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Project Overview

Regional Smart Bus Demonstration Project Phase 1
Evaluation Report
King County Metro Transit

I. Overview

A. Introduction

In October 2001 through January 2002, King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit conducted the Regional Smart Bus Demonstration Project Phase 1, a short term, limited demonstration of smart bus technology on two transit coaches. This report evaluates the results of the demonstration project, with an emphasis on technical performance, transit business impacts, and lessons learned from the demonstration. Another evaluation with a regional focus was conducted by a consultant hired by Sound Transit.


The project team selected a vendor to install existing, integrated smart bus technology on two transit coaches for a five-month demonstration. The Smart Bus demonstration equipment was installed by the vendor at the King County Metro Transit Central Base facility on two Central Base transit coaches: one King County Metro New Flyer articulated coach which operated routes 5, 7, 54, 55, and 167, and a Sound Transit forty- foot Gillig coach, which operated Sound Transit Route 570. The demonstration vehicles rotated among twenty weekday vehicle assignments (blocks) to limit the number of operators who required training and to ensure transit operators and riders received adequate exposure to the demonstration features for evaluation purposes.

The Smart Bus demonstration vehicles were equipped with an information system that determined the coach's location, schedule and time of day, and monitored the status of various vehicle components. An onboard network communicated and shared data among the components of the onboard system, and an onboard database collected the data generated by the systems in operation.

To limit the scope of the project, the demonstration equipment generally was not integrated with the existing onboard systems such as the transit radio system. The demonstration system however, was integrated with the existing transit radio Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) to allow transit operators to initiate both systems with a single log in. The system also monitored and collected data from existing vehicle maintenance systems, such as the transmission, engine, and braking systems.

The onboard systems functions provided in the demonstration included:

  • GPS based vehicle location, schedule adherence, and on-route status:

The Smart Bus demonstration coaches were equipped with an onboard automated vehicle location (AVL) system that included global positioning satellite (GPS) technology. The onboard system was loaded with the coaches' expected schedule and route. When operating a scheduled vehicle assignment, the system calculated the coach's schedule adherence at each timepoint, and determined the coach's on-route status at regular intervals.

  • Automated vehicle maintenance (AVM) data:

The demonstration onboard system monitored and recorded the status of vehicle components such as the engine, transmission and braking systems. As the coach returned to the base, the AVM system flagged out of tolerance conditions to vehicle maintenance staff. The system also provided detailed web reports of the AVM data.

  • Automated passenger counting (APC) data collection and integration:

The system collected passenger count data utilizing infrared light beam equipment installed at each coach door. Passenger boardings and alightings (ons and offs) were recorded at each stop, as well as location, time of day, and other data.

  • Wireless data on/off load system (WDOLS):

The demonstration equipment included a wireless data on/off load system. The automated wireless communications system automatically transmitted vehicle performance data from the vehicle each time it returned to Central Base and provided automatic data and software updates to the vehicle.

  • Automated interior stop announcements:

The automated stop annunciation function announced major stops and landmark information to riders.

  • Automated interior next stop displays:

Interior LED signs displayed next stop information for all stops.

  • Automated exterior route and destination announcements:

The system automatically announced the coach's service route and destination as the coach opened its doors.

  • Automated exterior route and destination signs:

The demonstration system automatically changed the coach's exterior signage without operator intervention.

  • The ability to transmit vehicle on-time status and passenger load to the King County Metro Transit Signal Priority (TSP) system:

In addition to providing the Transit Signal Priority (TSP) system with data currently provided in traffic signal priority requests, such as route/ run, trip, and vehicle identification number, the demonstration system was designed to provide the AVI (automatic vehicle identification) tag with dynamic data, i.e. current passenger load and on-time status.

B. Demonstration Project Goals

As defined in the Regional Smart Bus Demonstration Project Phase 1 (RSBD1) request for proposals, the demonstration project goals were to:

  1. Assess both the technical feasibility and the cost/benefit of specific enhancements i.e. automated VM reporting, wireless on/off loading of data, and automated stop annunciation and signage.
  2. Generate customer and operator feedback on service and operational impacts.
  3. Expose the public and the decision-makers to the features and potentially improved functionality of new technologies.
  4. Assess regional data sharing and integration opportunities.
  5. Enable transit agency staff to get hands-on experience with the latest equipment and data.
  6. Provide senior level management with real-world data and testimonies on Smart Bus performance in order to evaluate benefits such as improved fleet management, customer service, operator productivity and safety.
  7. Generate functional and user requirements and cost estimates for the procurement of the Regional Smart Bus - Phase III systems to be installed on the Diesel-Hybrid/Smart Buses (DHSB).
  8. Provide input to the functional and user requirements for the procurement of the next generation of on-board systems for the KCM fleet and KCM-operated ST buses.
  9. Gain an understanding of the scaling issues and systems design challenges for managing and maintaining a smart bus system. Areas of interest include data management for seven bases, the management of operator changes in the middle of a block, re-assignment of a vehicle to a different route after its already in service and unplanned re-routes.

C. King County Metro Evaluation Purpose

The purpose of the King County Metro RSBD Evaluation was to examine the demonstration equipment's technical approaches as examples of smart bus technology, and to capture lessons learned, and issues raised by the demonstration in preparation for the system wide onboard systems requirements development, procurement and implementation effort at KC Metro.

D. Evaluation Objectives and Approach

The following objectives and methods were used to evaluate the demonstration:

Objective 1: Examine the functions and technical approaches of the smart bus off-the-shelf onboard equipment in the King County Metro Transit environment.

  • Evaluation approach: APC Analysis

In November and December 2001, KCM Automatic Passenger Counter program staff conducted onboard passenger count surveys on the demonstration coaches using onboard observers. Staff conducted an analysis comparing the demonstration APC data generated by the onboard systems equipment with observed counts.

  • Evaluation approach: Transit Signal Priority (TSP) reader log assessment.

Transit Signal Priority staff compared demonstration stop record data with TSP reader log data, to confirm lateness and passenger load data from the demonstration coach were transmitted and recorded by the Transit Signal Priority system.

  • Evaluation approach: Automated Vehicle Monitoring (AVM) "Bug" Test

On Jan. 12, 2002 Vehicle Maintenance staff created a set of out of tolerance conditions on the demonstration coaches to compare the data reported by the demonstration AVM function with actual observed conditions.

  • Evaluation approach: GIS/AVL Assessment

The performance of the onboard Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) system during on-route and off-route coach operation was assessed by mapping demonstration vehicle location data onto the Transit Geographic Information System (GIS) map.

  • Evaluation approach: Staff debriefings

The performance and reliability of the demonstration equipment was assessed by conducting debriefings with technical and field staff involved in the demonstration.

Objective 2: Assess customer satisfaction with the automated announcements and interior signs.

  • Evaluation approach: Facilitated discussion with transit customers with disabilities.

In November 2001, Sound Transit staff conducted a facilitated discussion with Sound Transits Citizen's Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Deaf-Blind Workgroup. Participants were provided with a demonstration of the automated exterior route and destination announcement, automated interior stop annunciation and automated interior sign functions to obtain their feedback on the functions.

  • Evaluation approach: Onboard survey of transit riders.

An onboard survey of riders of the demonstration coaches was conducted in December 2001 by King County Metro staff and a consultant to obtain riders' feedback on the automated exterior route and destination announcement, automated interior stop annunciation and automated interior sign functions.

Objective 3: Obtain transit staff and transit operator feedback on the new functions: ease of use, advantages and disadvantages.

  • Evaluation approach: Transit operator debriefing session

Following completion of the demonstration, KCM staff conducted a facilitated session with transit operators who operated the demonstration coaches, to obtain their feedback on the automated stop annunciation and other Smart Bus demonstration functions.

  • Evaluation approach: Debriefings with technical and vehicle maintenance staff.

The purpose of the debriefing sessions was to discuss the demonstration functions and data with staff who used the demonstration equipment or data output, to obtain feedback on their experiences.

Objective 4: Identify issues, lessons learned, and recommendations for potential system wide implementation of the "smart bus" onboard equipment.

  • Evaluation approach: Debriefings with technical staff, transit operators, vehicle maintenance staff.

Participants in the debriefings noted above, identified potential issues and recommendations for improvements to the demonstration technology if it were implemented on the transit bus fleet. The discussion topics included equipment functions, user training, and potential business process changes.

  • Evaluation approach: GIS/AVL Assessment

The potential impacts of GPS based vehicle location on the Transit Geographic Information System (GIS) were assessed by mapping and analyzing demonstration vehicle location data.

Objective 5: Identify the potential long-term benefits of implementing smart bus technology.

  • Evaluation approach: Debriefings with technical staff and vehicle maintenance staff.

Participants assessments of the potential long-term benefits of a full implementation of the demonstration equipment were discussed at the conclusion of the project.

Updated: Sept. 2002