Technology Used in Rural Transit

Published on: February 25, 2022

To be competitive and keep transit safe for customers, rural transit agencies need to stay informed and utilize updated technology. Current trends in rural transit technology includes mobile ticketing and route planning.

The National Center for Applied Transit Technology (N-CATT) is an organization funded through a cooperative agreement with FTA and provides technical assistance to small-urban, rural and tribal transit agencies. In September 2020, N-CATT released a Promising Practice Guidebook: Transit Technology Adoption which outlines various technological resources and best practices available to transit agencies. Some of the areas highlighted in the guidebook include the following:

List of technology used in rural transit. CAD/AVL Technology. Electronic Fare Collection. Passenger Information & GTFS. Scheduling Software. Health & Safety Technology
CAD/AVL Technology

CAD/AVL stands for “Computer-Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location.” This technology works with an agency’s scheduling and dispatch software to provide real-time data such as GPS technology to locate bus locations. Dispatchers use this technology to respond to calls asking where the bus is.

Computer-aided dispatch also allows dispatchers to see their drivers’ schedules, have two-way communication with drivers and check the status of the vehicles. By using AVL technology, dispatchers can see the locations of their buses in real-time. Dispatchers can also use this technology to see if a bus is off-route or not on schedule. TripSpark, CleverCAD and Passio MDT are just a few companies who provide CAD/AVL technology.

Electronic Fare Collection

Given today’s COVID environment, having a contact-less form of payment is of greater importance for safety. Passengers also benefit from not needing to carry cash because they can pay online. For transit agencies, utilizing electronic fare payments can save on administrative costs by reducing the time needed to process fare payments and allowing more operational efficiency. There are numerous electronic fare payment software available such as Genfare and TripSpark.

Passenger Information and General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) GTFS-Flex

GTFS stands for General Transit Feed Specification and is used to plan trips for fixed-route service. GTFS-Flex can be used for demand response service, which is what many rural transit systems provide. Some rural transit systems have used incenTrip and NeoRide software to assist in trip planning.

Scheduling Software

Although some rural transit systems still use paper scheduling or Excel spreadsheets to set up their route scheduling, the use of scheduling and dispatch software has helped agencies more efficiently develop their schedules. It reduces administrative costs and increases efficiency. Ecolane and Optibus are examples of route planning and scheduling software.

Health and Safety Technology

COVID-19 increased everyone’s awareness to the health risks of being in confined and crowded spaces. The transit industry quickly responded to customer concerns and implemented on-board safety precautions. Among those precautions are air purification systems that are integrated in the bus heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit. The solution leverages a filter, paired with a cleaning technology, to capture and deactivate certain viruses like the virus that causes COVID-19, bacteria and volatile organic compounds as the air is exchanged. Many of these systems have been tested extensively by an independent laboratory following guidelines of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tests have proven the systems to be up to 98 percent effective in deactivating certain viruses, including a surrogate for the virus that causes COVID-19.

With many people in a relatively confined space, many transit passengers worry about catching a cold, the flu or COVID-19. Especially for public transportation systems, the risk of community spread can be high. On-board air purification using ultraviolet-C radiation (UVC) disinfection is an effective and reliable way to reduce the risk of community virus spread and service disruptions. UVC disinfection units continuously purify the cabin air of buses and other public transport vehicles while in motion. The UVC light immediately destroys viruses, their mutants, bacteria and other pathogens. Most UVC air purification units simply mount on the ceiling of the passenger cabin.

Another common concern is protecting the driver from physical harm and sickness from close contact with passengers. Many transit systems opted to install driver safety shields. The safety shield can be installed on existing mass transit bus fleets or can be built to satisfy the specific OEM requirement on new mass transit bus builds. In fact, the CDC issued guidelines expressing the necessity for transit administrators to “install physical barriers on transit vehicles” to “reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread for both employees and passengers.” The safety shields enclose the driver in the cab of the vehicle while allowing the driver a route to escape should an accident occur.

List of Obstacles facing use of technology: Assessibility. Training. Passenger Reluctance. Lack of Universal Design Standards.Obstacles Facing Use of Technology

Using the most current trends in technology can help transit agencies save time and money and improve operational efficiency. However, while this is true, there are obstacles rural transit agencies face in implementing such technology.

  1. Accessibility – Some riders do not utilize or know how to utilize a mobile phone or may have a disability that makes it difficult for he or she to access the technology. In very rural communities, there may not be sufficient cell service to effectively operate the technology.
  2. Training – Along with the implementation of new technology means that agencies will have to properly train their staff to use it.
  3. Passenger reluctance – While advanced technology such as cash-less fare and real-time tracking is appealing to a lot of passengers, many passengers are hesitant or unwilling to use the technology.
  4. Lack of universal bus design standards – One difficulty in creating driver protection barriers is that there is no universal design because there are so many varieties of buses and bus designs. Some of our buses, for example, have flat floors instead of regular floors. Another example is buses with manual door controls. These variations in the bus affect the design of the barrier requiring modification of the barrier so that it fits the bus.


Regardless of the difficulties inherent in utilizing technology, in order to “keep up with the times,” rural transit agencies need to stay informed and utilize the most current technology to provide a service customers will use. Technology continue to evolve in the transit industry.


This article was published by RLS & Associates and MnRTAP.


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