Automatic vehicle location is one of the first steps toward a comprehensive transformation that a transit agency can take. AVL technology has the capacity to enhance fleet performance and improve the rider experience in a matter of weeks. This includes higher accuracy of data being pushed to users, better schedules, and easier management. Let’s take an in-depth look at this fascinating system and discover the main benefits of the AVL technology and the ways in which it brings added value to public transit!
What is an Automatic Vehicle Location system?
Automatic vehicle location is the technology that allows vehicles to transmit their location and map it onto vehicle tracking systems. In public transportation, AVL plays a crucial role. It allows transit agencies to monitor the performance of their vehicles, adjust schedules and routes, and provide better service. It also gives riders accurate information about the whereabouts of vehicles and when they will reach the nearest stop. The technology used to push location information to user-facing digital signage, web portals and mobile applications is called Real-time Passenger Information (RTPI) and is an inseparable part of every modern transit system.
How does it work?
Automatic vehicle location is a wireless data communication system. There are two main types of AVL systems, passive and active. Passive systems log data within an onboard device for later retrieval. Active systems contain a communication module (cellular, radio or satellite modem) that transmits the information from the location module to an end user who can control the frequency of the updates. Active systems may also feature onboard data storage capacity for when the real-time service is interrupted.
There are several types of technologies that can be utilized for data transmission: simple direction finding, LORAN-based locating, signpost systems, and, most recently, GPS.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) technology was originally developed for military use by the US Department of Defense – the first satellite launch was back in 1978. GPS transmitters nowadays are smaller than a fingernail and are very energy efficient. They are also rather cheap, which makes them the preferred choice. GPS transmitters can be installed in already existing pieces of equipment inside vehicles such as onboard computers and validators.
Automatic vehicle location provides the vital link between vehicles, operation centers and riders. Thus, it is a critical part of every smart transit system.
Benefits of its applications
We already touched upon some of the benefits of the AVL technology, but let’s discuss at length its importance and value to both transit agencies and end users (riders).
One of the first and most important benefits of AVL is its ability to provide real-time location information to the agency – information that can be used to significantly optimize operations. This type of information includes real-time data about rider behavior (fare purchases, validations or tap ins/tap outs, route searches, etc.), as well as vehicle performance (on-time performance, vehicle status, etc.). This information can be used to quickly determine which routes are cost-effective, whether routes need optimizations to deliver better results to the community, when are more vehicles needed on some routes and when their number can be reduced without affecting riders. It can also serve as incidence response – for example, when route deviations are needed due to road closures or accidents, dispatchers can quickly pass this information to drivers so that the service suffers the least disruption. Data is today’s best currency and transit agencies are quickly learning how to capitalize on the vast troves of information that an account-based system can provide!
Another important benefit of AVL systems is their ability to provide real-time information to riders. Real-time passenger information is GPS data served in a GTFS/GTFS-RT stream pushed to infotainment systems and digital signage (onboard or at bus shelters), mobile applications or web portals. In our fast-paced world, this is a functionality that many riders are expecting to have, no matter the size of the city they live in. It is critical to the usability aspect of any system as it makes it more likely for people to integrate public transit into their lives if they do not have any uncertainty as to when the bus will arrive or how much time their journey will take. With a high-quality AVL system, real-time passenger information can be more accurate and thus more reliable.
Implementation of AVL systems
AVL modules can be quickly installed on public transit vehicles – whether inside the main wireframe or within an onboard device. At Modeshift, we prefer the ‘one device’ approach. The system does not use any proprietary hardware, but we can supply transit agencies with equipment provided by trusted partners, including an onboard validator that has a built-in GPS tracking system module and modem.
The GPS locator module can then be synced to the back office where a Computer-aided Dispatch (CAD) panel and an Analytics system translate the location data into usable insights and commands.
Do you need an AVL system?
The short answer is yes. No modern transit agency will be able to serve its riders adequately without one. We believe that moving into the present and future of mobility does not need to involve a lot of effort, and this is why we built our mobility infrastructure with ease of use in mind. Every module fits perfectly with the others, and AVL is no exception. Contact us today so we can talk about your city’s transit service digital transformation!