Eliminate head counts by hand tally
Technology to improve passenger counting
By Bart Robison
Technology is improving the ride for passengers and simplifying management tasks for transit operators at a very rapid pace. Wireless communication and embedded systems such as monitoring diagnostics and advanced GPS services are the new keys to improved bus capabilities.
Passenger counting in particular provides an excellent example of how technology is improving the way transit agencies serve passengers and conduct business.
Transportation agencies need to count passengers for three reasons: to report passenger counts for government subsidies and budgeting; to know how many people are riding compared to the number of collected fares; and to monitor the number of riders in order to develop more accommodating schedules and customer service.
Manual counting and sensors are outdated; automated passenger counting systems connected to a central database allow transit agencies more accuracy, which leads to more accountable fare collection, improved budgets and more accommodating schedules for passengers.
The history of passenger counting
In the past when drivers hand counted passengers the process was much more tedious for the bus company. By today’s standards, considering the many tasks that command a driver’s attention and the necessity of more exact numbers, this antiquated method is clearly inaccurate and nearly impossible.
Over time, passenger counting evolved to include measuring spring compression, the use of mechanical switches, weight sensors on the bus steps and light beams similar to those found on convenience store doors. More recent technology incorporates advanced light sensors, infrared curtain and thermal imaging sensors have been employed.
The diversity of so many transit vehicles in service, not to mention the wide array of transit riders, which take in the mobility-challenged and disabled, seniors, students and children, create serious problems for these legacy systems. Some vehicles have wide doors to receive heavy traffic with standing room only. Most sensors simply cannot handle such diverse situations. Factor in multiple fare zones, free fares and intersystem transfers, and it is easy to see why advanced technology is necessary to ensure a more accurate passenger count and fare collection.
Automated passenger counting
Where a manual system might seem adequate, a more accurate count leads to better budgets and improved schedules. Today, automated vision-based passenger counters connect to a database through a wireless connection to provide the most accurate passenger count. When transit operators know exactly how many passengers are getting on and off at each stop, they can add or subtract vehicles from the system as needed. They can further reconcile fare collection with passenger counts to identify problem areas and address them for more accurate fare collection.
The latest passenger counting technology features an embedded computer dedicated to video processing. One example is the Eurotech PCN-1001, an automatic passenger counter with two cameras that capture images of the area below the device. Using this information, the counter analyzes the height, shape and direction of any object within the detection area. The automated passenger counter can account for all types of passengers with unsurpassed accuracy.
The vision-based automatic system simultaneously counts passengers boarding and getting off the bus. A more complete system also records the vehicle ID, GPS location, time and date information, which allows for customized statistical analyses.
While the method of collecting automatic passenger count data varies with the needs of each transit agency, typically a cellular data or local wireless connection at a transit depot collects and records the data in real time. The analysis of this data leads to better overall customer experience and increases fleet utilization managing costs while increasing profits.
Seattle-based King County Metro recently selected the Eurotech DuraMAR router to transmit automated wireless data smoothly and with greater flexibility. The agency says it will use the Eurotech router to transfer electronic fare payments and other operational data to and from transit buses. It also will provide seamless network roaming for transit signal priority operation and display bus departure information on electronic signs along selected corridors. The technology also enhances transit security by supporting the expanded use of onboard digital video cameras.
The goal of transit bus services is to move passengers efficiently from point A to point B with ease and comfort, and embedded computers with wireless routers that count passengers have emerged as next generation technology to smooth transportation through real time data analysis. BR
Bart Robison serves as business development manager, transportation, for Eurotech Inc.