TO: Mayor and Town Council
FROM: W. Calvin Horton, Town Manager
SUBJECT: Response to Council Member’s Request for Information about the NextBus Automatic Vehicle Location with Passenger Information System Contract
DATE: June 12, 2006
This memorandum is provided in response to a Council Member’s request for information about the Town’s choice of NextBus as the provider for an Automatic Vehicle Location with Real Time Passenger Information System and about the types of wireless technologies that were considered for use with the system.
On September 12, 2005, the Town issued a Request for Proposals for an Automatic Vehicle Location with Real Time Passenger Information System. On February 27, 2006, a resolution was submitted to the Town Council to select NextBus as the vendor to provide the system. The resolution was adopted.
The procurement of an automatic vehicle locator and passenger information system for the Town of Chapel Hill has been a lengthy process that began in 2003 with the notification that the Town would receive grant funds for an Intelligent Transportation System deployment program.
A first Request for Proposals was issued in March 2004. Only one proposal was submitted by the deadline in May 2004. This proposal exceeded the available funding and was not accepted. (Attachment 1)
A second Request for Proposals was prepared in early 2005 and reviewed by staff, the transportation partners and the Town’s Technology Committee. This proposal underwent several drafts in an effort to accommodate the recommendations of the reviewers and was issued in September 2005.
Four proposals were received by the due date of November 10, 2005. The four submittals were reviewed for compliance with requirements and accepted for consideration. The four vendors were invited to discuss their proposals in depth for the benefit of the Town’s evaluation team (a team that included members from all of the Chapel Hill Transit partners). These presentations were done on November 29 and 30, 2005. Following this review the evaluation team selected two of the proposals for further consideration.
On December 12, 2005, the remaining two vendors gave a second demonstration of their proposals to the evaluation team and to Transportation Department supervisors and drivers. The observations and comments for the Transportation Department personnel were provided to the evaluation team and a final selection was made. The selection was based on a set of criteria that was listed in the Request for Proposals. The criteria included considerations for responsiveness, creativity, and functionality as well as cost. This recommendation was forwarded to the Town Council on February 27, 2006 (Attachment 2).
The first Request for Proposals included several capabilities that ultimately proved too difficult or expensive to accomplish within the limits of the federal grant. These included a Vehicle Area Network (wireless hotspots on the buses), wireless remote monitoring (surveillance) from police vehicles, automated voice annunciation based on geographic position information, and real-time telemetry monitoring for vehicle mechanical systems. Some of these capabilities would have required considerable development work and additional cost. This likely contributed to the low number of proposals submitted.
The second Request for Proposals included the option for vendors to consider using newer wireless technologies such as WiMAX. Specific reference to potential WiMAX providers was included in the document.
None of the four vendors submitting proposals in November 2006, chose to use WiMAX; all of the vendors proposed solutions that used cellular data communications technology. The choice to use cellular technology was largely based on its proven capabilities and the availability of companies providing the service. It should also be noted that the amount of data transmission necessary to support the geographic position tracking for the NextBus system is small and can be done very efficiently using the cellular technology.
Using the Automatic Vehicle Location and Passenger Information System funding as a way to further wireless capabilities in the Town was considered during the development of the Request for Proposals but was not included, because of the absence of a proven and cost effective wireless technology that could be readily acquired and used for this purpose.
Cost was one of the prescribed criteria use to evaluate the proposals. It represented 10 percent of the overall score. The evaluation team gave the NextBus proposal high marks in a number of categories, including cost, but made the final choice based on the overall effectiveness of the proposed system.
The evaluation team compared the costs for each of the proposals submitted against the requirements set by the proposal and evaluated the equipment and system costs against known industry costs for similar components. None of the proposals appeared to be out of line with these standards.
We have compared the Chapel Hill contract with some of the NextBus contracts for other transportation organizations and found that calculated system costs are generally in line with the Chapel Hill contract. The variations in specific requirements of each contract do not allow precise determination of prices for each item so an approximation or average cost based on the number of vehicles was used (Attachment 3).
We did find one contract that appeared to be an exception until we fully evaluated the requirements of the contract. This involved the Alameda area transit system, AC Transit. This contact appeared to provide equipment similar to other locations for about half the cost for other systems.
Town staff contacted AC Transit to better understand their NextBus project. The following information was obtained from discussions with the AC Transit information technology project manager and director of operations technology. The AC Transit NextBus project cost includes no capital or equipment cost. The project cost was software and services only. AC Transit has an automated vehicle locating system provided by Orbital and the NextBus technology links with the existing system to maker the real time information available to the public. This is significantly different from the complete system being purchased by the Town of Chapel Hill.
AC Transit began implementing information technology programs in FY 1992-93 in a project that has grown to nearly $15 Million. The project, known as SATCOM, includes a number of information technology processes to enhance transportation.
We believe that the process followed to seek and evaluate proposals was reasonable; and, that the Town received fair value in equipment and services in the bid accepted.