August 10, 2021

Introducing APC Connector: Ridership Data Done Right

Matt Fleck

Accurately measuring ridership today is difficult

Ridership is one of the most important metrics in all of transit, so why is it so hard to accurately capture and analyze? Not only does ridership hold the key to understanding who rides transit where and when, but it also helps secure federal funding and offers a snapshot of the overall health of a transit agency. So why are existing ridership data solutions so clunky, fickle, and expensive?

Here at Swiftly, we believe that ridership data is far too important to leave it to status quo solutions like onboard Vehicle Logic Units (VLUs) or manual tallying. That’s why we’re launching our latest product, which modernizes the process of capturing and analyzing ridership metrics. We’re calling it APC Connector.

Introducing Swiftly’s APC Connector

APC Connector is a ridership data solution that brings the process of tallying riders into the 21st century. APC Connector allows Swiftly customers to connect their Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs) directly to the internet: users simply connect their Iris or UTA cloud-enabled APC sensors to any onboard router, and Swiftly intakes the data and presents it in easy-to-use formats.

APC Connector is ridership data done right. Real-time and historical ridership counts all flow into one central place; unlimited users can access the data; and the data is downloadable via CSV files or API exports, whichever fits your workflow. And best of all, there is no additional Swiftly hardware onboard the vehicle to process the data. It’s 100% cloud-based.

APC Connector is different from the most common solutions in that it’s modular, cloud-based, and API-friendly. Passenger counts are automatically uploaded, providing operations and passengers with near real-time visibility into ridership numbers. The integration between Swiftly and APC units is also purely over the Internet, not through wires on the vehicle. This eliminates hardwired integrations to VLUs, which makes it much easier and cost-effective to update APC deployments as necessary. And like all of Swiftly’s products, APC Connector offers unlimited users per account, so all agency staff can easily access ridership information.

For Swiftly Real-time Passenger Predictions customers, inbound APC data also displays in the Real-Time Crowding view of the Live Operations module. This allows staff to view passenger loads in real time and automatically publish real-time crowding conditions to rider-facing apps like Transit and Google Maps. 

APC Connector is part of the Swiftly’s Metronome product line, which aims to break agencies free of the tangle of hardware-centric transit tools that have dominated the industry for decades. Our vision is to transform how agencies procure and manage onboard and offboard systems by offering open, API-driven tools that freely integrate with all the tools an agency needs. Our vision is to be able to allow agencies to choose any vendor they like for any onboard hardware or offboard software because Swiftly has open data access to allow all systems to work with one another. APC Connector is built on the same open data standards as the rest of the Swiftly platform, so all real-time information can easily integrate with almost any apps that an agency uses. 

APC Connector eliminates clunky, expensive onboard integrations

We’re particularly excited about APC Connector because it means agencies can now sidestep the most common limitations associated with collecting and processing ridership data.

For agencies that use APCs to count passengers, APC Connector eliminates the need to rely on clunky onboard VLUs or CAD/AVL hardware to process APC data. These onboard computers often output ridership data in hard-to-use formats, like PDFs or Word docs, making it nearly impossible to parse without tedious data entry and processing. APC Connector presents the data in the most common file formats, so it’s easy to upload into Excel, Tableau, or whatever data software you use. When ridership data is easy to access and straightforward to analyze, you can look at ridership trends on a regular basis, not just when you have time for tedious data collation and entry. 

Traditional VLU and CAD/AVL deployments rely on physical wires and proprietary data formats to ingest APC data. This means that with traditional deployments, if you’re unhappy with how your VLUs or CAD/AVLs are performing, you have to re-install new onboard VLUs, costing thousands if not millions. Because APC Connector is 100% cloud-based, there’s no additional Swiftly hardware on vehicles. Cloud-based APC sensors become much more modular in nature -- one step closer to mixing and matching whichever solutions you prefer.

For agencies that don’t use APCs on their vehicles, APC Connector makes obtaining APCs much more within reach. Many smaller agencies find traditional APC deployments to be cost-prohibitive because they require connections into expensive CAD/AVL systems, an insurmountable barrier for more modest budgets. Agency staff often resort to pen and paper to tally and analyze their ridership instead. APC Connector completely removes the need to use VLUs or CAD/AVL systems to process ridership data. While APCs are still required, this type of streamlined deployment eliminates the costliest part of a typical APC integration and makes automated ridership tallies a much more realistic investment.

Common use cases and benefits of APC Connector

Below are some of the most common uses for APC Connector:

  • Informing regular schedule updates, temporary stop placements, stop amenity upgrades, network redesigns, and infrastructure projects like Transit Signal Priority.
  • Optimizing planning decisions that distribute resources in a way that benefits the greatest number of riders
  • Communicating with elected officials and the public through community and public hearings to make cases based on ridership counts.
  • Reporting to the National Transit Database (NTD).
  • Adjusting service in real-time to ensure social distancing and rider comfort when vehicles become crowded.
  • Empowering passengers with information about crowding levels in real time.

…and some of the biggest benefits of APCs in general...

  • Accuracy - Modern Automatic Passenger Counters are highly accurate, whereas manual counting is subject to human error by vehicle operators who have other, higher priorities - like driving safely and keeping customers happy. APC Connector makes it much simpler to rely on APCs rather than defaulting to hand-tallying boardings and alightings.
  • Safety - Asking drivers to count every passenger is a distraction that may impact safe driving. APC Connector makes it much simpler to let an APC do the job of tallying riders, rather than the operator.

…and the biggest benefits of APCs Connector:

  • Real-time crowding - Informing passengers of vehicle passenger loads helps keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is only practicable with a fully automated system that integrates with the customer-facing apps you use. APC Connector can automatically send real-time crowding information to Transit, Google Maps, and more.
  • Counting alightings, not just boardings - If you're only counting boardings, you can't understand vehicle load, overcrowding, or origin/destination patterns of ridership. APC Connector can manage both boardings and alightings and presents the data in easy-to-parse formats.
  • Counting fare-free customers - Fareboxes can't count fare-free riders. This limitation has been exacerbated as many agencies have gone fare-free during COVID-19. APC Connector makes it much easier and practical to validate or audit fare collection rather than proxies like farebox tallies.

Agencies already love APC Connector

Transit professionals are already seeing the benefits of APC Connector at their agencies (read our case study with RTA Maryland for the full story):

  • "Swiftly’s APC Connector is an automatic way to collect ridership data and seamlessly pair it against the static schedule and real-time data. It gives you the benefits of the APC without having to set up hardware manually. It works seamlessly with the data we already have, so we're leveraging the strength of our current system. If we change something it is reflected immediately." - Cole McCarren, RTA Maryland

  • “Not only is this going to save our agency a whole lot of work because we don’t have to worry about keeping a dozen different databases up to date, but we can have a much more centralized approach for a decentralized deployment. It's going to have better outcomes, because things are more accurate. There won’t be a lot of duplication. And agencies are going to have flexibility, because if vendors can build around these standards, we're going to be able to foster more marketplace competition, which will have better results for the industry as a whole. And I think big and small agencies all have a role to play in pushing the industry in that direction.” - Cole McCarren, RTA Maryland

Give ridership data the flexibility it deserves

Ridership is one of the most fundamental aspects of public transit. With APC Connector, we’re excited to give agencies a modern solution that will help paint a detailed, real-time picture of ridership in their service area. Ridership is too important of a metric not to.

Want to see how APC Connector could work at your agency? Reach out for an in-depth demo.

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