Are you ready to erase paper inspections?

 In blog, Commentary, Industry, Technology

Here’s what you need to know about digital trip inspection.

By Matt Schroeder
Director of Marketing, ETA Transit Systems

One of the more popular feature requests we receive for our SPOT™ ITS platform is digital pre-and post-trip inspection, also known as driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIR). It certainly seems that transit operators are eager to transition from manual or paper processes to connected digital logging and report solutions.

Historically trip inspection involves four things:

  • A driver
  • A clipboard
  • A pre-printed paper form
  • A pencil or pen

It’s a wonderfully simple process: a driver walks around a vehicle, looking for signs of damage, maintenance concerns, or any number of issues mandated by transit management. He documents his findings and turns the form over to a supervisor for followup.

There are concerns, of course.

  • A driver, late to start his route, may not give the inspection process the time it requires (pencil-whipping) and will miss some important safety items.
  • An administrative assistant may not notice that she transposed some numbers when she use the inspection report to create a work order for the maintenance team.
  • The documents themselves are easily lost or subject to the perils of office life, like spilled coffee or misfiling.
  • And let’s not get started with how poor handwriting can impact an inspection report.

These are among the many issues that digital inspection aims to solve:

  • Eliminate transcription errors
  • Minimize “pencil whipped” inspections
  • Improve the ability of the maintenance teams to manage repairs and engage in proactive maintenance
  • Improve vehicle safety
  • Eliminate the expense of printing/reprinting maintenance forms
  • Automatic notifications to maintence or fleet supervisors of potential issues

The move from manual processes to digital inspections isn’t a concern among transit operations. They welcome it and all the benefits it brings to their agency. The software for implementing these inspections exists and is transit-tested.

Making the switch to digital

Deciding to make the switch is the easy part, now comes the hard part—which DVIR technology to choose? And this can be tricky because due to the current limitations of transit technology, there are some nuanced approaches to solving the trip inspection question.

On the surface, it would seem obvious that every inspection solution would involve a portable device that a driver or maintenance team member would use to log the inspection. In truth, when ETA began exploring the creation of a DVIR solution, that’s exactly where we started—with a removable mobile data terminal (MDT).

We quickly found out that a removable MDT ran into connectivity issues. No matter how securely that MDT was mounted on the bus or shuttle, the act of removing and reseating the device wore down the pin connector and charging cables over time. In just a matter of months, the removable MDT option became unusable and could no longer be counted on to provide data to the ITS or charge reliably. What about Qi chargers you ask? We explored that as well and found very few transit-tested ruggedized wireless charging options—an example of where the technology hasn’t matured to the point where its ready for prime time mass transportation.

We explored a mounted MDT solution as well. This approach solved the communication and power issues, however it introduced other drawbacks to the solution. Inspections took longer, accuracy suffered, it was impossible to take photos of areas of concern, and drivers became more likely to “pencil whip” through the process which negated any benefit as a solution for safety or maintenance issues.

We also took a deep dive into Bluetooth™ technology to see if strategically places switches on the vehicle would present drivers with a simpler inspection tool—each button would represent an inspection item. If an item was okay, set the switch to “yes,” if there was an issue, select “no.” It was an interesting approach, but lacked the detail necessary for meaningful followup by maintenance teams. Limitations of accurate Bluetooth communication over distance also proved a challenging obstacle to overcome.

Our journey forced us to take a step back and consider the factors that would influence the choice of DVIR solutions—not from a place of technology, but of real-world considerations. Understanding what a driver or maintenance team needed was a more important driver of choice than conquering the limitations of technology. We identified the following factors that are critical to address before a trip inspection is implemented:

Device security:

  • Do they store the inspection device in the vehicle or secure them elsewhere?
  • Can they afford to replace trip inspection devices if they are damaged or stolen?
  • How long is the replacement cycle for damaged or stolen devices?

Data management:

  • How will they manage the data collected?
  • Will this data import require additional software development?
  • What is the criticality of this data to other areas of the operation?
  • Are there costs associated with processing and storing data?
  • How long is data stored/accessible?

Driver safety:

  • Is there room on the vehicle to install the device?
  • Would installation block driver access to other vehicle systems?
  • Will installation obscure driver view of the road, doors, exits, etc.?

Technology adoption:

  • Is the solution easy to use?
  • Does the solution present a significant learning curve for drivers, dispatchers, and maintenance teams?
  • What will be the level of resistance toward the adoption of this feature?
  • How might the system be exploited or subverted?
  • Have all parties been consulted and included in the decision-making process?

Our recommended solution

Our path to DVIR discovery let us to a path that we hadn’t originally considered—the use of a rugged smartphone to handle inspections. The solution checks all the boxes:

  • Puts an affordable portable device in the hands of drivers to log potential issues
  • Protects data collection integrity by keeping MDTs secure and locked down
  • Requires very little real estate within the driver cockpit to install a charging dock (or can reside in a driver’s pocket)
  • Delivers hours of battery life
  • Provides a secure platform from which to operate and allows the same device to be used elsewhere—such as VoIP

It’s a simple, yet elegant solution that simplifies trip inspection and improves the safety and reliability of a transit fleet. It’s a solution that we our are proud to introduce to the market. If you’d like to learn more, please visit etatransit.com/pre-trip-inspection or call a member of our sales team at (800) 382-0917.

Closing thoughts

A pre-trip inspection solution can provide numerous advantages to transit operation and contribute to the overall safety and reliability of the fleet. Sometimes there is a gap between what software can do and the availability of hardware to support it. Nowhere is this more evident than the current state of driver vehicle inspection technology.

Still, a transit agency may have to weigh the adoption of a DVIR solution against potential shortcomings that may not lead to a “right-fit” adoption. Our advice is to speak with your ITS provider and solicit outside vendors to take full stock of your available options before making that transition from paper to digital inspection. Once you find that ideal blend of technology and features, you’ll be amazed at how much your fleet will benefit from cost savings, reliability, and performance.

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