Fleet Management Systems Roundtable: PART 1

In October, BUSRide convened with a select group of fleet management specialists and software providers during the American Public Transportation Association EXPO in Houston, TX.

The first installment of the conversation focuses on how recent fleet management innovations benefit the end user.

The panelists included:
Kevin McKay – Vice President, Programs Development, Avail Technologies
Bill McFarland – Director of Sales Engineering, Business Development, INIT
Bill Collins – Vice President and COO, Quester Tangent
Curtiss Routh – Vice President of Sales, Radio Engineering Industries (REI)
Richard Goodrich – Marketing, Ron Turley & Associates
Lori Jetha – Marketing Communications Manager, Seon Design
Jordan Brock – Vice President, Global Sales, Strategic Mapping
Brett Koenig – Industry Solutions Manager, EAM, Trapeze Group
Dylan Saloner – CEO, Via Analytics

Please explain your company’s area of focus in transit operations and the issues your programs and products address.
Kevin McKay: Avail Technologies is focused on fleet management systems for mass transit for small to medium-sized agencies.

Brett Koenig: Trapeze makes a number of different transit-based maintenance management technologies ranging from asset, work and materials management to fuel and yard management. We’ll get a chance to talk about the fleet management aspect today.

Dylan Saloner: Via Analytics provides a number of tools to help agencies plan, operate and communicate a bit more effectively. Our core operating product is called TEMPO and it provides a synchronization system to help buses keep even space between each other. We also provide a vehicle-side application to monitor engine diagnostics in real-time to give feedback to the drivers.

We also have an open-source analytics solution that provides tools to help agencies schedule and plan more efficiently.

Bill Collins: At Quester Tangent, we’ve been in the rail/transit business 29 years and we started with onboard systems for monitoring and diagnostics. We’re in seven of the ten major authorities, particularly New York City Transit, Boston, etc. Our systems collect onboard vehicle data from usually between 70-90 different data connections. We also control the networks on these vehicles.

With current technology, the vast majority of subsystems on the vehicle are generating a tremendous amount of data. It’s our job in the coming years to manage that data and present it as information to the people that need to make decisions for their agencies.

Richard Goodrich: Ron Turley & Associates has a software package that keeps track of maintenance on fleets of vehicles and equipment. We span multiple industries and have a large customer base within the bus and motorcoach industry. We keep track of everything that takes place in the shop – parts inventory, mechanic productivity, repairs, maintenance, fuel and more. We branch out into numerous other areas involving the fleet as well.

Lori Jetha: Seon Design is one of the world’s largest mobile surveillance providers on the market. We began in 1999 in the school bus market and expanded our products into the transit market in 2004. We have recently forayed into video management software as well. We can integrate our video and telemetry data into fleet management systems, from Avail and some of the other folks around the table, to add visual context to what’s happening on the bus.

Jordan Brock: Strategic Mapping’s area of focus is Computer Aided Dispatching, Automatic Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL), Real-time Passenger Information Systems and related technologies which enhance overall accessibility to the public. Our products address the need for real-time operational information, performance indicators and planned versus actual reporting.

Our Automatic Stop Annunciation System and Next Vehicle Arrival Systems provide transit customers with valuable information to enhance their travel experience.

Bill McFarland: One of the more exciting things that happened recently with INIT is a new product called MOBILE-ECO2. It’s becoming more and more important to get the most useful life out of our systems, so MOBILE-ECO2 focuses on a combination of driver behavior and traditional vehicle health monitoring. We’ve brought traditional automotive vehicle health monitoring into the bus arena. On top of that, we have modules that monitor the driver’s performance – sudden acceleration, sudden braking, swerving, idling, etc. All of these behaviors have an impact on fuel consumption, tire wear and passenger experience. The new product allows us to give instant feedback to the driver that he/she is engaging in these behaviors. This can be used for training drivers, and studies have shown that this can have an impact between 3 to 8 percent on fuel consumption. That is a significant dollar factor, so the ROI is easily realized in a year or less.

Curtiss Routh: REI provides complete ITS Services to the transit community, including MVS, CAD/AVL and paratransit routing and scheduling. What makes us unique is that all of our solutions are fully integrated to the customer.   In addition, with over 75 years of experience in the business, we understand the transit marketplace and help agencies build and grow business by challenging them to consider better ways to offer and enhance their services. We help transit agencies evaluate key internal and external marketplace factors to maximize the effectiveness of their organization.

How do the most recent innovations and upgrades in fleet management programs benefit the end users? How far have you come in five years?
McKay: Others touched on this, but we’re seeing these systems collect a vast amount of data. While that data is very critical to the operations, it’s not organized in a great fashion. The real innovation will be our ability to allow users to ask questions of the system and for the systems to mine that data and provide answers to those questions – as opposed to the technology today which basically provides a vast amount of data and reports, which isn’t focused on solving specific problems. “Answers not Data” is our catch phrase. There’s where this technology will be truly useful. I don’t think agencies are getting the efficiency they should expect.

Koenig: One of the things that Trapeze is seeing in the market is interconnectivity of systems. There’s so much new technology now that customers are demanding these systems share vital data. That tight coupling of systems is really vital. This benefits end users with improved efficiencies, no redundant data and the ability to automatically share vital data across the enterprise.

Another thing we’re seeing is, with the passage of MAP-21, a change in the ways transit agencies have to report back to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). It’s a huge change in terms of the types of data that need to be collected, and it’s one of the things that Trapeze is really focusing on as a vendor that sells exclusively to the transit industry.

Saloner: I agree with the themes that have been discussed so far about data analysis and our tools needing to be a lot more robust. Another major trend is how the data is collected. The big innovation is driven by broader technology trends, so you can now use consumer devices like smartphones to provide better functionality than customized hardware at a fraction of the price.

We take a pretty expansive view of who our end-users are. For passengers, this means less wait times and less travel time. For drivers, it means more regular breaks. For agencies, it means lower costs. For the public as a whole, it means a better environment.

Fleet management is a top-of-mind concern among transit agencies.

Collins: When looking at the onboard systems and trying to set them up for success, it puts a whole new meaning to the phrase “How’s my driving?” because human interaction with the vehicle data is becoming less and less. Of course, the key decisions are being made by the individual driver. How do we manage the information? We look at it as more of a strategic approach. It’s all about vetting the information at the source as much as possible and making sure that what you’re collecting is reasonable. We’re now able to leverage faster processors and accept more information. Over the next 10 to 15 years, we’re going to see an exponential growth of the data set and there’s going to be less human involvement in managing that information. Relating that information to the decisions on the ground is a real challenge.

Goodrich: We’ve made a big push to make collected data useable by the end users. They’re so focused in different areas – for example, mechanics want to know if they need parts and how to get them. Their focus is so much different than other managers. The amount of data that’s available is so huge that they can waste a day by looking at the wrong information. We’ve implemented, in the last five years, a network of tools that different levels of managers can set up. A shop manager, a fleet manager or a shift manager can all set up different tools that examine their areas of expertise.

It’s important that the end users don’t spend time looking at data that doesn’t apply to them.

Jetha: Like Dylan, I see consumer devices driving software into the cloud over the last five years. There are concerns about privacy, so firewalls and user permissions are important so that only authorized people can get the information they’re supposed to have. That’s a trend that Seon’s moved toward. We’ve migrated most of our software to a web-based platform. Ten years ago we were still recording onboard activities with VCRs and tapes, so the transition to digital has allowed us to add much more context to the video as well. We have a GPS track; vehicle speed measurements; and even forward-facing cameras to capture license plates. The technology has advanced in terms of clarity of picture, but also in terms of contextual data that synchronizes with video. This greatly benefits the end users.

Brock: We see vast improvements in the speed in which data is collected and presented as well as the various platforms end users can access this data. These innovations benefit the user’s interface, reporting speed, data storage and data integrity. The last five years has been very exciting for us. Our onboard hardware systems and software applications have evolved with massive improvements in performance, usability and integration capabilities. This has enabled us to expand our available feature set and grow our customer base exponentially.

Routh: Certainly “cloud-based” technology has changed the game completely in what products and services are offered, and especially how agencies can capitalize on the availability of these innovations with limited capital expenses.  In the past, the idea of “process improvement,” or “enterprise resource management”  were so daunting that transit operators had to either overhaul operations at great expense, or just put out fires as they came along.  Now, they can consider the use of these new technologies as part of their enterprise without having to change everything.  There is lower risk to innovation, so there is greater opportunity for reward.

REI has realized exceptional growth and success over the past five years by listening to transit agencies and also working together with our customers to innovate. The best upgrades and innovations that we have produced have been while working hand in hand with our customers – the people on the front lines.  Innovations are prevalent in the transit marketplace. Our success has resulted from innovations which have transformed our customers to be the best that they can be for their patrons.

What  guidelines can you offer for a transit agency assessing its needs to fleet management programs and technology?
Brock: We always suggest that agencies identify the data and information they would require from the system. These include but are not limited NTD/governmental reporting, reports and performance indicators for management and customer information requirements.

Check back next month for the second installment of this stimulating conversation.