A radio frequency identification (RFID) system that tracks 380 public transit buses in Montreal has enabled bus depot managers gain unprecedented visibility into individual vehicle activity.

RFID readers at departure and arrival points enable managers to more accurately determine when a bus is scheduled to arrive at a terminal.

The system also enhances process management through a reporting feature that records which units are often tardy or have to undergo maintenance.

Such an RFID system, says one expert, can provide similar vehicle management benefits to a much smaller fleet.

Size is not an issue, according to Pierre Malboeuf, president of Eminencia Group, a technology integrator that led the RFID tagging of some 380 buses belonging to the Montreal Transit Agency.

“These benefits can absolutely be applied to a much smaller organization with even just five or 10 vehicles,” said Malboeuf.

The system, he said, could potentially be used to improve visibility and logistics of distribution centres, delivery or courier services, rental agencies or maintenance crews.
RFID tags contain microchips and tiny radio antennas that send signals to electronic readers. The chip can contain unique identifying numbers or data associated with the item being tagged

In its simplest application, RFID tags can enable fleet attendants to discover –from their desks – if a vehicle is parked in the yard or is being used.

The system can also be configured to trip an alarm if a vehicle is moved from a designated area without authorization.

“With readers installed in the yard, operators can immediately determine if vehicles are where they are suppose to be at a certain time,” Malboeuf said.

More sophisticated tags can also contain other kinds of data, such as maintenance schedules, service history, or use restrictions.

RFID deployment may even prove to be cheaper for SMBs, who would require fewer tags than organizations operating larger fleets, Malboeuf said.

The price of plastic passive tags similar to those attached to Montreal transit buses is around 10 cents each. Sturdier metal tags or larger ones that can hold more data sell for around $2 to $12 each. Associated software can be purchased for $2,500 upwards.

Passive RFID tags can transmit signals up to a distance of around eight feet, but for scans at a greater distance than that, organizations might want to use active RFID tags, said David-Alexandre Bourbonnais, systems integration and software specialist at Purelink Technologies in Montreal.

He said active RFID tags, which sell from $5 to more than $12 each, contain miniature batteries that enable them to transmit up to distances of 10 meters.

Bourbonnais’ company markets an RFID package that contains 50 tags and four readers, which they sell for $18,985.

“This is a do-it-yourself package that users can deploy without the help of engineers or consultants.”

RFID deployments similar to the Montreal transit project can anywhere from $100,000 upwards, because of the accompanying research, consultant fees and user training, he said.

By contrast, a 10-person company in Trinidad is monitoring it delivery trucks with a budget package from Purelink.

“In most cases, SMBs do not want complex system,” Bourbonnais said.

Small businesses in the market for RFID technology should consider several key factors he said:

System relevance – The system’s functions and features must address the needs and issues of the company.

Product reliability – Tags and readers should be able to withstand the rigours of the environment they will be deployed in. For instance, RFID tags in the Montreal buses had to function in – 40 degree and 40 degree temperatures and to be able to withstand the force of power washers used to clean the vehicles.

Ease of deployment – This is essential for companies on a tight budget who want to install equipment on their own.

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