Five steps to the connected bus

Are your buses moving in the right direction?

By Michael J. Wilson

The concept of a connected bus has grown in support and exposure in recent years, in which the bus or fleet vehicle serves as an integral part of a comprehensive transportation delivery environment incorporating next-generation bus technology. Essentially, the purpose in establishing a connected bus system is to ensure the optimal technical solution deployed onboard is operating at its highest level with great efficiency. A critical step in building an automated connected data environment is to create a platform from which to generate, transmit, analyze and act upon valuable data.

With the basic platform deployed, the operator can then move forward with implementing specific criteria to keep the fleet moving in the right direction.

Enhancing the transit experience with real-time multimodal arrival information has a positive impact on revenue. Photo used with permission by NextRide technology.

There are five key areas to address in this journey:

Create environmental-friendly mobility

Urban expansion continues with a less than desirable impact on the environment. Effective transportation solutions can ease this burden, such as purchasing new assets that deliver cleaner exhaust, and reduced carbon emissions with less noise. Given the continuing economic constraints at the local and national levels, appropriate retrofitting of legacy assets can accomplish similar goals. With an integrated data transmission system in place, transit authorities can constantly monitor their upgrades, improvements and intended impact on the environment, and make adjustments accordingly.

Provide real-time transit information

Enhancing the customer’s travel experience has a positive impact on revenue. Three ways to use connected bus data to enhance the customer experience include providing next bus arrival information, real-time multimodal arrival information and mobile alert systems.

A number of major cities have already deployed real-time next bus arrival information utilizing data generated from GPS and other location-based solutions, which transmit information back to a centrally located application. Cross-referencing this data with real-time data available from other regional service providers creates an effective solution for delivering valuable travel information to the riders. Delivering both of these applications represents a mobile solution. Possibly even more important to rider satisfaction is aggregating all of the data and offering a mobile alert system to notify customers of various transit related issues, including traffic delays, unexpected maintenance issues, travel alternatives, station updates, and fare policy changes.

Implement effective asset management

Enterprise asset management (EAM) helps in realizing the value of the data. EAM methodology is built to optimize labor, parts and materials to improve fleet and business performance. Adding a reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) methodology assists in developing a maintenance program aligned with the EAM processes to fine-tune the need for maintenance with a defined technician response time and then predict parts availability. When the monitoring device detects an issue with the braking system, it sends an alert to the operations center to contact the bus operator and have him proceed to the repair shop. In the meantime, operations knows the bus is going out of service and the exact time and location for a backup bus to roll into its place to maintain the route is fulfilled.

Offer e-ticketing technology

If the bus system is not prepared to move to open fare payments in the short term, consider taking other steps in the right direction. Transit providers can offer pre-paid monthly cards valid on all system properties for regular commuters, offer multi-day pre-paid passes for tourists and convention visitors, and allow customers to replenish the fares electronically. After fare machine retrofits and data privacy concerns, one of the most common barriers to entry is planning for the customer interface. This is an area that must be addressed. If a customer’s bank card is not working, for example, they will need a connection point to resolve it. A station employee is not equipped to resolve this problem and bus drivers are not able to cease bus operations to respond to questions about invalid transactions. Therefore, building a back-up plan for various scenarios of customer engagement and communication is critical for the roll-out. Additionally it is important to add this element to your bus operations training. A well-trained team of customer-facing employees goes a long way in advancing your technology initiatives.

To be successful, e-ticketing fare management systems must be able to:

-Establish a reliable and robust platform
-Gain the trust of travelers
-Offer payment choices
-Manage the complexity of diverse fare structures between travel modes
-Manage the complexities of governance between and among operators

Think beyond basic surveillance

The safety and security of the customers and bus operators is paramount. An onboard data collection system in place makes it more efficient to add video and voice functionality. The agency can also use that  data to enhance other elements. For example, implement surveillance systems to reduce crime, aid in responding to medical emergencies and document incidents. That same video data can be a valuable tool in developing ridership analytics to validate fare pricing, analyze usage irregularities, and adjust seating or design elements based on documented usage and preferences.

Addressing these five areas will help to maintain current customers and attract new ones through a coordinated, integrated technology platform is a win-win solution. BR

Michael J. Wilson serves with Accenture as North America Public Transportation Lead.