October 5, 2020
In our recent webinar, The Future of Reliability, we caught up with three agencies — Capital Metro in Austin, TX; Miami-Dade Transit in Miami, FL; and ComfortDelGro in New South Wales, Australia — to hear how they’re using Swiftly’s Onboard App to improve reliability during the COVID-19 pandemic. All three agencies are using Onboard App to rethink how they manage on-time performance and headway adherence, all without major capital expenditures or proprietary hardware. Here’s what we found out.
Capital Metro — 48% fewer early timepoint departures
“I’ve long wanted to test out our hope and belief that one day we could move away from a large, clunky, proprietary CAD/AVL system. Swiftly’s Onboard App has done exactly that.”
— Dottie Watkins, COO, CapMetro
Like most transit agencies, operations at Capital Metro in Austin, TX, have taken a hit during the pandemic. Weekday service was reduced to Sunday levels for more than six months, a sacrifice in its own right, but even more meaningful due to the fact that it rolled back a 2018 system redesign that introduced high-frequency service to much of Austin.
And while frequent service is slowly returning at CapMetro to accommodate incoming University of Texas students, variable traffic conditions have significantly complicated the process.
“Early departures have always been something we’ve struggled with, but right now they’re especially hard,” says Dottie Watkins, CapMetro’s Chief Customer Officer and Chief Operating Officer. “Traffic is really hard to predict because people are still working from home and aren’t commuting. So for many bus operators who are used to having to push and push to not be late, in current light traffic conditions, operators are constantly arriving early.”
Onboard App has helped vehicle operators combat the urge to make it to their next timepoint as quickly as possible. “The interface is very easy for the operators to look at,” Watkins says. “In fact, once you get used to it, you don’t even have to look at it. You just see what color it is out of the corner of your eye and you know what that means. So it’s really helped our operators stay on track without having to decipher anything.”
Onboard App has also proved a long-standing theory of Watkins’ — that CapMetro could get state-of-the-art onboard tools without the proprietary hardware. “I’ve long wanted to test out our hope and belief that one day we can move away from a large, clunky, proprietary CAD/AVL system,” she says. “Swiftly’s Onboard App has done exactly that. We can simply put off-the-shelf tablets on our vehicles, load an app, and send real-time information to our workforce, avoiding any sort of large, closed, proprietary pieces of equipment along the way.”
Miami-Dade Transit — Accurate passenger predictions and full visibility for new contracted service
“Basically any vehicle can now be part of our transit service in a matter of minutes. It’s a game changer. This will fundamentally change how we think about scaling up and down our services in the future.”
— Carlos Cruz-Casas, Asst. Director, Miami-Dade Transit
The pandemic has presented a different set of challenges for the team at Miami-Dade Transit. They’ve maintained 100% of their pre-COVID service, even expanding daytime service in some cases, but have significantly reduced vehicle occupancy to follow social distancing guidelines. This means they now require many more vehicles to run the same amount of service, something they’ve had to get very creative about.
“We reached out to local transportation services to get our hands on any type of vehicle we could,” Carlos Cruz-Casas, Assistant Director of Miami-Dade Transit. “I’m talking about cutaway buses and even some tour buses. We needed a lot of capacity and right away.” Complicating an already complicated situation, Miami-Dade Transit works across nearly 30 municipalities, each with its own way of doing things.
Quickly scaling up the vehicle fleet has been hard enough; scaling up these vehicles’ onboard technology and GPS units across 30 municipalities has been even harder. “We need GPS units to make sure our vehicles are sending info to real-time apps,” Cruz-Casas says. “We need to see what our vehicles are doing, and more importantly, our riders need to be able to see when the next bus is coming.”
Onboard App has helped on both fronts, offering a simple way to put onboard technology onto their vehicle fleet. “We have iPads on our list of approved purchases from Miami-Dade County,” he explains. “So we just went and purchased some tablets, uploaded the Swiftly Onboard App on each of them, and they were ready to roll. We were able to set up each bus in a matter of minutes. Usually it takes several hours per bus, if not longer. And each of these tablets has GPS built in.”
“Basically any vehicle can now be part of our transit service in a matter of minutes,” Cruz-Casas says. “It’s a game changer. This will fundamentally change how we think about scaling up and down our services in the future.”
ComfortDelGro — On-time performance increases by 6% and early departures decrease by 38%
“Onboard App’s constant feedback enables drivers to make micro-adjustments that are far more palatable to everybody. It makes our goal of 95% on-time running much easier to hit as well.”
— Wayne Jeff, CEO, ComfortDelGro
New South Wales may be a hemisphere away, but the pandemic has nonetheless deeply impacted transit service in Australia’s most populous state. ComfortDelGro, a contractor-operator that manages a 600-vehicle fleet through its Hillbus business in the north-western suburbs of Sydney, has searched for ways to maintain on-time performance in the face of the pandemic’s variable traffic conditions.
“Our main KPI is maintaining 95% on-time performance,” says Wayne Jeff, CEO of ComfortDelGro. “COVID has presented challenges in timetable compliance because there’s been so much less traffic on the roads. And then there’s headway-based service, which we had to switch to for spacing guidelines. All the while, our drivers are largely an unsupervised workforce. They come and collect their keys then head out onto the road and do their services. It’s quite difficult to ensure they’re keeping to the schedule in real time. Being proactive has been hard.”
Onboard App has helped ComfortDelGro maintain on-time performance by offering their distributed workforce a way to manage their own on-time performance and headway adherence in real time. “Once a driver is three minutes early, there’s not much they can do about correcting that. If they wait at a timepoint, it’s just going to annoy everybody on the bus,” Jeff says. “So Onboard App’s constant feedback enables drivers to make micro-adjustments that are far more palatable to everybody. It makes our goal of 95% on-time running much easier to hit as well.”
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