Covering about 500 miles in Northeastern Ohio, the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA) needed a mobile solution to help its fleet of 56 buses serve the county's 152,000 residents. Over the past year, the number of passengers has increased dramatically. But with eight bus routes and PARTA's dial-a-ride service, bus drivers were becoming bogged down with paper.
"We were printing out paper manifests," says Bryan Smith, manager of business development. "So, if a driver had an eight-hour shift, they were given 16 pages with people's home addresses. As the driver went to each pick-up and drop-off point, he would write down the time and mileage and reenter that in the computer at the end of the day." Dispatchers kept track of drivers' schedules using software from Trapeze Group, but when they needed to pinpoint a driver's exact location, they contacted them via radio.
PARTA turned to CDW Government Inc. for a solution that would improve efficiency and communications between drivers and dispatchers. CDW-G selected the Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 with embedded GPS and Verizon AirCards. To secure the Toughbooks in the buses, CDW-G chose mounting hardware from Ledco.
PARTA had the Toughbooks installed in early 2008. Initially, bus drivers were given the option to continue using paper or switch to the Toughbooks. "By the end of the first week, we didn't have anyone using paper," says Smith.
Now, instead of using paper printouts, drivers use the Toughbooks to access manifests via PARTA's wireless network. The ruggedized computers and Trapeze software enable PARTA to get location information on its buses anytime, anywhere and update a driver's route instantly so he can pick up more passengers in a shorter period of time.
Drivers can use the GPS component to determine where they are relative to their next pickup point. Instead of manually logging transit times, drivers now hit "arrive" and "depart" buttons. This also provides the dispatch center with instant access to route and driver information.
"We've only been using the system since March," says Smith, "so we don't have quantifiable results yet. But there are specific examples of advantages that go beyond the norm." One such example occurred during the winter on an interstate route when a snow plough sent a chunk of ice through a bus windshield. "The driver hit the emergency button to report the problem, and instead of having to guess where he was, we were able to send assistance to him immediately," says Smith.
Using the Toughbooks has made PARTA more efficient, says Smith, and helped keep drivers on track. "Portage County is pretty rural, and at times there aren't any road signs," he says. "We're able to help drivers by knowing where they are and where they need to go."
Smith believes that it's just a matter of time before the system pays for itself. "Right now we have denials of service because we don't have enough buses on the road to service all the people that call us," he says. "This solution will help curb that denial rate, and we'll be able to pick up more people."