To get accurate data, an extensive algorithm uses the location information and travel times to calculate the arrival and departure times for vehicle stops for Init Innovations in Transportation. "Distances really matter," says Init Director of Technical Services, Bill McFarland. MobileSURVEY validates an exact location of where your stops are, compared to what the scheduling software may say. "Maybe there is some construction going on and that stop was moved to the middle of the block or around the corner." He says, "These things happen and don't necessarily get to the planning department. You think it is 2,700 feet from stop to stop, but in reality it's 3,200 feet.
"We can get that data as accurate as humanely possible without having to spend a fortune on labor and weeks of time," he says. "That is one of the ways that we really help agencies in getting their data, which is so vital to making a system like this work."
When McFarland talks about the high level of granularity in the data, he adds, "That just gives me more data that I've got to plow through in order to get information out." To make the process easier, Init provides views into the data, rather than just handing a client the database definition and saying, 'Here, go to it.'"
The views into the data have benefits for the customer, he states. "Should we change or need to change the underlying structure of our database tables, the views remain consistent." Even with behind-the-scenes changes, agencies still have access to all of their data information, in the standard views.
Whether in spreadsheets, charts, graphs or files, agencies are accessing their data in more efficient ways each day.
McFarland explains how data can be viewed as data in sortable lists, graphical form or exported into a preferred database.
These systems can automate which information is pulled, when it's pulled and where it's placed for easiest viewing and reviewing by the customer.
Continental's TODSS program takes the data automatically, but automatically proposes actions to different scenarios. "It's basically helping them in taking the right action," says van Andel. "The system is tearing through all that data and is providing them with the right actions to take so they don't have to look through all those things."
With procedural responses already set in place, the intelligent system tells the agency when it needs to react and how it needs to react.
As an example, if ridership on a particular route drops by more than 5 percent during a given time period, a notification can be sent automatically so that an analysis can be done, Whitesel explains. "If you see that during a time when the weather was good, people should have been out and about but they weren't, then it requires a little more analysis of what could have led to the decrease."
Communicating in times of emergencies
In the unfortunate event of an emergency, Jonathan Zeier, principal with Zeier Associates, talks about the head-end communication system Emcom Systems provides that allows agencies to communicate with riders and emergency personnel.
"The technology is session initiation protocol (SIP) via voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) and Emcom's EmVista Central SoftSwitch, software-based system communication," says Zeier.
"The application is managing audio communications in mass transit and security environments inclusive of all telephony, public address, radio and video integration from a single agency workstation located anywhere on the network.
"A head-on voice communication system can allow the easy management and merging of voice paths, such as radio, telephone, intercom and public address. Utilizing VoIP allows non-blocking communications with large-scale capability," says Zeier. "Multiple agent stations and additional voice path endpoints are easily added to the system with the snap of a network connection."
Zeier says if cameras are being utilized, a view of the phone and surrounding area can appear on the screen when the call is answered. "Police, fire and EMT can also be directly conferenced with the patron over the emergency phone."
Getting it up and running at your system
It can be overwhelming when trying to determine what you need at your system and how you should attain it. And, as Whitesel mentions, there are a lot more companies today that provide a lot more choices.
Van Andel affirms agencies should talk to many companies about what they can offer. "That way you get educated yourself." It's not going shopping to buy a computer in a store where one is $400 and one is $800. "You're basically tying yourself in a partnership for the rest of your life almost," he says.