How will a child’s parents react when the school bus
passes their home and their daughter is not on it?
Does the bus driver notice that she got of at the wrong
stop? These and many related concerns are being
addressed by a Mobitex application hosted by Discrete
Wireless and offered as a service to county schools.
Discrete Wireless, based in Atlanta, Georgia in the US, is a wireless application service provider (WASP) that runs its flagship product, the Marcus Fleet Management Solution, over the nationwide Mobitex network operated by Cingular Wireless. The Marcus Fleet Management Solution won the Cingular Best Solution award in 2002 for the most innovative use of the Mobitex network by a commercially available solution.
With Marcus tracking school buses, parents don’t have to worry. Not only does the system monitor the location of all buses at all times, while transmitting position and operational data back to the dispatcher. A relatively simple enhancement using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags enables the Marcus system to keep track of who is on the bus and where he or she got off. If the child forgets to phone home, her mother can phone the transportation service to determine that she is with a friend. If the county chooses to make it available, she could even get this information on the Internet.
Managing a school bus fleet presents many challenges, of which safety is a prime concern for both parents and school authorities. Fleet management, however, raises additional issues that typically do not concern parents until the threat of higher taxes arises. Public authorities, whether they are operating transportation services or providing other public services, such as medical care and rescue services, are faced with familiar dilemma: providing better service with diminishing resources.
The Marcus Fleet Management Solution uses a combination of hardware and software to address the requirements of fleet management. Discrete Wireless targets two business cases, one in which the county owns and operates the school bus fleet and another in which the county contracts transportation services and pays by the student headcount per mile.
“Both scenarios share the same basic business needs and ask similar questions,” notes R Wayne Johnson, Vice President at Discrete Wireless. “Fleet managers want to know how they can maximize usage of the current fleet, meaning is it possible to consolidate routes and remove buses from service. They also want to maximize existing fleet assets in order to delay purchasing new buses.
The savings in both cases are very significant. Removing a bus from service saves an estimated USD 50,000 per year. Delaying new bus purchases increases the savings, which may be as much as USD 150,000. These are significant savings that result in a rapid return on investment for a wireless fleet management solution. Given that a typical installation costs less than USD 1,000, being able to remove one bus from service in a fleet of 50 results in an immediate pay-back.
The Marcus Fleet Management Solution addresses all of the fleet manager’s issues in an easily installed and low-cost application. The solution is designed to offer a phased approach during deployment, and a migration path is provided to allow rollout that does not break budgets.
The first phase consists of the baseline product and provides basic data, such as duration of route time, distance traveled, load and unload times, route adherence and a number of operational parameters for the vehicle. This basic functionality not only provides vehicle tracking, but also enables on-the-fly dispatching in cases of breakdown.
The second and third phases add RFID tags for each student. The phase-two build-out simply uses these tags for counting students as they enter and leave the bus, thus providing the basic data required when transportation services are purchased by headcount per mile.
During the third phase, use of the previously installed RFID tag is expanded. This involves some back end system interface development and a method for adding more data to the RFID tag. Data collection at this stage consists not only of a headcount, but also who is riding the bus, as well as when each student boarded and left the bus. Read/write capability is added, and the information on the RFID tag is expanded to include student ID number and name, as well as emergency contact information.
Discrete Wireless currently has about 1,000 corporate customers in various sectors for its tracking services based on the Marcus Fleet Management Solutions. The school bus application has been deployed by school transportation services in Atlanta, New Orleans and a number of other locations in the US.
“We recently rolled out an additional 50 units for Clayton County Schools here in Georgia and just recently exhibited at the Georgia Pupil Transportation Association. We have several other opportunities on the horizon that will be slated for the end of the summer; before school year starts,” reveals R Wayne Johnson.
“The Marcus suite of products and services
has been a tremendous success for us and
allowed us to quickly build a strong business
as a wireless application service provider,”
observes Jeff Thacher, president of Discrete
Wireless. “By combining wireless data, GPS
and XML technology with the Internet, Marcus
provides cutting-edge solutions to our