Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot Success in Recruiting Participants

The 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 to improve safety, mobility, and environmental impacts of vehicle traffic. The Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot is partly funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and by THEA.

The project involves installing radios and computers in over 1,600 vehicles (including private cars, buses, and streetcars) and in over 40 fixed locations at downtown intersections to enable ultra-fast vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and smartphone-to-infrastructure communication.

The project include plans for recruiting 1,580 volunteer drivers who will have onboard units and communications equipment installed in their cars, undergo training, and participate 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 smartphones who will install an application to alert equipped nearby vehicles when pedestrians are crossing 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 up to four emails tailored to specific subsets of its customers. 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 entitled "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, and the number of signups increased dramatically after the 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 identifies the following keys to its 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 and personally meeting with key players in the downtown area
  • Developing a seamless online process for completing the prescreening questionnaire and scheduling an installation appointment.
  • Providing a Help Desk phone number for prospective participants (and later, actual participants)
  • Anticipating and addressing prospective participant questions in various online resources (e.g., anticipating a major concern to be what would be installed in participants' cars, 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 complements THEA's messaging (e.g., suggested social media content was provided so project partners could share recruitment messages via their own channels).