Going beyond automatic vehicle location

Going beyond automatic vehicle location

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Yichun Xie
Yichun Xie
professor of geography and geology,
eastern michigan university, usa
[email protected]

Dale Goby,
Executive Director, Office of Student Transportation for Detroit Public Schools

Randall Raymond,
GIS Specialist, Office of Student Transportation for Detroit Public Schools

Richard Pizzi
President, Electrocomm-Michigan Inc., USA
Automatic vehicle location (AVL) is a necessity for cost effective fleet management but, by itself, will not guarantee achieving the goal. The Integrated Student Transportation Management System (ISTMS) developed at Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is illustrated in this paper as a case study of integrating GIS and AVL in a school bus fleet management application

Automatic vehicle location (AVL) is achieved through use of a device that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) to enable a fleet to track remotely the locations of its vehicles. The main benefit of installing AVL is to improve the accountability of field personnel and the efficiency of fleet dispatching procedure. In school transportation operations, school dispatchers can get a real-time snapshot of a bus’s location or a driver’s adherence to a scheduled route, and provide parents with an estimated time of arrival. School public safety officers and maintenance operations can use AVL technology to improve response times by being able to dispatch the closest vehicles for emergencies and determine work site activities.

Efficient Resource Utilization
The ultimate and long-term benefit of AVL is cost savings. As Orkin Inc reports, with a fleet of 5,500 trucks logging 150 million miles each year, the bottom line for better fleet management is the significant cost saving and improved customer service (Aftermarket Business, September 2004, Page 38). Not only is Orkin, Inc. able to track the fleet of vehicles but also provide valuable customer service information. In addition to these benefits, Orkin, Inc. also found worker compensation claims have dropped 32 percent, saving more than US$1 million per year; physical damage claims to vehicles dropped 21 percent, saving US$0.5 million per year; auto liability claims plunged 35 percent, saving more than US$2 million per year. This entire cost savings took place since the installation of an AVL system in 2001. In addition, there is more room for savings, i.e., driving mileage reduction and subsequent cost savings of fuel, and vehicle maintenance and repair, and vehicle replacement. The opportunities for cost savings from the perspective of business rules are vast. These opportunities are also available to money strapped school districts.

AVL System Components
An AVL system usually consists of a GPS mobile modem, a GPS base station, a wireless communication, and GPS tracking software. Wireless communication is carried out either through a two-way radio or a cellular phone device, networking the mobile modem with the base station. GPS tracking software usually provides an intuitive user interface, which combines street-level mapping with GPS tracking functions, such as; configuring communications between the GPS base station(s) and mobile modems, instantly polling current locations of selected vehicles, querying and mapping archived motions of vehicles, making planned check of exceptions apart from the scheduled routes and stops, and setting up fences for tracking vehicles of special concern.

Most GPS tracking software also performs conventional GIS (geographic information system) functions such as zoom, pan, identify and queries. Some tracking packages also support networked and Web-based functions. In the DPS application the GPS unit, the modem, and the two-way radio unit are termed the SMRT System. (The two-way radio system was selected for purposes of data transmission because it is a common platform in school transportation operations, and it has considerable cost advantages over the cellular platform.) This acronym stands for Strategically Managing Resources thru Technology. The use of this terminology is a deliberate attempt to highlight the goal of better managing the fleet resources of the school district.

Business Rules of School Bus Fleet Management
Current school bus fleet management systems are, to a large degree, complaint driven systems. Scheduled services are performed and changes in those services are based on complaints. School transportation operations typically take more complaints than all other departments in a school district combined. Concerns and complaints range from, “Where is my bus?” “Why is my bus late?” “My bus didn’t come,” to “Why do I have to walk so far to get the bus?” “Why can’t I ride the bus?” “If my child gets hurt walking to school, I am gong to sue you,” etc. Every transportation supervisor can add to that list with more specific parent complaints, including criticism from school administrations about costly transportation operations. What is needed to change from a complaint driven system, is accurate objective data on the fleet’s performance. The conclusion based on years of research and observation, is that this phenomenon is primarily due to the lack of a system in which transportation has the opportunity to be successful. Student transportation has no chance for success due to the lack of an integrated student transportation management system to provide objective data to guarantee a successful execution of good business rules for managing the school bus fleet.