Technology infrastructure in a transit yard may not be at the top of most people’s minds, but there are some simple indicators that suggest when it’s time to be worried.
Indoor location systems are becoming widely adopted to solve all of the problems with a single solution. These location systems use sensors and tags to keep track of vehicles indoors just like GPS satellites and tags keep track of them outdoors. By knowing the precise location of vehicles and integrating this with information from maintenance, dispatch, scheduling and vehicle equipment databases, operators are gaining new visibility into their operations and control over their fleet of vehicles.
Does “yard visibility” mean referring to a handwritten markup sheet generated by a manual yard audit? Then it’s time to be worried about your technology infrastructure.
Markup sheets provide a simple visual reference for understanding where vehicles are located, but suffer from two key limitations: in any manual, repetitive process like a yard audit, mistakes can be made, and given the constant movement of vehicles, the information from any given yard audit is quickly out of date.
An indoor location system can completely replace manual audits and markup sheets with an automatic, real-time vehicle location system. As mentioned, such a system operates much like GPS, with tags on vehicles being tracked not by satellites (which cannot see indoors) but by sensors mounted in the ceiling of the yard. This network of sensors updates the location of vehicles several times a minute with an accuracy of just a few feet. The result is an electronic markup sheet that shows the exact location and identity of all vehicles in the yard and updates that information constantly.
This is the core value of an indoor location system, and it was this that led Metro Transit in Minneapolis to be among the first to adopt such a system. The yard audit task typically took between 30 and 60 minutes, and with buses constantly in motion the data required constant updating. Audits were performed on an almost hourly basis, and were often out-of-date before a single round of the facility was complete. The inefficiencies of this process were clear to Metro Transit at different levels: in the time taken to collect the data; in the effects of inaccurate bus location data such as poor on-time departures due to blocked buses; and in the time wasted by maintenance staff searching for vehicles.
In order to realize the full potential of its location system, Metro Transit was quick to realize that having bus location information in electronic form created an opportunity to bring together multiple software systems.
Software Application Integration
Does software application integration mean running different applications on different computers and manually entering information from one system into the other? Then it’s time to be worried about your technology infrastructure.
Once the markup sheet is in electronic form, a huge amount of added value can be incorporated into the yard map view. The first software integration point is to connect the electronic map with the vehicle equipment database so that a simple mouse-click on any vehicle icon reveals a wealth of information: bus length, diesel or hybrid, wheelchair accessible, etc. Some of these attributes can also be indicated visually using different icons and colors making the markup sheet a rich source of useful information-at-a-glance. Need the next available hybrid ready to be dispatched? Electronic surveillance contractor needs a map of all buses with DVRs? That information can reliably be available all the time.
Metro Transit went one step beyond this and also integrated information from the dispatch and maintenance systems. This allowed the map display to show vehicle attributes and also route assignments and maintenance status. For maintenance, the bus icon would change to show a minor or critical fault so that a dispatcher had immediate feedback if a vehicle was not ready to be assigned.