Since 1870, OC Transpo has been the City of Ottawa's public transit provider. The organization operates approximately 1,050 buses and a light-rail system while serving a population of close to 900,000. On a typical weekday, OC Transpo provides nearly 365,000 rides with routes spanning the entire Ottawa region.
On a daily basis during two peak periods, up to 850 buses roll out of the garage. Inevitably, some of these buses fall behind or jump ahead of schedule. Previously, OC Transpo had limited information on schedule adherence unless a driver or other staff member realized the situation. It was this lack of real-time visibility into the bus system, coupled with a desire to improve driver and bus efficiency that led OC Transpo to search for an automated software solution to analyze bus performance.
Getting the Right Technology Partners on the Bus
OC Transpo set out to create a software solution that would ultimately help citizens arrive at destinations consistently on-time by bus. Key objectives for the project were enhanced driver and customer safety, improved service quality, and increased operational efficiency.
Through a competitive evaluation process, OC Transpo selected Bell Canada and x-wave to provide design and implementation services for the solution, with key technologies contributed by Sybase. The result of combining the technology and the intellectual capital of these companies with OC Transpo's expertise is Transit OnRoute, a transit-specific, computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location system that relies on global positioning technology to track vehicle location and provide real-time views of the entire transit fleet. The project also entailed the deployment of mobile data terminals on 1,050 buses.
A key attribute of Transit OnRoute is the ease with which it can be integrated with other systems. Open interfaces, operating systems and databases – used both in the vehicles and at the dispatch center – facilitate smooth integration with existing and future external systems. For example, Transit OnRoute automatically imports data from an external transit-scheduling system, and a wide range of configuration options are available to support different transit business models.
Sybase Technology is Crucial to Success
OC Transpo particularly relied on technology from Sybase, including SQL Anywhere for mobile database management, and Afaria to remotely manage the mobile computer software on the 1,000+ mobile data devices on the buses and other vehicles. The combined Sybase technologies give OC Transpo a unified solution and made it possible to design and build the mobile application in a robust and efficient manner so that features could be enabled, disabled or otherwise modified quickly.
OC Transpo can also easily change parameters in a central database to affect the entire fleet or select groups. This eliminates the need to visit every vehicle for software updates or other changes, representing a huge savings in time, cost and human resources. Steve Lassey, program manager at the City’s Information Technology Services department explains, “Sybase software is crucial to the Transit OnRoute solution. It provides the reliable and secure data synchronization we require and allows us the ability to remotely update, monitor and manage the mobile data terminals mounted in the buses.”
Information produced by the solution is easy to interpret quickly: a color scheme of red, yellow and green shows dispatchers which buses are functioning as expected and which ones are not. They not only see if an individual bus is off-schedule, they can also detect if 10, 20, 30 or more buses are off schedule. With this information, OC Transpo can immediately turn the information into a service action to improve performance.
The ability to see vehicle performance in real-time from the control center allows OC Transpo to know which buses are on schedule, and staff can see problems as they develop rather than after problems have already occurred. On one occasion, when a bus was stolen, the system’s GPS tracking quickly revealed its location and enabled a fast recovery and arrest. In addition to tracking the whereabouts of transit vehicles, Transit OnRoute also enhances communications between drivers and controllers by providing text messaging and emergency-signaling functions. Each driver can instantly see whether the bus is on-time, behind schedule or ahead of schedule. This enables corrective action to be taken immediately by the driver.
Management can also view the whole transit system at once or focus on sections of the system when necessary, such as when traffic congestion might affect bus routes. The new solution allows OC Transpo to act on information regarding bus performance that it simply did not have previously.
Cost Savings and an Improvement in Efficiency
The Transit OnRoute solution’s success is due to the teamwork behind the development and implementation. Working closely with all of the hardware and software vendors, OC Transpo created a solution that closely matched the business needs and required minimal changes to business processes. This came at a cost far below that of a turnkey system, and with more flexibility and a much tighter fit with OC Transpo’s core business.
"The new solution has helped us maintain our good track record in public safety, but the implementation also represents a significant cultural change for OC Transpo,” says Bob Goody, manager of Transportation Operations at OC Transpo. “We can now proactively see bus performance and act on the information to make sure buses remain on-time as much as possible. We've also been able to make the overall system more efficient, which means we don't have to employ as many buses. Furthermore, we've reduced the need to purchase new buses by two or three per year – a savings of $750,000 per bus as well as an on-going operational savings of $70,000 per year per bus."
The reduction in capital costs, coupled with a wide range of operational savings across all of OC Transpo, the long-term ROI for the project could potentially reach $11.2 million after 10 years.
For the people of Ottawa, Transit OnRoute helps those that travel by bus get to their jobs and recreational activities on-time more consistently. In the bigger picture, the solution has helped reduce the amount of fleet exhaust emissions since OC Transpo now covers bus routes more efficiently with fewer bus trips. This also helps generate a positive public image for the organization, and was recently recognized by Computerworld Honors Awards as a finalist.
OC Transpo’s innovative and award-winning solution Transit OnRoute improves system efficiencies, reduces overall operating costs and at the same time, enhanced safety for bus drivers, and from a passenger's perspective – better service. That makes it easier for everyone to get on board.