Frequently asked questions
You're looking to modernize your transit operations, but you have a million questions regarding the needs of your business, and transit software in general. Let ETA Transit help lighten that burden with a collection of our most frequently asked questions about our SPOT software, CAD/AVL systems, and the needs of transit operation platforms.
Transit Software Questions
In public transportation, a CAD/AVL (Computer-Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location) system serves as a technological solution aimed at enhancing the efficiency of transit operations and improving the overall rider experience. Key components encompass:
On-board systems: These systems necessitate highly reliable on-board computers to transmit crucial information to the CAD/AVL management software. Additionally, they control various on-board “peripherals” such as announcements, farebox integration, digital signage, infotainment, and automatic passenger counters (APCs).
Back-office software: Modern CAD/AVL systems operate in the cloud, accessible from any Internet- connected device. Transit professionals utilize the software for a diverse array of functions, including dispatch, voice communications management, planning/scheduling, safety, on-time performance monitoring, reporting and analytics, and content management/delivery.
Real-time passenger information systems (RTIS): CAD/AVL systems play a role in simplifying transit accessibility, promoting mobility, and attracting more riders to the transit network. RTIS encompasses bus/train tracking websites, native phone apps for journey planning, and various digital display systems at bus stops, train stations, and on-board vehicles.
It really depends on the vendor. Experienced cloud-based vendors can install/test/deploy a small system with fewer than 50 buses in weeks. Larger systems with hundreds of buses can often be installed in 3-4 months.
Agencies are often surprised (if not suspicious) to hear that a quality system can be installed so quickly. This is largely based on their experience with suppliers who had difficulty meeting deadlines. Check references and ensure that the vendor does not need to develop new/unproven software to satisfy the project. In our experience, projects that require lots of new software don’t go well; buy from the vendor that already has what you need.
The cost of CAD/AVL systems can vary significantly, influenced by several key factors, including:
- The chosen vendor
- Hosting options (cloud-based or on-premises)
- Licensing model (unlimited versus per user)
- On-board equipment selection (e.g., high-quality transit-grade onboard computers versus inexpensive tablets/all-in-one computers)
- Module choices, such as voice radio integration, onboard TV screens for rich media and advertising, automatic passenger counters, etc.
In general, CAD/AVL system prices typically range between $15,000 and $35,000 per bus over a five-year period.
In transit ITS stands for Intelligent Transit System. An ITS can generally be considered super-set of CAD/AVL. For example, onboard mobile video surveillance is a component of an ITS but typically not provided by the CAD/AVL vendor. A properly designed ITS should include standards-based subsystems that are built with integration in mind. This means support for single-sign on (SSO), well established application programming interfaces (APIs), and a vendor that is excited to integrate with other technologies; even those of its competitors.
CAD/AVL systems record a wide array of data crucial for real-time operations management and historical reporting and analytics. The recorded information encompasses:
- Vehicle location, speed, idling, and dwell times
- Alerts and exceptions
- On-time performance metrics
- Telemetry data, including engine status
- Passenger boardings and alightings, categorized by route, trip, bus stop, operator, etc.
- Voice conversations between dispatch and the fleet
- System diagnostics monitoring network access, location accuracy, and connection status to connected peripherals such as fare boxes, APCs, digital signs, etc.
A CAD/AVL system allows for the generation of diverse reports to provide insights into transit operations. Some common types of reports that can be run from a CAD/AVL system include:
Vehicle Performance Reports:
- Vehicle location history
- Speed and idling duration
- Dwell times at stops
On-Time Performance Reports:
- Analysis of adherence to schedules
- Delays and deviations from planned routes
- Engine status and diagnostics
- Fuel consumption and efficiency
- EV battery charge status
Passenger Ridership Reports:
- Boardings and alightings data
- Passenger counts by route, trip, or specific bus stops
- Records of voice conversations between dispatch and the fleet
- Communication response times
System Health and Diagnostics Reports:
- Network access and stability
- Location accuracy and reliability
- Connection status with peripherals like fare boxes, APCs, digital signs, etc.
Incident and Event Reports:
- Records of notable incidents or events during transit operations
- Responses and resolutions to incidents
Operational Efficiency Reports:
- Analysis of overall system efficiency
- Identification of areas for improvement in transit operations
Historical Trend Analysis:
- Patterns and trends over time for various performance metrics
- Seasonal variations and long-term performance assessments
- Tailored reports based on specific requirements or key performance indicators (KPIs) identified by the transit agency.
- These reports collectively provide a comprehensive view of transit operations, enabling agencies to make informed decisions, optimize routes, enhance on-time performance, and improve overall efficiency.
The deployment schedule largely hinges on the chosen vendor. Seasoned cloud-based providers can install, test, and deploy a small system encompassing fewer than 50 buses within a matter of weeks. For larger systems involving hundreds of buses, the installation process often extends to 3-4 months.
Agencies are often surprised, if not skeptical, to learn that a high-quality system can be implemented so quickly. Such skepticism may arise from past experiences with suppliers struggling to meet deadlines. It is advisable to check references and ensure that the chosen vendor doesn’t need to develop new or unproven software for the project. Based on our experience, projects requiring extensive new software development tend to encounter challenges; therefore, it’s preferable to procure from a vendor that already possesses the necessary components.
The advantages of cloud-hosted CAD/AVL (Computer-Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location) systems include:
- Cloud-hosted systems can be accessed from any location with an internet connection, providing flexibility for dispatchers, supervisors, and other stakeholders to manage transit operations remotely.
- Cloud solutions allow for easy scalability, accommodating the growth or changes in the transit system without the need for significant infrastructure upgrades.
- Cloud-hosted systems often involve lower upfront costs as they eliminate the need for agencies to invest in and maintain on-premises hardware. Operating costs are typically more predictable and scalable based on usage.
- Cloud providers handle software updates and maintenance, ensuring that the CAD/AVL system is always running on the latest version without requiring manual intervention from the transit agency.
Redundancy and Reliability:
- Cloud platforms offer built-in redundancy and reliability features, reducing the risk of system downtime. Data is often stored in multiple locations, providing a level of backup and disaster recovery.
Collaboration and Communication:
- Cloud-hosted systems facilitate real-time collaboration and communication among transit personnel. Dispatchers, supervisors, and other staff can access and share information seamlessly.
- Reputable cloud providers implement robust security measures, including encryption, access controls, and compliance certifications, ensuring the protection of sensitive transit data.
- Cloud-based solutions generally allow for quicker deployment compared to on-premises alternatives. This can be particularly advantageous when implementing or upgrading CAD/AVL systems.
Data Analytics and Reporting:
- Cloud platforms often provide advanced analytics and reporting tools, enabling transit agencies to derive valuable insights from the data collected by the CAD/AVL system.
- Cloud-hosted CAD/AVL systems are designed to integrate seamlessly with other cloud-based applications and services, promoting a more interconnected and efficient transit ecosystem.
By leveraging these advantages, transit agencies can enhance their operational efficiency, reduce infrastructure costs, and ensure a more agile and responsive approach to managing transit services.
Transit Hardware Questions
CAD/AVL systems are require properly engineered transit-grade onboard computers that are installed in the equipment cabinet or other secure location. These computers, commonly referred to as vehicle logic units (VLU) must include hardened cable connectors and power conditioning units that are able to withstand power fluctuations that are often found in transit vehicles.
Over the past several years, many agencies have purchased low cost tablets or all-in-one computers that are installed within reach of the bus operator. These devices, although inexpensive, result in poor reliability due to insufficient componentry and flimsy connectors.
For CAD/AVL systems, it is crucial to employ properly engineered transit-grade onboard computers, often known as Vehicle Logic Units (VLUs). These units should be securely installed in the equipment cabinet or another designated secure location. VLUs must be equipped with hardened cable connectors and power conditioning features capable of withstanding the power fluctuations commonly encountered in transit vehicles.
In recent years, numerous agencies have been let down by low-cost tablets or all-in-one computers that are installed within easy reach of the bus operator and therefor exposed to damage/theft. These tablets attempt to combine the responsibilities of the VLU and the Mobile Data Terminal (MDT). This is a mistake. While these devices may be budget-friendly, their reliability is compromised due to inadequate components and fragile connectors.
To achieve maximum reliability, agencies are better served to procure a separate MDT that does not require an operating system. A simple touch screen monitor provides the vehicle operator with critical touch screen functionality but does not represent a point of failure as an all-in-one computer does.
CAD/AVL systems integrate with various onboard systems to enhance transit operations and provide comprehensive data. Common onboard systems that a CAD/AVL system may integrate with include:
- Fare Collection Systems
- Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs)
- Digital signage
- Voice radio systems
- Telemetry systems
- Infotainment systems
- Wi-Fi and connectivity systems
- Mobile video surveillance Systems
The integration of these onboard systems with CAD/AVL enhances the overall efficiency of transit operations, improves communication, and provides valuable data for analysis and reporting. It contributes to a more connected and streamlined public transportation experience.
Leading CAD/AVL systems support single point login that allows the bus operator to login to the MDT such that also logging in to connected systems such as the farebox is unnecessary.
It is advisable for agencies to capitalize on their investment in onboard peripherals such as APCs, digital signage, fareboxes, etc. However, it is not recommended to reuse existing CAD/AVL equipment like the VLU and MDT.
As the industry increasingly adopts standards, there is a potential future where all VLU and MDT equipment becomes standardized, complete with open-source software to control onboard peripherals. This would allow any CAD/AVL vendor to install its custom software on a separate partition. If this vision becomes a reality, transit agencies would no longer be tied to a supplier that might underperform.
Until this standardization capability is achieved, it is advised that agencies permit the CAD/AVL vendor to install new equipment to ensure system reliability and accuracy.
Still looking for answers? Contact us today to schedule a one-on-one meeting to learn more about how ETA Transit can modernize your operation.