Psst: This article is part of a ThinkTransit blog series. Check out parts 1, 2, and 3 here.
The recent advancements in technology integration have transformed our expectations. Today, when you take a photo on your phone, if it isn’t on your computer within a few seconds, you’re upset. So, why should transit be any different? Working in silos across transit agencies makes this integration difficult, resulting in duplication, errors, and wasted time due to lack of trust between departments.
Integration in transit sounds great in theory, but how can you facilitate the real-time flow of information from one system to the next? Luckily, we dived into this topic at our recent ThinkTransit Conference – and we set the record straight on what technology integration at Trapeze looks like. To integrate your systems, it is important to focus on the business process first. Understand what you are trying to automate, define the necessary procedures, and then carry out the integration.
When building your integration plan (whether for rail, bus, or paratransit), it is necessary to understand what solutions are available, and what their role is at your organization. The best way you can categorize solutions is into the service they help most with: Planning, Operations, and Insights and Sharing.
Planning: The Importance of Accurate Data
Planning your transit operations might take place hours, days, or even months in advance. When it comes to communicating your plan across your agency, quality is important above all else. High-quality data requires high-quality integration.
The most common planning integration scenario is providing fixed route schedule information to your dispatchers. This requires integration between your fixed route scheduling and planning software and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). When integrated, all the information needed to operate a schedule is seamlessly provided across your team including routes, stops, runs, blocks, polygons, and more. Once service is planned, there is no need to redefine it in your ITS or manipulate flat-file data.
Getting service onto the street requires operators and vehicles – that’s where workforce and operations management comes in. Integrating scheduling and operations systems allows your team to accurately plan for the number of required vehicles and operators by automatically receiving a complete set of schedule data and vehicle requirements. Integrating your maintenance team is also important, so they are aware of vehicle requirements to ensure adequate rolling stock is available.
Accurate communication across your team keeps everyone in alignment and gets you ready for your operational day.
Operations: Speed Up Collaboration
Now that you’ve planned your service, it’s time to make it happen. During the day of operation, the speed at which you communicate information is key. Integrating systems can eliminate communication delays, helping to improve your service. Picture yourself standing in your control center for a moment, and note the volume of phone calls and passed paper between teams – imagine if all that was passed automatically, in real time.
To get service out on the street in the first place and respond to incidents throughout the day, operations and maintenance groups must share vehicle needs and availability. This integration not only improves maintenance planning and response times, but vehicle statuses and parking locations are also synced, allowing operators and maintenance crew to locate vehicles in the yard.
Beyond vehicles, employee information (schedules, sign in/out) and incidents are commonly duplicated across systems. When operations and maintenance are integrated, employee information is entered only once, and incident files are shared to track repairs, along with occurrences.
Even with the best intentions, things never quite go according to plan. By integrating ITS and operations systems, the information exchanged in real-time allows you to take action, ultimately improving service. Operations is automatically informed of incidents as they occur, allowing them to proactively dispatch replacement operators and vehicles or reroute vehicles as needed, minimizing rider disruptions. Additionally, operations has direct access to mobile data terminals to contact operators, record vehicle inspections, and track sign on/off, without interfering with ITS dispatchers.
Providing reliable service to your riders requires collaboration, and integrated technology enables your teams to do that like never before.
Insights and Sharing: A Deeper Understanding of Your Service
It’s time to put accuracy and speed to the test and let your riders in on the data sharing. Providing customers with real-time information is no longer a perk, it’s a must. That’s why your ITS, scheduling, and Traveler Information (TI) systems must be integrated. When integrated, real-time vehicle location can be shared with riders across communication channels, commonly including GTFS-RT. When Trapeze ITS and TI systems are integrated, the customer experience can be further enhanced by automatically notifying customers about detours and service notices as they arise. You can also manage rider expectations by sharing current vehicle loads as measured by automatic passenger counters.
The deep integrations allow you to communicate effectively with customers, but it also lets you analyze your service and derive valuable insights. To improve service, first, you have to understand your operations with a business intelligence tool. Integrating a business intelligence tool gives you complete access to all information from all systems as it is generated, providing you with real-time, actionable insights. This gives you the power to address problems before they become trends, optimize your employees, and improve your service planning over time.
Connecting the Dots – Accuracy, Speed, and Depth
It may feel like magic at first, but connecting what you plan (accuracy), how you operate (speed), and what you share (depth) is a feedback cycle that builds over time. Insights allow you to improve your plan, which enhances your operations, and improves your overall service for customers.
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Mark Godin is a Solutions Engineer at Trapeze Group where he works with North America's largest transit agencies. He defines and proposes back office software and in-vehicle hardware solutions that improve daily operations and urban mobility.