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Transit Discussion in real-time.

Level up driver performance

Driver behavior monitoring can lead to
improvements on the road.

By Matt Schroeder
Director of Marketing, ETA Transit Systems

It’s fair to say that in my youth I spent plenty of time at the local arcade. Racing games were a particular favorite—it didn’t matter if I was riding a motorcycle or driving a souped-up school bus, my mission was to race fast enough, lean into every turn at just the right time, and hit every checkpoint to earn a time bonus and advance to the next level.

With a roll of quarters in hand, it seldom mattered how many coins I pumped into those machines—so long as I was able to buy better tires, nitrous boost, or improved suspension to better handle the twists and turns of each map. At the end of the day, it was all about winning and posting “MLS” atop the game’s leaderboard.

While transit agencies might frown on the type of roadway behavior I typically employed in my pursuit of the high score, there’s a similarity in objectives between video game excellence and route performance. While checkpoints have been replaced with on-time performance and level advancement is defined as arriving at a stop at the schedule time, the basic concepts are intact—arrive on-time, do so efficiently, and avoid running into things.

Driver monitoring technologies exist to identify ineffective behaviors that could impact overall performance, increase rider satisfaction, and contribute to unsafe vehicle operation. Among the more popular solutions on the market include:

Speed tracking

Use a vehicle’s installed automatic vehicle location (AVL) system and integrated global position system (GPS) to track the speed of a driver as he completes his routes. The recorded speed can be compared to posted limits and unsafe practices (such as driving too fast) can be identified and remedies taken to coach up a driver on the importance of obeying traffic laws. Such a system provides accountability and allows supervisors to identify and replace repeat offenders who may subject the transit agency to unnecessary liability as a result of poor driving practices.

Excessive idle monitoring

Vehicle monitoring systems can identify instances where a vehicle may idle for too long. Idling has many possible causes, ranging from improper route design to excessive traffic. Some of these behaviors may be unavoidable; the random accident which backs everything up, or a broken water main which floods a route and slows the flow of traffic. Other instances are avoidable—say the driver who keeps the vehicle running while on a lunch break.

Excessive idling can cause undue wear and tear on an engine and its components, plus it wastes fuel, which ultimately increase the operating costs for a transit agency. The ability to track idling can identify trends that can lead to coachable moments for the driver, improvements to routes and timing throughout the day, and realize savings in maintenance and gasoline/diesel expenses.

Schedule performance tracking

Routes are created with specific measurements in mind (e.g. the amount of time it takes to travel from point A to point B). There are multiple factors that contribute to these schedules, such as expected passenger load, traffic, time of day, weather, etc. Vehicle tracking technology helps collect data on route performance so that realistic expectations can be defined, and arrival times created that meet the expectations of riders while running as lean and efficient schedule as possible.

Driver performance can be evaluated in response to an established schedule. Perhaps a driver consistently takes too long at a stop before departing to the next. Maybe he spends too much time helping passenger board or alight the vehicle. With proper performance to schedule metrics in place, it becomes easier to coach up a driver or identify factors that contribute to poor marks when driving a route. This data can be evaluated, and proper expectations set for future runs.

Collision avoidance

These systems help mitigate the effects of driver distraction using radar, GPS, and sometimes lasers to actively scan the area for other vehicles, stops, and hazards. It calculates speed, direction, and distance to determine if a collision is imminent, and if so, it automatically applies the brakes on a vehicle—hopefully in enough time to avoid or reduce the severity of the impact.

Example of collision avoidance system monitoring distance between vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) projects that these systems can prevent as many as 28,000 collisions and 12,000 injuries per year. While it may not avoid every accident, collision avoidance systems are one heck of a power-up toward improving driver safety.

Driver monitoring benefits both performance and safety obligations and can increase a transit agency’s efficiency while reducing liability for accidents, mishaps, and missed connections. If I were a transit administrator, I would plunk down my quarters on any system which contributed to a safer, more reliable operation. After all, if those are my initials that sit atop the leaderboard, I know what’s at stake.

What driver monitoring and safety systems have you deployed, and what have been the impacts to your operations? What technology would you want to see developed/deployed in the transit sector?