Operators Turning to New and Improved GPS

Nicole Schlosser
Posted on November 9, 2009

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." 

Motor Coach Industries (MCI) will offer several new onboard technology products in the upcoming year. Here's a quick glance at what's on the horizon:

  • SmartWave: MCI's 2010 coaches feature the SmartWave tire-pressure monitoring service with integrated display. The system monitors pressure and temperature in all tires, which can help maximize fuel economy and increase safety. SmartWave data can be relayed remotely via the asset tracking system for seamless data management.
  • Amerex fire suppression: Standard on all models for 2010, the Amerex Fire Suppression system helps safeguard the vehicle by detecting problems early, warning the driver, and suppressing fire before it can spread.
  • Road Relay System: Powertrain improvements include a higher axle ratio for increased effeciency. MCI J4500s now also come with the option of Road Relay 4 System, intended to help optimize fuel economy. MCI added an optional, independent power source for adding features like GPS navigation systems.
  • Night vision camera: Security-minded owners will be able to opt for a thermal-imaging night-vision camera to better see hazards such as wildlife on the road.
  • Three-point seatbelts: All MCI coaches for 2010 will be available with three-point seat belts for additional in-cabin safety.

Prevost Liaison Provides Communication, Financing Tools

The new Prevost Liaison, an advanced vehicle management service, provides operating information via wireless communication and the Internet. Designed to increase fleet efficiency and improve customer service, the system supplies users with a mileage guide, locating the most economical fuel stops on a driver’s route; an online fuel tax tool, logging and reporting fuel taxes and generating the attendant documents; and automatic notification, alerting the office when a coach arrives at its destination without requiring the driver to have to send a message. The Liaison also offers location-based services, and tracking and routing assistance.

Security System Integration

ABC Companies has begun installing the REI Bus Watch Security Systems, which has cameras on each of the four corners on its coaches. The system watches the coach and records any events. “Say you have vandals. The next morning you can play the tape back and see who did it. [It’s] kind of like the camera by the bank,” Hotard says.

While the main asset tracking system MCI uses is Saucon, Brent Danielson, business development manager, MCI, explains that the Blaupunkt navigation system can integrate with other AV systems, “You can display the map on your video monitor, [and track] the overhead map and where you’re going. There’s a roadview camera that displays what’s coming up on the road in front of you.” MCI also offers DriveCam as part of its safety system, or to be added as an aftermarket feature.

Related Topics: fleet tracking, GPS Navigation, Wi-Fi access

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