Blog

August 31, 2020

Introducing Swiftly’s Onboard App

by Matt Fleck

Swiftly’s Onboard App is an operator-facing app that empowers your operators to manage their own on-time performance in real time.

Vehicle operators are the bridge between the transit service you plan and the transit service you actually provide. But all too often operators are disconnected from the real-time data you see in the Operations Control Center, meaning that the staff actually executing the schedule often rely on intuition over hard data. And when they do have on onboard tech to help, it’s usually less powerful than the cell phones in their pockets.


Today we’re excited to launch Swiftly’s Onboard App, a new tool that tackles this challenge head on. Onboard App puts Swiftly’s best-in-class real-time data in front of vehicle operators to take the guesswork out of maintaining reliable transit service — and in the process, rethinks the way your transit tools fit together.


Introducing Onboard App


Simplicity and subtlety are at the core of Onboard App’s design.

Swiftly’s Onboard App, like the name suggests, is an app to use onboard your transit vehicles. Onboard App gives operators simple and immediate feedback about how they’re driving their route in the form of a screen with timing adherence (early/late/on time), empowering them to manage their own on-time performance and headway adherence in real time. It’s like a personal assistant for your operators, developed wholly with your operators in mind and based on operator feedback.


Simplicity and subtlety are at the core of Onboard App. Unlike existing MDT (Mobile Data Terminal) units, Onboard App requires no integrations with other onboard systems and is completely hardware-agnostic. Onboard App is a true app in this sense: it doesn’t require any specialized or expensive hardware to run it.


The app uses the built-in GPS feature on Android or iOS devices to capture the vehicle’s location then sends it to the Swiftly cloud, where our algorithms compare the location against where the vehicle is scheduled to be at that exact moment. For headway-based service, our algorithms also incorporate the locations of other vehicles on the same route. The operator then receives this information in the form of real-time, onboard feedback on the tablet’s screen.


Rethinking how transit tools fit together


Our vision is to transform how agencies procure Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) by unbundling transit hardware from dispatching software. As the industry continues to adopt open data standards like GTFS and GTFS-Real Time, the components of a complete ITS will become increasingly interchangeable.


What makes Onboard App truly unique is its ability to separate your onboard hardware from your onboard software. Onboard App won’t lock you into proprietary hardware that you have to buy from us. Onboard App is just an app: you bring the tablets and upgrade them or deploy more whenever you want. This means Onboard App can run alongside any existing CAD/AVL system you have or instead of buying an expensive new CAD/AVL system.


Onboard App eliminates many of the common problems presented by existing solutions:


1. Accurate data.

Nearly all traditional MDTs on the market run proprietary software with proprietary data. These suffer from poor AVL ping rates (up 6 minutes between pings) and substandard or nonexistent predictive algorithms. Data displayed on MDTs is so unreliable, in fact, that vehicle operators are commonly instructed not to look at the devices.


Swiftly’s Onboard App presents your drivers with the same best-in-class real-time data that you find in Swiftly’s agency-facing dashboard and for passengers. Our real-time schedule and headway adherence calculations are up to 30% more accurate than other predictions solutions because they take into account vehicle performance with every location ping, not just at passed time points. Now your operators will have access to the world’s most accurate real-time data to help them understand if they’re on track.


The tablets that run Onboard App also act as an additional GPS and assignment source, expanding fleet visibility. This not only strengthens Onboard App’s performance, but also improves data integrity for the Swiftly platform generally.


2. Intuitive interfaces.


Existing MDT solutions have poor design, low resolution, and generally confusing interfaces. They require so much training that operators may not always use them as designed, if at all. Operators simply don’t have time to analyze a complex display while they’re trying to drive safely and deliver a good experience to passengers.


Onboard App is designed to show operators what they need at a glance, so they can focus on the job. The design is intentionally subtle but informative to limit distraction and encourage safe driving. Swiftly’s design philosophy is rooted in the idea that everyone at your agency should be able to interpret your transit data.


What makes Onboard App truly unique is its ability to separate your onboard hardware from your onboard software. Onboard App is just an app: you bring the tablets and upgrade them or deploy more whenever you want.


3. Easy procurement.


Traditional MDTs cost thousands of dollars per vehicle. It’s a massive capital expense, and many small and medium-sized agencies simply can’t afford them.


For agencies that can afford traditional MDTs, every onboard unit further entrenches the CAD/AVL software vendor. If you want to replace your dispatching software, for example, you have to replace all your MDTs too. If you want to add new buses to the fleet, you have to go back to your CAD/AVL vendor for a proprietary installation.


With Onboard App, none of this is necessary. Modern off-the-shelf tablets are high-quality, easy to replace, and can always be repurposed from or to other projects at your agency. Best of all, they’re under your control, so you don’t have to ask your CAD/AVL vendor for an upgrade or for more units. And the cherry on top? A tablet plus Onboard App costs about one-tenth the price of a typical MDT.


4. Future-proof.


Hardware on vehicles today is used for 10, 15, or even 20 years. The cell phone in your pocket is likely much more powerful than your onboard hardware.


Not only are current MDTs well behind current advances in technology; they also don’t interoperate with systems of the future. Off-the-shelf tablets provide you a way to cheaply upgrade hardware at more frequent cycles and take full advantage of modern software advances. Onboard App also enables agencies with aging fleets to get modern technology now without waiting until it’s time to replace the entire fleet.


Common use cases of Onboard App


If your agency has an existing MDT deployment, you can roll out Onboard App alongside your existing units or on new vehicles with no MDTs to dynamically manage your service during the pandemic without an expensive expansion of your monolithic CAD/AVL contract.


If you’re at a smaller agency, Onboard App is like a better, radically less expensive CAD/AVL system.


Here are some of the most common use cases of Onboard App:

  • Improving on-time performance. Onboard App empowers operators to mitigate early departures and bunching on their own. This is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic: many vehicles are running hot due to reduced traffic, which causes more passengers to miss their bus and may cause overcrowding. Onboard App guides operators to wait at timepoints when they’re running early to ensure reliability and reduce this risk.
  • Maintaining headways on high-frequency routes. Many agencies have switched partially or entirely to headway-based service during the pandemic to prioritize consistent vehicle spacing — but keeping vehicles spaced in real-time requires constant small adjustments throughout the fleet. Onboard App displays accurate bunching and gapping status directly to operators, so they can maintain headways without constant intervention from dispatch.
  • Better GPS and more accurate predictions. Accurate passenger information is more important than ever during COVID-19. Onboard App provides high-quality GPS and vehicle assignment information, which helps reduce ghost buses and improves prediction accuracy.
  • The tablet you use to run Onboard App will also double as a GPS tracker. This means that smaller agencies that don’t currently have GPS trackers on their vehicles can kill two birds with one stone, giving their operators real-time feedback on on-time performance while ALSO collecting GPS data that can help with real-time insights and historical performance analysis.
  • GPS and assignment for new service. Agencies often add new vehicles and service during extraordinary circumstances, including the pandemic. Outfitting these new vehicles with MDTs can be an expensive and time-intensive barrier. With Onboard App, agencies can ensure passengers get predictions for these new vehicles and internal staff are able to monitor them along with the rest of the fleet. Deployment takes days instead of months.
  • Helping during operator shortages. Operator shortages during the pandemic are forcing operators to drive unfamiliar routes. Onboard App gives real-time guidance to remove the guesswork around staying on time. Onboard App also helps boost driver morale by giving them instant feedback and enabling them to easily do their job even better while keeping controllers/dispatchers focused on higher-priority issues.
  • Reduced liquidated damages for private transit operators. Private operation contracts often have service level agreements requiring certain performance standards. By supporting operator performance, Onboard App helps ensure you meet these standards and avoid liquidated damages.


Onboard App’s results so far


ComfortDelGro — New South Wales, Australia

  • Early timepoint departures have decreased by 37% in vehicles using the Onboard App vs. vehicles without
  • On-time performance has increased by 7% in vehicles using the Onboard App vs. vehicles without increase
  • Magnitude of earlies has decreased by 6% in the vehicles using Onboard App vs vehicles without
  • Risk mitigation for contractual penalties of up to $3 million per year in liquidated damages
  • Ability to bid competitively on new frequency-based service
“One of the things we love about Swiftly’s Onboard App is how immediate and simple the feedback is. It’s a clear, simple visual and I think that’s the key to the success here.”
— Wayne Jeff, CEO, ComfortDelGro Australia (CDC)


Read the case study here for ComfortDelGro’s complete Onboard App story.


Tahoe Transportation District — Lake Tahoe Area, CA/NV

  • Early timepoint departures have decreased by 55% in vehicles using the Onboard App vs. vehicles without
  • On-time performance has increased by 6% in vehicles using the Onboard App vs. vehicles without
  • Magnitude of earlies is 17% lower in the vehicles using Onboard App vs. vehicles without (from an average of 10 minutes to an average 8 minutes)
“With an aging fleet, we are seeking to maximize utility while minimizing costs. Onboard App allows us to deploy newer technologies without expensive physical hardware. It’s a lightweight solution that delivers, which lets us expand technology with our needs.”
— Tara Styer, Operations Manager, Tahoe Transportation District (TTD)


Santa Maria Area Transit (Operated by RATP Dev) — Santa Maria, CA

  • Early timepoint departures have decreased by 44% in vehicles using Onboard App vs. vehicles without
  • On-time performance has increased by 8% in vehicles using Onboard App vs. vehicles without
“Onboard App is exactly the way I envision the operator participating in the process of keeping on-time performance for our system. I’ve seen other ways of presenting the information to an operator, but this is by far the simplest. It’s a fantastic way for operators to check their performance in real time and reaffirm to themselves that they’re doing well while adhering to the schedule.

I would recommend this to any of my colleagues if they’re examining available technology to improve on-time performance.”
— Ken Smithson, RATP Dev, Contract Operator of Santa Maria Area Transit (SMAT)


Interested in seeing how Onboard App could work at your agency? Reach out for a demo today!

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