Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) Systems And Their Implementation

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) Systems And Their Implementation

With GPS currently being the most widely utilized technology for the purposes of automatic vehicle location, transportation providers and agencies across the globe have reaped the benefits of what is often described as one of the most innovative progressions that transit technology has ever seen.  

AVL has become somewhat of a standard in the industry due to its incredible functionality and ability to utilize real-time tracking technologies. The numerous benefits of GPS technology, cellular communications, street-level mapping, and an intuitive user interface, make fleet management easier than ever. Real-time information regarding travel and dispatch in return improves customer service which is an essential part of increasing ridership for any transport provider.  

But what exactly is an Automatic Vehicle Location System and how can it be implemented into a current business model or transit network? Let’s take a dive into the world of this truly incredible technology.

What is AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) Technology?

AVL systems are essentially computer-based vehicle tracking systems. An interesting fact about them is that they were originally developed and used for military purposes, however, AVL technology is now being used to monitor the movement of vehicles in transit and paratransit fleets.  

Agencies in both the public and private sectors can now use AVL technology to monitor the real-time location of each vehicle in their fleet. Real-time location information can then be compared to the scheduled location. This information can be applied to scheduling and dispatching to improve system efficiency and productivity. Vehicles may be rerouted or trips reassigned in real-time based on collected AVL data. 

AVL technology uses Global Positioning System (GPS) to enable a business or agency to remotely track the location of its vehicle fleet, using the Internet. It basically uses location technology and a wireless data communications system to transmit the real-time location of any moving vehicle (bus, train, van, boat) directly to the transit operations center. This is based on accurate real-time location information received from satellite signals for the purposes of navigation. 

Central software located at the transit operations center periodically receives these real-time updates on transit vehicle locations. The transit vehicle on the other hand is equipped with an onboard computer including an integrated GPS receiver with wireless data communications capabilities. The AVL data can then be readily used for a variety of purposes such as daily operations or it can be archived for further analysis. Automatic vehicle location can be used for both fixed-route and paratransit (demand response) systems across a variety of different modes. 

Benefits of the Automatic Vehicle Location Technology

Transit agencies often use AVL systems due to their ability to enhance the utilization of their fleet and reduce fuel consumption, labor, and capital costs. The use of AVL in the transportation sector allows transport providers to establish a direct link between vehicles, operation control centers, and real-time passenger information systems.  

One of the greatest perks of AVL is the availability of more valuable data which essentially eases the management of transit systems and operations across the network. Since AVL is becoming increasingly common, especially on bus transit systems, it is gradually shaping into an expected standard for fixed-route systems. Depending on the technology being used, prices can vary widely ranging from $100 to anywhere up to $7,000 per vehicle.  

Many transit providers have seen the potential in investing in such systems as it not only improves the management of their fleet and operation but also increases customer service satisfaction which is an important factor when trying to increase ridership.

Improved Efficiency and Productivity

Implementing AVL has multiple benefits for transit agencies, one of the main being improved efficiency and productivity. An Automatic Vehicle Location System allows transit providers to better control their fleet, operations, and driver performance. There is an improved adherence to schedules, and accuracy in monitoring and coordination, therefore vehicles are able to complete more trips which means less money is being spent on fuel and essentially maintenance costs decrease too.  

Another significant factor is the improvement in the communication between drivers, supervisors, operators, and other staff. This not only improves efficiency but also saves valuable time and reduces the need for supervision and manual data entry. Transport providers and authorities are able to effectively track off-route vehicles or locate them in case of an emergency.

Better Response Time

Automatic Vehicle Location Systems help to reduce response time to operational problems by improving the communication between bus drivers and dispatchers. 

It allows dispatchers to monitor and handle a greater volume of vehicles. They can get a real-time snapshot of driver adherence to a route, provide customers with an estimated arrival time, and communicate directly with drivers.  

On the other hand, public safety agencies, such as police and fire departments can also use AVL technology to improve response times by being able to dispatch the closest vehicles in case of an emergency. This essentially increases security on board vehicles and improves the safety of both passengers and transport staff as AVL enables the faster location of vehicles and response to accidents.

Increased Customer Service Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction also may be improved with the application of AVL technology in both public and private transit sectors by providing accurate information on where a vehicle is located at a particular time so more precise estimates on pick-up time may be given. 

Access to real-time travel information is greatly beneficial to customers as it adds an extra layer of protection and reliability. Automatic vehicle location, combined with computer-aided dispatch (CAD), has been proven to increase safety and security on transit vehicles because many systems now include silent alarms as well as video monitoring capabilities. A great example of this is Denver’s Regional Transportation District which reported a 20 percent drop in assaults after adding a CAD/AVL system to its vehicles.  

The ability to inform passengers of bus arrival times improves the quality of service and helps travelers make better decisions about their journey.

Service Restoration

AVL technology helps restore customer service at the earliest possible time despite adverse conditions. It allows access to more accurate and complete data so that the agency is able to schedule, plan and make better operational decisions toward detours due to sudden developments like bad weather, roadway closings, and accidents.

Implementation & Costs

An Automatic Vehicle Location System Implementation allows for real-time tracking of services that provide the ability to improve service efficiency, asset utilization, and customer service.  

Interface with AVL systems tends to be provided for the driver as part of a driver’s console and for the operator at a control center. The primary navigational technologies utilized in AVL systems include GPS, dead-reckoning systems, station or roadside detectors, sub-surface detector loops, and wireless triangulation.

How to implement automatic vehicle location technology?

Implementation of AVL technology typically includes the installment of telematics devices in vehicles. Usually, vehicle location data is collected by a standard GPS locator. It’s integrated into the telematics module which then transmits the tracking data.  

Transit providers can then choose an off-the-shelf vehicle tracking solution. This can be a comprehensive fleet management system with a routing module or it could be a separate GPS fleet tracking system. Some additional features based on preference include advanced tracking technologies that monitor vehicle use as well as driver behavior, fleet tracking hardware, and software that come with live traffic, and weather reporting. Additional options such as alerts for theft and unauthorized movements, temperature monitoring, detailed reports on vehicle use, and driver behavior are also available for purchase and integration, depending on the agency’s budget and needs.  

Transit agencies can then Integrate the chosen software into their management system. 

General Costs

The general costs of AVL typically revolve around procurement, installation, and the software for the onboard device, and the control center. There are additional costs when it comes to labor, maintenance, and training staff who will operate these systems. Prices of AVL systems vary depending on the size, the number of components, and the sophistication of the particular model and system.

Additional System Features

AVL systems come in a wide range of models that can be implemented according to the transit agency’s needs and capacity. On the one hand, we have models with simplistic basic features such as GPS/ DGPS AVL that feature computerized dispatching, mobile data terminals, and silent alarms. On the other end of the spectrum are models that come with highly sophisticated features. These systems actually cost cheaper for bigger-sized agencies operating large fleets that require similar features and functionality, as the cost of the central monitoring system is distributed over a larger number of vehicles. 

AVL can be a great first step toward the implementation of a comprehensive ITS strategy. Common upgrades to enhance a transit agency’s AVL system includes GPS, mobile data terminals (MDTs), security alarms for transit drivers, next-arrival time at transit stops, fixed-route scheduling software integration, and wireless local area network (WLAN) monitoring. 

They can be used to track vehicles in real-time, log on-time performance to be used in reporting, or help with computer-aided dispatch (CAD) operations. They are also used to inform Real-time Passenger Information (RTPI) systems regarding arrival and departure times that are displayed at bus shelters, inside mobile apps, etc. 

Automatic vehicle location is perhaps one of the most adopted and highly praised systems by transportation agencies, no matter the size. It’s the type of technology that has become a standard for any business or transit agency that wants to remotely track the location of its vehicle fleet, and improve the management of systems, operations as well as customer service. We’re bound to see some exciting developments in these technologies as more companies invest in AVL systems, realizing the tremendous potential and benefits that come from implementing them into their business.