How Smart is Your Depot?


By Bernadette Ackerman

If you are still using manual processes, the answer is likely “not very smart.”

Three things can quickly derail your operations and send your service into a tailspin, and they all start and end in your depot. Poor communication, avoidable road calls and time-wasting manual processes can all lead to service interruptions and inefficiencies that lead to unhappy customers.  The good news is that there is technology available designed to automate your depot operations and enhance collaboration between your dispatchers, maintenance crews and operators. When deployed, this technology can improve your overall depot operations dramatically.

SmartYard® facilitates communication between dispatchers, maintenance crews and operators by providing the visibility and information everyone needs to get their jobs done effectively.

Poor communication leads to inefficiencies

Perhaps nothing challenges an agency more than poor communication. When your dispatchers, maintenance crews and operators aren’t on the same page, inefficiencies occur. Here is a typical scenario: operators pull into a garage before a shift, and someone tells them where to park. The parking position is manually recorded on a sheet of paper, matching the vehicle number to the parking spot. That information is passed on to dispatch who makes the assignments for the next shift. But, in the middle of all this, the maintenance crew is notified of a problem with a particular vehicle. They go into the garage to find the affected bus and take it for repair. But, they don’t notify dispatch in time, so the bus is assigned and when the operator for the next shift tries to find his or her bus, it’s not where it’s supposed to be.

All of this can be attributed to a lack of communication. Everyone is doing their job, but if they aren’t on the same page, it can cause confusion. If your depot operations are dependent on pen and paper and your communications aren’t coordinated, it’s more than likely that time is being wasted and people are making mistakes.

With SmartYard® from Clever Devices, everyone is on the same page. SmartYard® facilitates communication between dispatchers, maintenance crews and operators by providing the visibility and information everyone needs to get their jobs done effectively. It provides enhanced depot collaboration and communication that helps you track and monitor the location of every single vehicle in your yard. This lets you easily visualize and manage the workflow of vehicles throughout the depot, increasing efficiency from pull-in to pull-out.

No more wasting time searching for vehicles in the yard

Automated yard mapping eliminates one of the most persistent and disruptive activities in a garage: searching for a vehicle. When mapping is done manually, information immediately becomes outdated the moment a bus is moved. SmartYard® provides real-time location, presence, and status of each vehicle in the garage, which may include indoor and outdoor parking areas, service lanes, and fueling bays. This eliminates the need for employees to manually map the yard and provides real-time accuracy and reduced labor costs.

Reduced road calls

Nothing impacts your scheduled service quite like a mechanical breakdown. Road calls create confusion, disrupt service and irritate your riders. With SmartYard®, every vehicle is accounted for. An intuitive, friendly display shows the location and health of all vehicles, making assignments easier and more efficient. Buses with minor maintenance issues can be assigned for limited maintenance / driving services with a tripper icon, allowing it to be scheduled for work that ends earlier, while major maintenance issues are flagged with a hold icon ensuring it doesn’t leave the yard before necessary repairs are made.

More efficient pull-out management

SmartYard® uses vehicle locations, configuration types, service schedules (blocks) and a simple drag and drop process to make practical assignments for vehicles to scheduled blocks. An operator departure board gives drivers the information they need to locate their assigned vehicle efficiently. Optionally, SmartYard® can be configured to assign buses to work automatically.

Pull-in module

SmartYard® simplifies the pull-in process as well. When a vehicle returns to the depot, the pull-in module tells operators where they should park, optimizing vehicle availability for upcoming work. Vehicles can be sent to be fueled and washed or, if there is a known maintenance issue, the bus can be sent directly to a user-defined maintenance bay.

Dayton Regional Transit Authority (RTA) automates its depot

Enhances pull-out, pull-in and maintenance processes with SmartYard®

Before deploying SmartYard® at its Midtown facility, Dayton RTA employed a series of manual processes that were subject to human error, wasted time and weren’t as efficient as they could be.

At the start of a shift, the dispatcher would assign drivers to buses based on where they were parked according to the manual parking location sheet from the previous shift. Then, the dispatcher would verbally advise the drivers of their vehicle assignment and location in the garage. Many times, drivers would forget that information once they were out in the yard, or the vehicle they had been assigned wasn’t in the right spot because it had been moved for some reason. The drivers would then have to come back to resolve the issue, causing confusion and often causing delays in pulling out.

Now, because SmartYard® integrates into Dayton’s scheduling system, as drivers check in for a shift, a printed ticket is generated containing their credentials and the location of their assigned vehicle. The drivers take this printout with them into the yard. Because SmartYard® always provides an exact location of every single bus, there is no question as to where it’s parked. If needed, drivers can also look at the operator departure board, which also advises them of the parking positions and vehicle assignments, on their way out. These new procedures have contributed to improvements in the agency’s timely performance and overall workflow process.

Dayton has been able to simplify their pull-in process as well. Before SmartYard®, it was someone’s job to sit in a booth at the entrance of the garage and manually assign parking spots to drivers as they pulled in, another effort that could result in human error. More importantly, if someone moved a bus after this process was completed, it immediately became outdated. Because SmartYard® always knows where each coach is, there is no need for someone to manually assign and record parking locations. And if someone moves a bus for any reason, it is immediately reflected on the screen.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of SmartYard® at Dayton RTA has been in the maintenance department. Dayton’s automatic vehicle monitoring (AVM) solution and SmartYard® are integrated so that when a vehicle triggers a maintenance code, it is automatically sent to the maintenance track as it pulls back into the garage. This way, the maintenance crew doesn’t have to spend time walking around the yard looking for the bus, and it ensures that no vehicles with known maintenance issues are sent back on the road.

With SmartYard®, everyone involved in pull-out, pull-in and maintenance can see the exact location and status of every single vehicle in the garage, facilitating communication and collaboration. Automating its process is helping Dayton simplify its procedures so the team can work more efficiently.

Bernadette Ackerman is director of marketing for Clever Devices. Visit for more information.