About seven years ago, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) upgraded its fare collection equipment, which allowed for maintenance workers to change their approach to keeping vending machines in service.
Don Allen, chief engineer for BART, said the new technology allows for data-based maintenance, so machine cores can be overhauled at certain points in their lifecycles as opposed to performing “shade tree” repairs.
The change allowed BART to up its fare availability goal to 99 percent. It’s currently at 99.3 percent.
“It has been a very powerful tool for us to have that information from each machine available in real time,” Allen said about the change.
Changing the approach didn’t create major cost savings for BART, Allen said, but the issue is more than that.
Transit agencies like BART are finding new ways to handle maintenance of its stations and equipment customers use in an effort to keep areas in a state of good repair, improve rider experiences and create an overall improvement of the system.
Technology pushes efficiencies
Jared Smith, associate director of professional services for Decision Lens, said it can be difficult determining how transit agencies tackle maintenance programs, but technology can allow for some outside factors to be mitigated out of the decision process.
Smith said board members for transit agencies can sometimes push prioritization of projects near their own home despite the need for repairs not being as high. Programs can be used to create a list of needs and to show why some projects should take priority in a maintenance plan. Smith said agency officials determine what are top priorities in maintenance programs and after it’s sorted down by software it shows data on why certain projects have more priority.
“Most times we end up alternative plans that will allow for a partial fix of problem A and that will fix a lot of problem B, which allows for [maintenance] programs to be done a lot more practically,” he said. “It’s a more holistic approach based on priorities and a line of sight on the goals to achieve at each station.”
Smith said a lot of agencies put a higher focus on safety and customer experience in determining top maintenance criteria along with sustainability and cost effectiveness. Items like project readiness tend to fall lower on the list of priorities.
“You’ve got a lot of different ways to go about the decision-making process and we want to streamline that decision and this does help them by having something repeatable in all that data,” he said.
Smith said software usage in maintenance planning helps resource optimization because it finds value in investment by looking for a mix between cost and value of a project.
While data allows for better planning of maintenance programs in stations, Smith said it can be a challenge for some agencies starting to use the programs due to the culture change it undergoes with new technology.
“When you bring in a new process it’s a new hurdle,” he said. “But once you see a client jump that hurdle and make that change to using more value-based analytics in their decision making process, that’s when you see great things.”
Undoing the mistakes of the past
A big issue with a lot of maintenance problems agencies are tackling are due to a lack of foresight by planners from yesteryears who failed to spot shortfalls from incomplete designs.
“One of the challenges is that when BART was initially built, our street entrances didn’t have canopies, so a lot of street units were exposed to the elements. Not only weather, but human problems,” Allen said. “So part of what we’ve had to do is see if we can put together a program so we can place canopies and provide better, more secure entrances at our locations.”
The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) has been more aggressive in recent years in addressing the needs of its aging stations and improve customer experience.