June 2011

Improving Bus Service Cost and Efficiency Using Indoor Location Systems

by Adrian Jennings

Courtesy Metro Transit

Courtesy Metro Transit
The transit community is starting to let go of its outdated processes and embrace new technologies that provide a variety of efficiencies. Specifically, location solutions are growing in popularity. For instance, automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems using GPS technology have brought location sensing into fleet management. With real-time knowledge of bus location en route, transit operators can make on-the-fly changes to maintain quality of service for their customers. The new efficiencies in service that AVL brings are being extended into transit yard operations, using indoor location systems that can provide very accurate vehicle location through covered parking garages and maintenance facilities.

Knowledge of the exact location of buses inside a facility provides three main areas of value: Efficiencies in finding buses, monitoring process flow and automating processes. Today, most transit operators still record the location of buses on manually created markup sheets that deliver value only in finding buses. These paper markup sheets are inefficient to update and disseminate so the data is often in error or out of date.

Reducing Search Time

An indoor location system can be thought of as a highly reliable, automatically created markup sheet that logs updates in real-time. Different from other operational efficiencies, such a system provides real ROI, based on improved bus-finding alone. There are many people who have a need to find a particular bus in a parking facility including drivers, maintenance staff, cleaning staff and outside contractors. Since the bus location information is in electronic form, it can be quickly accessed from anywhere in the facility on a secure network. Perhaps more importantly, the bus location system is integrated with other databases to provide detailed information about bus type, equipment and status in a fully searchable form.

Outside contractors performing on-site equipment maintenance are a good example of the time and money that a location system can provide. For example, a contractor may need to access all buses that are installed with a video monitoring system. On arrival at the garage, the contractor would use a computer kiosk to query the database for the location of all vehicles using a particular type of video surveillance equipment. A printable map showing the location of all applicable buses is instantly returned, helping the contractor to complete his tasks efficiently. Since many such maintenance contracts are invoiced on a time-on-site basis, removing bus-finding delays can translate into real bottom line savings.

Automatic Alerts

Similar efficiencies are also possible for internal maintenance staff needing to find particular vehicles for routine overnight maintenance or repair. Once again, maintenance staff may wish to find, for example, all hybrid buses that have driven a certain number of miles since the last service date. A simple, intuitive search at a computer provides all the necessary information.

Such a system can be further automated using real-time alerts in place of manual computer searches. Location systems can annotate a map view of the parking garage with icons showing bus status. For example, all buses requiring routine maintenance can be highlighted, with one mouse click revealing the details. Additionally, real-time alerts can provide instant information about critical faults either via e-mail, text message or alerts displayed on digital displays.

Taken a step further, location systems can help to improve this process. A bus arriving at the parking garage may have developed a critical fault as detected by the onboard monitoring equipment. Later in the evening, maintenance staff may query the system to find that bus quickly, but by then several buses may have to be shuffled in order to retrieve the affected vehicle. With real-time information about the location and status of all buses in the garage, a location system can help drivers park buses in such a way that helps maintenance staff retrieve vehicles. This can be done either by directing drivers to park in a holding area, or if no such area is available, directing the driver of the affected vehicle and all subsequent vehicles to park in a way that prevents blocking. For true real-time operation, maintenance staff can be alerted when a vehicle with a critical fault enters the facility and directed to the right location to retrieve it before others arrive to block it in. Once again, frustration and delays are reduced, translating into real savings.


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