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Pierce Transit takes industry lead in national study to improve pedestrian, rider, bus operator safety

Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. To combat this issue and improve road user safety overall, leaders in transit, government, industry, and academia are joining forces to evaluate an innovative Pedestrian Avoidance Safety System (PASS) for transit buses. If successful, the technology could be implemented in transit fleets across the nation.

The project is funded by a $1.66 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), as well as additional funds and support from the following organizations and individuals:

  • Pierce Transit (formally Pierce County Public Transportation Benefit Area Corporation)
  • Washington State Transit Insurance Pool 
  • Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI)
  • University of Washington
  • DCS Technologies, Inc.
  • Munich Reinsurance America, Inc.
  • University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research
  • Veritas Forensic Accounting and Economics
  • Janet Gates, project coordinator
  • Jerome M. Lutin, PhD, LLC, principal researcher
Using Lidar technology, PASS, developed by DCS Technologies, Inc., is designed to help professionally-trained operators avoid or reduce the severity of a collision. When an imminent collision with a pedestrian, bicyclist, or vehicle is detected, PASS warns the driver and automatically decelerates the bus, thus, providing operators more time and distance to bring their buses to a controlled stop. This is especially important in the transit industry, which often carries standing or unrestrained passengers. The goal of the project is to demonstrate this technology’s potential to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of bus collisions and provide estimates of the potential magnitude of reductions in collisions and claims.

“Pierce Transit is excited to be part of this important research project, which is seeking new ways to enhance the safety of transit riders, bus operators, pedestrians and others in communities across the country,” said Pierce Transit CEO Sue Dreier. “We take pride in being a forward-looking agency and are pleased to be able to help with the exploration of new and innovative safety solutions.”

Earlier this year Pierce Transit shipped a bus to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), the largest transportation safety institute in the United States, to install and evaluate the equipment under controlled conditions on the Virginia Smart Roads testing facility. VTTI is currently evaluating approximately 150 scenarios under various weather and lighting conditions using two main props: an inflatable vehicle target for forward collision testing and a remote-controlled “pedestrian” mannequin that can simulate standing, walking, and running in front of the bus. Effects on passenger motion are also being studied, as well as driver opinions of and trust in the technology.

“Our data shows that pedestrian distraction has increasingly become a serious problem in recent years. On behalf of Pierce Transit, we are evaluating a promising collision avoidance technology that could potentially help address this issue and increase safety for all road users,” explained Andrew Krum, senior research associate for VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety. “This important work would not be possible without the collaboration between the Department of Transportation, Pierce Transit and the Federal Transit Administration. They are all promoting technology advancement and safety for pedestrians. We feel that automated collision avoidance systems like this are good both economically for our nation’s transportation system and for the wellbeing of our communities. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is here to provide careful research to help emerging technologies meet the needs of humans.”

The project seeks to ensure the Pedestrian Avoidance Safety System is successful in a variety of road user scenarios, can be installed into new and legacy buses, and is accepted by a highly-trained community of professional drivers.

“DCS Technologies, Inc. is excited to partner with the FTA, Pierce Transit and others on this critical safety research project. We are confident that our PASS active collision avoidance system will reduce transit vehicle accidents, improving safety for passengers and pedestrians, reducing overall costs for transit agencies, and improving public transportation in our communities. PASS is designed for easy integration into existing fleets and new transit vehicles, providing improved safety today and into the future,” said Dave Valadez, president of DCS Technologies, Inc.

Other collision avoidance technologies are operating on streets and highways nationwide in light vehicles and commercial trucks. This project provides an important opportunity to test the application in transit buses, which have and will continue to play a critical role in providing equitable transportation for the country, as well as reducing congestion and carbon emissions.

Following testing, the data will be analyzed, and the FTA will receive a report that will include items such as the project’s cost/benefit, the return on investment, any impact on insurance claims, and reductions in collisions and near misses. Industry organizations can then use this data in considering whether to equip their transit buses with driver assistance technology in the future.

“Each year, transit buses and vans report about 4,000 collisions, 16,000 injuries, 100 fatalities, and over 700 million dollars in casualty and liability expenses,” according to Dr. Jerome Lutin, retired Senior Director of Statewide and Regional Planning at New Jersey Transit and current principal research investigator. “Many of those are preventable, and the technology being tested by Pierce Transit at VTTI has the potential to significantly reduce those numbers.”

The project is anticipated to be complete by 2021.

Project Partners and Roles:
  • Pierce Transit (formally Pierce County Public Transportation Benefit Area Corporation). Pierce Transit is the sole transit partner involved in this national FTA research project. Following the work at VTTI, Pierce Transit will test the technology on four Pierce Transit buses in Pierce County, Washington, without passengers on board for about six months. If successful, the agency will add the technology to 26 additional buses (30 total) to test in revenue service for another approximately 18 months.
  • Washington State Transit Insurance Pool (WSTIP). WSTIP is a risk pool consisting of 25 Washington transit agencies. WSTIP is a financial contributor to the project and has the role of managing the research partners. WSTIP pioneered an earlier research study on collision avoidance technology that was a catalyst for this enhanced project. WSTIP’s goal is to find technology that will assist bus operators with the safe operation of their vehicles and can be retrofitted to the existing fleet. WSTIP has strategic goals focused on reducing rear-end collisions and bus pedestrian/strikes.
  • Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. VTTI is evaluating the PASS system to ensure it meets user needs.
  • University of Washington. The Smart Transportation Applications and Research Laboratory (STAR Lab) at the University of Washington is focusing primarily on developing an on-board video-based near-miss detection tool for evaluating off-the-shelf collision warning systems and designing data reduction, storage, and analysis methodologies for efficient data management and safety analysis.
  • DCS Technologies, Inc. DCS Technologies is the PASS technology vendor.
  • Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. In collaboration with the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool, Munich RE launched a pilot program equipping 38 transit buses with collision avoidance technology known as Mobileye Shield+TM.  Rosco®Vision Systems is the official North American provider and driver-interface manufacturer of this system. The advanced driver assistance technology empowers drivers to avoid and mitigate imminent collisions, protecting the most vulnerable and difficult-to-observe road users: cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.
  • University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research. Through a cooperative agreement with FTA’s Office of Research, Demonstration, and Innovation. CUTR is working with Pierce Transit to coordinate and monitor performance measures, and the collection and analysis of deployment data to track those performance measures.
  • Veritas Forensic Accounting and Economics. Veritas will be analyzing the technology’s return on investment. 
  • Janet Gates. Janet Gates is the project coordinator.
  • Jerome M. Lutin, PhD, LLC. Jerome Lutin is a retired senior director of Statewide and Regional Planning at New Jersey Transit and is currently serving as the study’s principal research investigator.

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