The 3G sunset presents opportunities for smarter operator performance

With the 3G networks sunset, transit agencies relying on 3G networks and 3G-enabled technology may be forced to rethink their existing technology solutions.

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Scott Webb / Unsplash

5G stands poised to be the single most disruptive technology of the next decade. T-Mobile recently announced nationwide 5G, while other major carriers, such as Verizon and AT&T, are currently in the process of rolling out their 5G services and smart devices in big cities across the United States. As 5G grows in market share, experts believe that all of the major carriers will sunset or repurpose their remaining 2G and 3G networks within the next few years (Verizon will sunset its 3G network by December 31, 2020). This transition will impact every industry, including transit.

The 3G sunset means that transit agencies relying on 3G networks and 3G-enabled technology may soon be forced to reconsider their existing solutions. This period of assessment presents transit agencies with the opportunity to rethink operations and identify areas where 5G-compatible technology can provide tangible business benefits in the form of streamlined operations, cost-savings and enhanced interoperability. One such area is operator performance tracking or “driver behavior management” – an often-misunderstood part of the industry.

Typically, transit agencies think about operator performance in terms of driver behavior: how to identify behaviors that pose potential safety risks; and what can be done to mitigate those habits. Most behavior management solutions on the market utilize high-definition video, wireless connectivity and software to monitor driving. However, many legacy solutions will cease to operate when 3G networks sunset. More importantly, such legacy systems do not offer the complete video coverage of more holistic operator performance solutions.

So, what should transit agencies be looking for in an operator performance solution? Luminator Technology Group developed a list of  five critical characteristics that agencies should consider when evaluating a new solution:

1.     An external router. Many vendors will tout the all-in-one combination of cameras and connectivity in their solutions, but the built-in wireless connection becomes a downside when they’re configured for antiquated networks. As those networks sunset, agencies will be forced in many cases to rip and replace these systems with new ones. To avoid that, search for solutions that can utilize an external router capable of connecting to multiple on-board devices and supporting multiple streams of data from those devices. In addition to being easily upgradeable for upcoming 5G networks, these solutions will provide extra cost savings, both through the initial purchase and in on-going operations, because a single router will require less resources to manage, maintain, update and service. Streamlining data traffic to one device also makes it easier to maintain best practices to protect the system from cybersecurity threats and hackers.

2.      Integration capabilities. Many transit agencies rely on a different technology partner for their driver behavior management solutions and their high-definition video surveillance systems. This creates redundancies, ongoing operational inefficiencies and added costs due to the maintenance and training of separate systems. Perhaps the largest inefficiency is the need to review video from separate systems using two different software platforms to get a clear representation of vehicle activity. For this reason, the National Transit Safety Board (NTSB) recommends a comprehensive video system that provides full coverage of the entire vehicle. By combining the benefits of a comprehensive video system with the capabilities of a robust operator performance solution, transit agencies can have more efficient operations.

3.      Comprehensive data collection and storage. One of the  benefits of a connected, fully integrated solution is the ability to gather data directly from the vehicle and automatically store it for a customizable time period. The data and supporting video can be used for many unexpected benefits, including rewarding operators for avoiding accidents and providing good customer service, as the Milwaukee County Transit System has done with its MCTS Excellence Program. This data can include accelerometer events, instances of speeding or distracted driving and disturbances on or around the vehicle captured on video by a connected network of high-definition cameras. To ensure a new solution captures the most diverse data possible, select one that both automatically gathers data and allows operators to trigger data capture for download and review.

4.      Evaluation and coaching functionalities. Typical driver behavior management solutions analyze video footage to capture performance activity and identify areas for improvement. But not all include evaluation and coaching functionalities that move beyond just capturing instances of potentially risky behaviors. To improve operator performance, adopt a solution that not only identifies key areas for improvement but provides workflows for additional coaching and training. This will also allow for acknowledgement and recognition of good performance, which can help reduce turnover and promote safer driving and better customer service.

5.      Improved litigation protection. According to the study Legal Implications of Video Surveillance on Transit Systems published by the Transportation Research Board, 90 percent of transit agencies use video surveillance footage to protect against tort claims. To do this effectively, the agencies need an integrated operator performance solution that not only provides complete coverage of a vehicle but also makes it easy to capture and preserve footage after an incident. A system with robust storage capabilities will allow for video to be obtained after the fact in cases where upload is not immediately triggered by the system. This enables agencies to protect their operators from frivolous lawsuits and to redirect the resources that would have been spent on litigation to ongoing training and retention efforts.

When applied in combination, these five characteristics create a streamlined, forward-thinking solution that not only enables smarter transit operations but assures transit agencies that their solutions will still be operable when 5G becomes the industry standard and 3G networks are phased out. Before  re-investing in a stand-alone system to replace a legacy solution, consider the above recommendations for a more integrated, comprehensive and intelligent approach to improving safety and reducing risk throughout the transit system.

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Werner Malcherek is the chief technology officer for Luminator Technology Group.

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