school districts and corporations. The company’s more than 20,000 professionals provide essential transportation services across 30 states in the U.S., as well as in Canada.
Providing improved pathways
Large public transportation agencies provide paratransit services – individualized transportation without fixed routes or timetables – for certain passengers, including those with disabilities. Such services are costly, and often need to be scheduled well in advance. To provide paratransit users with flexibility and to save costs, transit agencies are now looking at ways in which paratransit users can use public transportation (fixed route) to arrive at their destinations. This involves identifying sidewalks and pathways that passengers can use safely to get from their residence to a transit stop.
Having accurate information about sidewalks and pathway conditions is essential for ensuring pedestrian safety. A pathway reviewer must gather data from different sources and integrate it into a usable format for analysis to identify factors such as steepness of an incline, width of a sidewalk, and the prevalence of curb cuts to determine, for example, a path that a wheelchair can navigate safely. That information is then used by a travel trainer (a transit professional who works with paratransit customers including senior citizens and people with disabilities) to help them become comfortable with using the public transit system independently.
As part of efforts to provide improved services, King County Metro, the transit agency for the Seattle area, sought to reduce its paratransit model from three contractors to a single contractor. In 2019, it awarded MV Transportation a contract to provide comprehensive paratransit services for its Access program. A key goal was to find ways to integrate industry-leading technology to improve data analysis, resulting in transportation services that are more efficient and responsive.
Integrating disparate data
MV Transportation engaged with applications professionals at DXC’s Regional Innovation Delivery Center in New Orleans to develop a solution that could successfully integrate disparate data sources in a way that would enable transit agencies to formulate ADA-compliant routes. A primary goal was to create a Global Information System (GIS) application that captures and integrates pedestrian data.
Gathering that information involves taking pictures and creating videos, and incorporating publicly available data from sources such as OpenStreetMap and the U.S. Geological Survey. The data generated by the project team could be uploaded to OpenStreetMap and shared with the greater community.
Data was also integrated with Trapeze, a leading mobility planning and travel experience platform that is used by King County Metro and other transit agencies to deliver effective public transit solutions.
The team had to develop a solution that accurately describes pedestrian pathway data in a format that can be easily consumed by all users. The solution was deployed in an Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, which allowed the team to leverage cloud-based services such as AWS Data Pipeline for storing, processing and transferring data.
Stephanie Doughty, vice president of Professional Services, MV Transportation, says, “One of the biggest challenges initially was the complexity of trying to pull all that technology together, ingesting data from all those different sources, then integrating it into a single platform to then upload back to OpenStreetMap. Also, we needed to work diligently with our pathway review team to understand exactly what they needed to enable them to get their job done.”
Agile approach proves valuable
One goal of the project was to create a multi-tenant platform that allows transit agencies worldwide to create pathway review programs while contributing to the public data set. The project team collaborated with transportation experts at The Taskar Center for Accessibility Technology at the University of Washington, which manages the OpenSidewalks project and had established a standardized data schema for this type of data collection. The close collaboration that was necessary among team members across four different organizations placed a premium on nurturing effective communications within a flexible development environment. "Beyond the shared clear vision and goals, the discovery phase of the project iteratively fine-tuned the envisioned solution, vetted out assumptions, created varying levels of detailed architectural artifacts, clarified data ownership, standards and governance and many more technical details,” says Hiwot Sidelil, professional application designer at DXC Technology, and a member of the project team.
An agile approach was used, with scrum and sprint teams delivering increments on a regular basis. The team also adopted a design-thinking approach in which development was persona-centered, integrating the possibilities of the technology and requirements for business success with user needs. "The early adoption of the persona-centered design thinking approach, paired with the Agile methodology, allowed us to iteratively discover, innovate, test, implement, get feedback, and improve the various components of the solution to meet and exceed the business requirements and expectations,” says Sidelil. "The ability of the team to implement an effective ‘forming-storming-norming-performing’ Agile model was key, including effective communications with all relevant stakeholders.”
“It was a very cohesive team and a very cohesive project that was run with a high level of governance and communication that made it successful,” Doughty says. “It was really all about communication, staying aligned across all parties and making sure everybody was moving toward the vision that we had.”
Originally called CommonPaths, the solution has been expanded and rebranded as MV PathwaysTM and is available for use by other transit agencies, even those that do not use the Trapeze platform. “It was built with the ability to integrate with whatever software they are using,” Doughty says. “The other data sources that are in use here are generally used across other public transit agencies. The multi-tenancy capabilities we developed makes that a very quick deployment for anyone else.”
Delivering increased mobility for all
The implementation of MV Pathways has provided King County Metro with a modernized GIS application that enables the agency to assess pathways using a common data platform. Now the agency can seamlessly generate route information that is compliant with ADA standards.
Another significant outcome is that the project demonstrated the ability for public and private entities to collaborate to integrate disparate data into a single open-source framework that can be continuously improved via public input on changing conditions. This not only benefits citizens by providing higher-quality pathway information, but it also creates value by reducing the need for redundant data collection. "The team had the freedom to innovate and collaborate, meeting all dimensions that foster successful innovation,” says Sidelil. “The successful adoption of open-source technologies and open-data-standards to facilitate data democratization was essential. This combined with effective communication methods and easy approachability of the product owners, subject matter experts, managers and account leads contributed to the success of the project.”
The solution has transformed the way King County Metro collects pathway information, leading to more accurate routing data for citizens using the transit system. This translates to improved accessibility and less complexity, and gives those with disabilities greater flexibility to access public transportation on their own. Summarizing DXC’s role in the project, Doughty says, “With DXC, we had everything – applications, database and deployment experts, along with solid program management. DXC has all those folks and those different capabilities and technologies that can bring all of that together. Not every technology partner has that.”