GO Transit puts Web-based GPS in driver’s seat

The Greater Toronto Transit Authority will spend the next three months rolling out a Web-based vehicle tracking system that will allow it to better monitor its approximately 300-unit bus fleet.

GO Transit inked a five-year, half-a-million dollar deal last November with Grey Island Systems International Inc., which is based in Toronto, to install Grey Island’s real-time, Internet-based GPS/AVL and telematics information systems, called InterFleet.

The GPS/AVL units will be deployed over Rogers Wireless Inc.’s GPRS cellular network, a Rogers spokesperson confirmed Wednesday. The GPRS network will carry the information from the unit on the bus back to the servers hosted at Grey Island’s site. The systems will run in parallel with GO Transit’s existing radio frequency network.

The majority of Grey Island’s business comes from public sector departments such as emergency services, public works and waste management. Guelph Transit recently chose Grey Island to implement its NextBus real-time passenger information system.

GO Transit has been testing out the units on two of its buses over the last couple of years. Right now if GO Transit wants to know where a vehicle is, its dispatch will get a hold of the driver. With InterFleet, GO Transit, which covers the surrounding regions of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), will be able to know where a bus is anytime by logging into a portal that connects back to Grey Island’s data centre, where the information is hosted.

“We’re not the experts,” said George Goulas, GO Transit’s equipment development officer. “We’re good at moving people from home to work. When it comes to hosting stuff we may do it down the road. Right now, we’ll let somebody else host it.”

Lisa Hunter, vice-president of sales at Grey Island, said the majority of the company’s clients opt for a hosted solution but added that it does offer offsite solutions.

“People appreciate having their data managed by a third party,” said Hunter. “They don’t have to have IT staff that are managing the solution.

“Third-party data becomes very important when you’re looking at any question of data integrity.”

If a company, for example, needs to access data from an event that occurred a year ago, they can either access it over the Web or Grey Island can reload the data and copy it onto a disc.

With better tracking capabilities, GO Transit will be able to improve the management of bus maintenance and repair. Buses are subject to inspection intervals based on the number of kilometres driven. The GPS/AVL unit will notify GO Transit’s maintenance department when the vehicle is approaching inspection.

Another key benefit will be the enhancement of driver and passenger security, said Goulas, who is managing this project. Bus drivers are currently equipped with a panic button on the bus that they can press in the event of an emergency. When pressed, the button sends a message to the vehicle’s destination sign to change to, “Call 911.”

“With GPS/AVL, once the driver presses the panic button, the bus will come up on the screen automatically,” said Goulas. He added that this will also help improve emergency response times in the event of a passenger medical emergency.

The new system will also allow GO Transit to generate daily audit reports that, for example, lets employees know where the fleets are located at midnight.

Once the first phase of the project is complete, GO Transit and Grey Island will embark on the next phase, which will look at the possibility of integrating the system with GO Transit’s existing radio frequency network, eliminating monthly transmission costs. But that likely won’t be happening any time soon.

“There are a lot of complexities in integrating GPS/AVL with our radio system right now,” said Goulas. “There’s a lot of development costs plus we’re in the middle of upgrading our radios.”

For the final phase of the project, which will likely take place in about a year-and-a-half from now, GO Transit will use GPS/AVL to help improve scheduling internally. The planner, for example, will be able to look at factors affecting arrival times such as traffic or the particular drivers. In terms of customer service, GO Transit is also looking at the possibility of putting in automated kiosks similar to those currently offered by Viva buses, which also serve the GTA region, having LCD screens that give riders up to date arrival information, as well as the ability for riders to check the status of buses online.

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