Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot Success in Recruiting Participants

Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) is currently engaged in a ground-breaking project to implement multiple “Connected Vehicle” applications in the Tampa Central Business District (CBD) to improve safety, mobility, and environmental impact of vehicle traffic.  The Connected Vehicle (CV) Pilot is partly funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and partly by THEA.

The project involves installing radios and computers in over 1600 vehicles (including private cars, buses, and streetcars) and in over 40 fixed locations at downtown intersections to enable ultra-fast vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and smart phone-to-infrastructure communication.

THEA’s project plans include plans for recruiting 1580 volunteer drivers who agree to have Onboard Units (OBUs) and communications equipment installed in their cars, undergo training, and participate in in the operations phase by driving in the Tampa downtown area and/or on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway’s Reversible Express Lanes (REL).  THEA also plans to recruit 500 area residents with cell-phones who agree to install an application to alert equipped nearby vehicles when they are pedestrians walking across a street.

THEA and its public relations contractor Global-5 Communications began recruiting drivers in early August 2017.  Much of the direct recruitment has been through targeted emails. THEA distributed a series of three or four emails to specific subsets of THEA customers, with messages tailored to those audiences. For example, the series of recruitment emails sent to toll tag users who already use the REL regularly emphasized the opportunity to receive a 30 percent toll rebate on their daily commute. The rebate takes effect when the equipment is installed, so there is an incentive to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

On August 15, THEA distributed a news release with the header “Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority Seeks Volunteers to Test Connected Vehicle Technology.” This attracted coverage from several local TV stations as well as the Tampa Bay Times. The number of signups increased dramatically in the first few days after the project received that boost in media coverage.

Every driver must complete the online eligibility questionnaire and schedule an installation appointment. As of late October 2017, more than 1,200 people have completed the online eligibility questionnaire, and 800 of them have scheduled appointments.

THEA’s plans for pedestrian recruitment focus on outreach to people who frequently walk downtown near the county courthouse where the pedestrian detector is located. THEA has begun meeting with downtown employers/stakeholders and will meet with many more in the coming months. With employers’ permission, THEA will set up informational meetings and sign-up days for their employees. THEA is also planning a downtown pedestrian party for early next year, in conjunction with local pedestrian safety advocacy groups.

THEA points to the following keys to their success in recruiting participants:

  • Consistent branding, including revising the project website, with emphasis on people and a feeling of personal connection.
  • Starting with an existing base of THEA customers
  • Arranging for a toll rebate for participation as a driver on the REL
  • Identifying key players downtown and meeting with them personally.
  • Developing a seamless online process for taking the prescreening questionnaire and scheduling an installation appointment.
  • Providing a Help Desk phone number so prospective participants (and later, actual participants) can ask questions.
  • Anticipating prospective participants’ questions and addressing those questions in various online resources. For example, anticipating that a big concern would be “What are you going to install in my car?” a graphic was developed that shows the size and location of the connected vehicle equipment on a typical car.
  • Remaining active on social media throughout the recruitment phase and giving the messaging a “fun” feel.
  • Creating partnership packets for downtown stakeholders’ use, so their messaging will complement our own. For example, suggested social media content was provided so project partners could share recruitment messages via their own channels.