Software Used in the Public Transit Profession: ArcView by ESRI
Specialized Software Used in the Transit Industry
In addition to the normal Microsoft Office software suite, the transit industry utilizes several important specialized software packages. In this article, I describe the use of GIS software, especially ArcView by the ESRI corporation of Redlands, CA. Also see my article on Hastus and other scheduling software .
The ArcView Software
In a nutshell, GIS software combines a database program like Access with a mapmaking program. In fact, ArcView reads Access databases and Excel spreadsheets and you can manipulate information in much the same way you would in Access or Excel. The big advantage of the program is that you can include geographic information as well and evaluate your information spatially. Reportedly, ArcView and its related products are the software with the greatest amount of code ever published.
A large amount of publicly available data, much of it for free, is available for ArcView users to download, and includes detailed street, land use, geographic, and demographic information for countries around the world from a variety of sources.
ArcView, the basic GIS software from ESRI, is not intended for home use - prices start at $1,500 for a single use license and quickly escalate from there. ArcReader is a free version of GIS software that offers very basic functionality, including the ability to look at maps created by more expensive versions of the software. More information about all of these products is found on the ESRI website .
Uses of ArcView in the Transit Industry
There are at least three major ways in which public transit systems utilize ArcView in their day-to-day operations.
First, they use the software to make maps , including system maps used at bus stops, train stations, and in bus schedules. In fact, the software has allowed agencies to replace hand-drawn schematic maps - which showed routes in isolation and usually with no sense of geographic scale - with actual city maps that show true distances and direction and often include landmarks such as street names to help travelers. One major pitfall of schematic maps is that by leaving the user without any geographic clues they often cause user to take unnecessarily inefficient transit trips.
The quality of maps that can be produced with ArcGIS software, in combination with the speed in which the maps can be made, is probably the first thing that departments outside of the GIS or planning departments will notice about ArcGIS. Especially when the map is combined with aerial imagery similar to what Google Earth provides, the results are so good that they can allow the transit system to save money on external map and schedule production consultants. In addition, if the marketing department currently is in charge of preparing printed materials, then ArcGIS programs can allow them to spend less time preparing the materials and more time marketing them to the public.
Second, they combine their system map , which could include such things as routes, stops, layover points, garages, restroom facilities, ticket sellers, parking lots, and other things, with demographic information about both their ridership and the service area as a whole. It is easy to create maps showing visually how much of the population and jobs of your service area are within a certain distance of a bus stop, to create maps showing how well you are serving minority and disabled communities (which helps agencies to meet federal Title VI requirements, discussed here , and ADA requirements, discussed here ), and to show average bus loads along different segments of the route network to better design bus routes. The advent of new technology in the transit industry, especially APC (Automated Passenger Counter) data and AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) data has been a godsend, but the sheer amount of data can overwhelm agency staff. By compiling the data and presenting it in an easy to visualize geographical format, ArcGIS software can help transit planners to better identify route and schedule improvements.
Third, transit systems can utilize an extension of the basic program called Network Analyst to find the most efficient deadhead and detour routes , and to assist in the location of new infrastructure such as garages. In theory, Network Analyst could also provide estimated running times for new routes, although elsewhere on this site I argue that the best way to do this is to manually drive the proposed route . Network Analyst can also be used to plan the daily routes of paratransit operators, although ESRI offers another product - ArcLogistics - that does that better.
While service planners and schedulers often use GIS software, the person usually responsible for the management of the data is known as a GIS analyst, and is one of the three essential transit jobs your agency should have .
The ESRI Annual Convention
Without a doubt, the yearly highlight for GIS analysts worldwide is the annual ESRI convention, always held on the second week of July at the San Diego, CA convention center. The convention, which often has more than 10,000 attendees and takes up the entire convention center, features a wide variety of different events and exhibits dedicated to helping you use the project better. Some of these events include hands-on technical assistance, moderated paper sessions in which academics discussed how they used ArcView in their research, and a large exhibitor area filled with companies selling add-on products.
Because of its flexibility to utilize data from a wide variety of platforms and its ability to make presentation-ready maps, ArcView is software that from a transit agency view can bring together the planning profession as a whole and transit-specific software such as Hastus, Trapeze, and Transitmaster. To make the most out of ArcView - and help to justify the software's large cost - transit agencies should have a significant amount of data to analyze.