New Software Aids Special Needs Bus Riders

TAMPA, Fla.  (July 23, 2008) – A research team at the University of South Florida's National Center for Transit Research (NCTR) at the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) ( and the USF Department of Computer Science and Engineering has developed and tested a "Travel Assistant Device" (TAD) software application that enables a cell phone to provide information prompts to transit riders with special needs. The TAD, which can play an audio message and vibrate when the user is nearing the correct transit stop, was developed to make trips on transit vehicles easier for those with a variety of challenges or impairments, whether cognitive, visual or auditory.

"The goal of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was to provide equal opportunity, full participation and independence to persons with disabilities," said Phil Winters, co-principal investigator on the research team.  "For many people, using public transportation is an option to get to work, school or shopping.  But for some, getting from one place to another using public transportation is fraught with difficulties."

Based on a 2001 study conducted by NCTR, survey participants said that public transportation trip planning was at times difficult and complex. Similar research in travel instruction has found that travel planning and riding public transportation required 23 "travel skills." With the results of these studies in-hand, the research team evaluated the possibility of using mobile phones as travel assistant devices to help develop those skills and subsequently developed the TAD software.

"The TAD system is a software communication architecture that uses off-the-shelf Global Positioning System-enabled mobile phones to provide travel services for the end-user," said CUTR's Sean Barbeau, co-principal investigator on the project. "We targeted three services -  the delivery of real time audio prompts to tell the user when to request a stop; the delivery of an alert to the rider, caretaker and travel trainer if the rider deviates from the expected route; and a Web page that allows trainers and caretakers to create new itineraries and view the location of the transit rider in real time.”

Other goals were to make the system low-cost and widely accessible, to make the system components reusable and easily updatable for new transit routes and schedules, and to provide a reliable service that could be tailored to individual needs.

"The server-side software uses several applications that work together," said CUTR senior research associate Nevine Labib Georggi.  "Once the transit rider is traveling on a route, their position is reported to the server in real time," explains Georggi.  "When the travel trainer initially creates the rider's trip on the Web page, a custom "geo-fence" is defined around the route. The rider's position is checked in real time against the sequence of routes the rider has chosen to detect if they become lost. The system is fully programmable based on input from the Web site and the trip chosen by the rider on the cell phone."

TAD was developed and field-tested over several years with funding and support from the Florida Department of Transportation. Field studies and training were also carried out with the cooperation of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) and the Successful Transition After Graduation for Exceptional Students (STAGES) program at USF.

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida's top three research universities.  USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland.  USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

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