Operators Turning to New and Improved GPS

Posted on November 9, 2009 by Nicole Schlosser - Also by this author

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During the past year, an increasing number of motorcoach operators have discovered various elements of GPS and use them on the road.

The basic aspect of fleet tracking that tells drivers their locations has been enhanced by wireless or mobile phone connectivity. The systems can now take coach information and broadcast it back to a central site to be either downloaded or connect to a driver by sending diagnostic or coach information, for example.

Fleet Tracking and Diagnostics

Just a couple of years ago, GPS was only used for navigation or mapping purposes. "Now, it's used for tracking purposes. You can still use it for navigation, for the driver's benefit, but the fleet management benefit [is that] operators are using it to track their equipment," says Louis Hotard, director of technical service for ABC Companies, based in Faribault, Minn.

Hotard confirms that the technology of GPS navigation is broadening its capability. ABC uses the Saucon TDS (www.saucontds.com) fleet management system, which employs GPS to monitor the motorcoaches. "A dispatcher sitting in his [or her] office can track each bus that has Saucon in it, see what highway the coaches are on, how fast they're traveling, if the right driver's in the right bus, [or] if there's any bus trouble."

ABC has about 100 buses fitted with the system, which is standard on its double-decker bus, Hotard adds.

Ed Hodgson, vice president of operations for Megabus, says that the North American carrier also uses the Saucon TDS system.

"It gives us the opportunity to see at any time where any of our vehicles are, allows us to deal with daily disruptions, like traffic congestion, accidents, and closing roads," Hodgson says. "And it helps us to manage those situations much better, because we can tell at a glance exactly where the vehicles are. And we're developing an on-time system that automatically highlights where a vehicle is running behind schedule."  

Tom Chezem, vice president of motorcoach sales for Setra/Daimler Buses North America in Greensboro, N.C., says that Setra also has transitioned to the Saucon TDS fleet tracking system. He predicts the market is heading there, not only for fleet tracking but for diagnostic and more real-time coach information.

"As an operator, you can manage your fleet, and as an OEM, we can help support customers with [any] issues," Chezem says.

Now with Wireless

Chezem adds that the system is also expandable, increasing its versatility. "One of the big items [Saucon has] added is Wi-Fi, and they started to add things like the cameras that you see on board, for crash avoidance," Chezem says. "Their combination just makes sense to enable, because we're seeing a lot of people making that request."

There's a significant difference in where the GPS market was just one year ago and where it is today. "You also see some of the big players like BoltBus, Greyhound and Coach USA starting to advertise it as standard, so it's becoming much more popular. People are expecting it on the products," Chezem says. Wi-Fi soon may be a standard option on Setra coaches, capable of being started up with the purchase of a card from one of the service providers, such as AT&T.

Saucon's system has made this possible by offering Setra an
attractive, inexpensive hardware solution integrated with its GPS and fleet tracking devices already installed on coaches.

"What you'll see with the GPS, it kind of broadens into what you see with Onstar, and some of those elements that you see on cars," Chezem says. "As always, I think the commercial vehicle market will lag the automobile industry. You're going to see more diagnostic, real-time information for both fleet and tracking. Customers want to know where the coaches are and what's happening to them. I think we'll see more and more of that integrated into the vehicle systems." 

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