Maximising the potential of connected vehicles
More and more buses are now available with onboard wi-fi in a bid to retain existing customers and entice new ones; but operators can do a lot more with the technology they have had installed than simply use it as a marketing ploy. They can employ it to enhance fleet efficiency and deliver a better service to their customers.
It is a point made by David Hitchings. He is general manager of In-CarPC, the in-vehicle computing division of Bowmonk Tapley, best-known for its brake-testing equipment.
In-CarPC installs IBR1100 router hardware to provide a wi-fi service. "Remember though that today's buses also contain devices such as CCTV, electronic ticketing machines and digital signage equipment," he observes.
"The IBR1100 can provide internet connectivity to these devices either via a cable connected to one of its three Ethernet ports or wirelessly via a completely separate wi-fi network," Hitchings continues. It can then act as a channel in order to help the bus company pull together the information it requires from them remotely.
"There is no need to pay separate data charges on each of the items you have got connected," he adds.
In-CarPC offers a range of optional M2M (Machine 2 Machine) mobile data SIM cards which include aggregated data allowances. This means that all the operator's SIM cards share a common pool of data.
So long as total data usage across the whole fleet is within the total monthly allowance, no out-of-bundle charges will apply.
Something else In-CarPC can provide, says Hitchings, is a cloud-based platform which allows all the routers in the fleet to be remotely configured and managed. "This drastically reduces the frequency of on-site visits which may be required if there are technical issues or if configuration changes need to be made," he says.
"Although many operators will have in-house IT staff who are keen to manage and configure the routers themselves, others may see this as a burden," Hitchings says. "If that is the case then we can act as their IT department, actively monitoring and remotely managing the onboard routers and only bothering the operator if a physical problem needs to be addressed."
In-CarPC's passenger transport clients include Manchester Airport's airside bus fleet.
For Worksop, Nottinghamshire-based Johnson Bros (Tours), remote monitoring means using an AGM routeMASTER telematics system to keep tabs on the whereabouts of each of its 150 coaches. It has gone one stage further however and is also employing the package to monitor engine idling.
"All AGM routeMASTER tracking systems can do this, but in this case we've configured the software to monitor and send an automatic alert to the traffic office when any vehicle has been idling for 15 minutes," says AGM Telematics managing director George Western.
Idling has a direct impact on an operator's bottom line, points out Johnson Bros transport manager Lee Johnson. "By reducing the average idling time of each vehicle by a few minutes a day – up to 50 per cent in our case – you can save a significant amount in terms of fuel usage and long-term maintenance," he observes. "What's more, you pump less CO2 into the atmosphere."
The firm also uses AGM routeMASTER to produce traffic updates and help it manage vehicle scheduling.
Loughborough, Leicestershire's Paul S Winson Coaches employs it too and has seen an improvement in driving standards among the drivers of its 30 coaches since it was installed, says operations director Anthony Winson.
"All the drivers have their own log which records key information including braking, idling, speed and MPG," he explains. "When we first started the bulk of them were showing red, but after a short while and with the ability to review individual performances, I'm pleased to say that 95 per cent of them are on green."
The occasional disputes over speed have been settled by referring to the information recorded for each vehicle.
MiX Telematics and 21st Century Technology are among other companies offering driver behaviour monitoring packages.
Meanwhile React Technologies specialises in Real Time Information (RTI) technology on buses, trams and trains, which improves the service offered to passengers and aims to increase revenue for the operator. React’s accessibility technology also provides life-changing support to passengers living with sensory impairments, allowing them to increase the number of journeys they make and live more independent lives.
An extensive range of talking signs, RTI signs, components, apps and support services are available. The React System is its core product – a trigger and fob technology that provides audio information to passengers at the stop and on the bus to keep them informed and safe on their journey.
React Interactive and React Interactive Total Care take this one step further by introducing a smartphone app and increased connectivity with other city systems and public transport networks. And React’s imedia and iTalk are compatible support systems that distribute rich audio and visual content to onboard displays.
“It is our mission to improve access to public transport through the technology we create,” says Russell Gard, managing director, React Technologies. “We empower people to live more independent lives, which means they make more journeys using your network and are more satisfied with the service you provide.”
Ticketing machines are increasingly acting as onboard data hubs. Transdev Blazefield has had 180 Wayfarer6 consoles from Parkeon installed in its buses which enable it to make use of the amount of technology that has been packed into them.
Aside from its ticketing abilities, Wayfarer6's features include 4G connectivity, automatic destination updating and two-way driver messaging. What is more, it can be integrated with third-party telematics, CCTV and passenger wi-fi systems.
It can communicate with Parkeon's cloud-based back office which can offer web-based reporting and system configuration.
Another approach which involves electronic ticket machines is offered by Ticketer. It uses a GPRS data SIM which allows the machine to stay in constant touch with Ticketer's back office.
It enables the operator to view ticket transactions seconds after their completion and track the fleet's buses so that customers can receive rapid updates on their whereabouts and know how long they will have to wait before they arrive. An expanding list of features includes two-way driver messaging and the rapid delivery of online card top-ups.
Bus companies that have gone down the Ticketer route include leading independent Scottish operator McGills which now has the system operational at all five of its sites. Passengers will soon be able to use it to select and pay for their tickets using smartcards, bar-coded mobile tickets, contactless plastic, an e-purse, or with good old-fashioned cash.
A major development for coach operators so far as connectivity is concerned is the ability to download tachograph data remotely from vehicles that may be many hundreds of miles away from home base.
That of course assumes that the coach is equipped with a digital tachograph with remote download functionality such as Stoneridge's SE5000 Exakt Duo plus one of the digiDL devices Stoneridge markets. The digiDL offers automated centralised data transfer and allows users to enjoy scheduled downloads of all the tachograph information they need using GPRS technology.
All they need to do is have a digital tachograph company card placed in a card reader connected to the internet.
While drivers may sometimes feel that connectivity simply means that they are constantly being spied on by the boss, it can work to their benefit. If a car deliberately pulls out in front of them as part of a cash-for-crash scam and causes a collision, then a forward-facing camera will show exactly what has happened; and that the incident was not the bus or coach driver's fault.
Images of the collision can be viewed remotely in real time or seconds afterwards says video telematics specialist Lytx, which has just launched its Unisyn platform. It allows operators to see images from cameras mounted anywhere on the vehicle both internally and externally.
Connectivity involves communicating with the surrounding infrastructure as well as with home base. That is a point made by Daimler with the CityPilot system installed in the semi-autonomous Citaro-based Future Bus it unveiled earlier this year.
It allows the bus to talk to the traffic signalling network as well as avoid street furniture, other vehicles and pedestrians. To enable its autonomous state, the Future Bus is equipped with GPS, five radar sensors (four short-range, one long-range) and a variety of cameras. They include a pair of stereo cameras with a 50m range mounted at the front of the vehicle which compare the images they can see with those stored in Future Bus's memory, says Daimler.
Future Bus was at the recent IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hanover, Germany. It is an event which also saw Volvo Buses launch a new onboard safety system which uses sound to communicate with vulnerable road users.
It will be available in 2017.
Made up of a camera, an image processing system and algorithms for the detection of wayward pedestrians and cyclists who are wandering about in the bus's vicinity, Volvo’s system transmits a sound to warn them of the vehicle's presence. At the same time the driver is alerted audibly and visually to a potential hazard.
If the pedestrians and bike riders fail to react, then the horn is activated.
Volvo is introducing the technology with electric buses in particular in mind. People often use their ears as much as their eyes; and because battery-powered vehicles run so silently, they do not always hear them coming.
Safety technology such as AEBS (Advanced Emergency Braking System) and LDW (Lane Departure Warning System) is of course already mandatory on most new goods and passenger vehicles; but buses are exempt.
Major automotive component suppliers such as Continental are continually developing technologies that should make vehicles easier and safer to drive.
At Hanover it was extolling the virtues of dynamic eHorizon.
Around since 2012, eHorizon uses topographical route data and a GPS signal to provide control units in a vehicle with information about the road ahead. They can then act to alter speed.
In its new dynamic guise the package also takes into account weather, accidents, and the tail-end of a traffic jam which may be just around the corner and beyond the driver's vision. In response, the control units may decide to instruct the transmission to shift down a gear or two, thereby slowing the vehicle; and hopefully ensuring that it will not come to grief.