Transportation vehicles have the potential to become the biggest cost center for transit agencies. Therefore, employing telematics, whether it’s a vehicle health monitoring system or modes of communication en route, is essential to sustaining an economical budget.

As technology grows exponentially, new devices and “smart” solutions help operators examine their vehicles on the spot rather than waiting for weekly, monthly or even quarterly performance reports to make educated modifications. And the visibility, via data collection, can provide guidance on troubleshooting as well.

Tablets and Open Data
Seattle-based Zonar, a provider of electronic fleet operations systems, introduced the 2020 telematics tablet scheduled for release this quarter. The portable touch-screen device provides electronic inspection, hours-of-service, instant driver feedback, fuel efficiency, two-way messaging and more.

Utilizing popularizing data technology, as seen with smartphones, 2020 tablets are built on an open Android platform. This gives customers the ability to implement Zonar’s additional offerings or contact third-party companies to develop customized apps.

“We recognize that some agencies already use a particular software, so rather than forcing customers to use ours exclusively, we’re opening it up so collected data can be integrated into other software packages,” says Chris Oliver, CMO for Zonar.

In vehicles, the tablets hook up through V3 Zonar’s telematics box that plugs directly into the diagnostics port and engine control module. It transmits data through a 3G connection.

“The data captured is instantly available for powerful reporting and process improvements,” Oliver says. “Fleet managers get visibility, and drivers get a versatile tool.”

Other notable features on the 2020 include a 16GB NAND flash storage memory, ruggedized seven-inch display, SD/MMC card slot, five megapixel camera with LED flash, video recording capability, in-cab training, Bluetooth and a built-in flashlight.

Atlanta-based RouteMatch Software is taking advantage of consumer technology by utilizing tablets as well to compliment its software offerings. Tablets come fully ruggedized through RouteMatch mounting partners, and RouteMatch provides power and cabling solutions specifically designed for the transit environment.

The tablet’s main perks are that it has a flexible Android platform and is significantly more affordable than traditional vehicle tracking devices or mobile data computers.

According to Rob Bryans, fleet director for RouteMatch, 95% of the company’s customers are either using or switching to tablets.

RouteMatch has also released the newest version of its enterprise software, which can run on a tablet, to keep operations running smoothly and cost-effectively. There’s one platform for all components of the system. The technology is also hosted through RouteMatch cloud services, which started four years ago with heightened adoption within the past two years.

“We had to create a solution that’s incredibly flexible to fit into each of our customers’ different infrastructures,” says Bryans. “We now have a one-size-fits-many product suite.”

The solution provides emergency response notifications; full driver dispatch communications; route and schedule adherence feedback to supervisors; integrated work order management and vehicle inspection reporting.

When a driver logs into their tablet, there are a series of prompts that encourages them to walk around their vehicle and perform the required inspections.

“The driver is the last person to see the vehicle before it hits the road,”  Bryans says. “[They have] the ability to save people more than anyone. These forced checks are becoming tremendously popular and an important tool.”[PAGEBREAK]

Companies such as RouteMatch are now offering tablets to compliment their software offerings.

Companies such as RouteMatch are now offering tablets to compliment their software offerings.

‘Smart’ Solutions for Routing
Siemens’ Infrastructure & Cities Sector collaborated with Trapeze Group to create Transit Signal Priority (TSP), an intelligent transportation solution for the San Antonio-based VIA Metropolitan Transit’s new Primo bus fleet.

TSP, operated through Siemens’ NextConnect software and Trapeze Group’s GPS system, coordinates a bus’ position data with traffic signaling. Traffic signals are modified virtually to prioritize bus traffic, creating a BRT line without needing physical detector equipment at intersections.

An on-board computer can automatically request a green light when a bus behind schedule is approaching a busy intersection.

“We’re leveraging the telematics already on-board to add capacity, economy, and efficiency without adding new tracks or digging new tunnels,” says Peter Torrellas, chief technology officer, Siemens Rail Automation.

This custom solution can be expanded or implemented in other cities across the U.S., Torrellas says.

Similarly, Siemens also developed the Trainguard MT CBTC, a communication-based train control solution that allows fully-automated circulation of rapid transit systems and less time between trains with a mobile block system. Used on New York City Transit’s BMT Canarsie Line, it helped increase capacity by 20%.

Torrellas believes more adoption of telematics in public infrastructure to address congestion will continue to grow. In addition, we will see more adoption of GPS technology for improving fuel economy.

Efficiency Now and Later
In the event of a vehicle or route issue, the biggest tasks transit agencies face are keeping services reliable, relaying information to passengers and maintaining system efficiency, according to Bill McFarland, director of technical services for INIT.

INIT’s latest tool, MOBILE-ITCS, works to address these necessities. It is an intermodal transport control system that aids dispatchers in controlling operations. ITCS tracks and monitors the location of all vehicles at all times and instantly reports disturbances in service.

If a dispatcher creates a route detour, drivers are notified electronically, either via text message or with turn-by-turn mapping directions. On-board computers enable voice and data communication between vehicles as well.

“This allows for effective communication when working around an incident,” McFarland says. “Every detour created is shipping out to drivers that enter that line of direction.”

Statistical information for future planning and management decisions are based on operational data collected by ITCS and the on-board computer.
“To have data become information we can use at the end of the day to help plan or build more efficient schedules is huge for the agencies and its passengers,” McFarland says.

Clever Devices, an expanding company that acquired two tech companies within the past year, is formally introducing its newest product, AVM, this February. It’s a new version of the third generation model of the company’s Automatic Vehicle Health Monitoring solution. Historically, Clever Devices offered it as part of a suite of telematics products, but given today’s economy, AVM is available as a stand-alone solution to reduce costs for customers.

“Currently, one of the big trends is that everyone’s being forced to do more with less because budgets are tight,” says Joseph Saporita, VP, production development, for Clever Devices. “This next-gen system will improve what we already had at a better price point.”

AVM gives customers early warning indicators of vehicle health issues and allows the client to engage in predictive maintenance. According to Saporita, since its start, the device has helped clients reduce road calls by 25% to 40% and the amount of diagnostic time by over 50%.

Critical information, such as engine hours and fault code, are automatically transferred to the system and populated in work orders. It also gives the customer quantifiable data on any fleet defects covered under warranty, which, if reported, can spare clients large costs.

Built on a Web-based solution, data is transferred in real-time and can be accessed by any Internet-enabled device. [PAGEBREAK]

CHK America Simplifies the Commute

Santa Barbara, Calif.-based CHK America designs, builds and installs customer information and hardware in the form of signage and kiosks, working with customers to develop tailored solutions.

“If you walk up to a bus stop anywhere in the country, you should be able to easily determine all service available at that stop and where you can go from there, including connection information,” says Rick Wood, president/CEO of CHK America.

CHK’s latest Interactive Touchscreen Kiosks, which will be found at transit hubs in late 2013, are designed to help clients plan their entire trip on the spot. Powered by Cisco, the kiosks provide service interruption information, schedules, guided maps, walking maps and local points of interest, depending on an agency’s preference.

The touch-screen interface is Web-based for individual use.

“It acts much like a large iPhone managed by the transit agency, which can put its own website up and add other apps — whatever the agency feels is appropriate,” Wood says.

According to Wood, one of the major issues for any transit agency is that the information it needs to relay to customers is very complex. CHK conducted research and found that, on average, if it takes a rider longer than eight seconds to understand, “they will get frustrated and look for other transportation alternatives.”

“The eight-second rule is critical to our approach in helping customers,” Wood says. “We specialize in making that decision process much easier by distilling down the information and communicating it effectively through signage and a well-designed interface.”