“The smart card and on-board systems will use 802.11g for data on/offload at the bases,” he says. “This same 802.11g system on the bus will be used on the street for the signal priority system to notify the intersection traffic controller signal of the bus’ arrival. Wi-Fi (likely 802.11g) will be used to transmit bus location information to real-time information signs on the street. This will not be done from the bus; rather the intersections will receive bus location information via a landline network from a central server and use Wi-Fi to make the ‘last mile’ connection to the info signs.”
Like the King County Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has an ambitious, multi-pronged Wi-Fi plan.
UTA implemented the United States’ first-ever contactless credit card bus payment solution in 2006. 41 buses serving the Salt Lake City area ski resorts were equipped with the new system, which, in addition to the payment choice of contactless credit cards, allowed customers to use smart cards to purchase lift tickets.
It got a fair amount of press coverage of its Wi-Fi contactless payments system, but that was just small part of an overall Wi-Fi plan.
UTA’s IT staff designed internally an application suite that incorporates radio frequency, Wi-Fi (802.11g), GPS and broadband/cellular technologies.
It started designing its suite of applications in 2003, and by 2005 it already had many functions in place, allowing communication between its computer-aided-dispatch and its vehicles in two to three keystrokes for operator feedback, detour information, service reliability information, automatic vehicle locator and computer-aided dispatch en route. Its application uploads software upgrades and scheduling data and downloads things like passenger counts when the bus returns to the yard.
“We’re taking Wi-Fi provided for passengers a step further,” says Abraham Kololli, deputy chief - IS manager at UTA. “We’ll have transit operations, reliability features, real-time detour information — all kinds of back office uses — riding on top of the generic wireless connectivity for passengers that everyone else is offering.”
And those layered applications, according to Hanley, are often overlooked but have the most potential for transit companies. “The underlying premise is that anything that was wired before can be replaced with Wi-Fi that is higher performance, less expensive and more flexible, as you are no longer tethered to copper wire, so many enterprises are simply replacing wires. But for industries like transit, what is really interesting is being able to do things that couldn’t be wired before.”
The fact that more and more commuting passengers want — or even demand — Wi-Fi is a given.
“There are more than 350 million Wi-Fi users worldwide, and they feel strongly about their Wi-Fi. We ran surveys that asked Wi-Fi users if they would rather give up Wi-Fi or their iPods, Wi-Fi or caffeine, Wi-Fi or their favorite sports team’s wins, or even Wi-Fi or chocolate, and the majority would rather have Wi-Fi than all those things — even chocolate,” Hanley laughs. “But although their riders may demand Wi-Fi, when you think about what is happening with Wi-Fi behind the scene that is probably more important.”
“We use the garage Wi-Fi a lot to automatically upgrade our internal bus applications and upload and download data,” explains Carrie Bohnsack-Ware, senior media specialist for UTA. “And we are currently in the preliminary design phase of equipping our entire fleet of buses with wireless capability for fare collection and other on-board technology systems.”
UTA worked with Parvus, a Salt Lake City-based technology engineering company that specializes in computing solutions for harsh environments (extreme temperature, vibration, impact, EMI/EMC-based, etc.) with several components of this plan.
“We are just now in the thick of delivering a system to Utah Transit Authority which provides Wi-Fi to passengers and switches to a download system when the bus returns to the yard,” says G. Andrew Hunt, director of transportation programs for Parvus. “The next step with UTA will be to add a priority engine which will allow passengers to use the Wi-Fi system unless a higher priority system needs to use the data channel. This is a first and is designed to allow one device to perform multiple functions so transit authorities see more ROI.”