Telematics is the new frontier for buses

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With the needs of customers squarely on the agenda, bus companies are implementing telematics to improve driving behaviours and save costs.

Telematics has been a buzzword in the transport industry for some time, but many bus companies are now rolling out highly customised solutions that transform efficiency as well as the customer experience.

Once integrated into a bus company’s systems, telematics solutions deliver benefits that go straight to the bottom line, as well as improving environmental outcomes. They increase fuel efficiency, help managers monitor their fleet, navigate buses through challenging road conditions and encourage safer driving practices.

Of course, the first step is to choose a telematics product that specifically suits the needs of the business — and there are plenty out there. But once the call has been made, installing telematics devices in all the buses within a fleet has proven to take about six months, depending on a company’s existing IT systems.

Manage what you measure

It’s a truism that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Telematics works by linking to a bus company’s fuel management system. It provides real-time data on specific behaviours such as speeding, hard braking, hard acceleration, hard turning and idling.

As well as giving drivers instant alerts, such as when they are braking too harshly, the telematics system also gives them predictive tips, like when to change gear, reduce acceleration or check their optimum speed.

After each trip, drivers can check their performance via the driver terminal, while in the office, managers can monitor progress using the colour-coded dashboard. Additionally, line managers can determine the location of their bus drivers at any given time via an app on their smartphones.

In companies where supervisors are spread thinly across many direct reports, making the data available using kiosks at depots is effective in promoting driver awareness and motivating changes in driving behaviour.

Rewarding good behaviour

Bus operator Transdev, which recently implemented telematics technology with robust results, also chose to invest in EcoDrive, a corporate driver training program which works in tandem with telematics systems to give drivers the best chance of getting good reports.

The use of incentives and rewards for drivers with the fewest incidents of idling, speeding and hard braking or turning, has also been a successful strategy, with telematics users seeing a noticeable reduction in targeted undesirable behaviours.

Reduced fuel and maintenance costs

Experience in the Netherlands, and Europe overall, has shown that the improvement in driver habits has a significant impact on fuel efficiency, as less speeding, braking and acceleration reduces fuel consumption. A smoother ride also increases safety and passenger comfort, which in the long-run signals a better service.

Maintenance is another area that can be easily automated using telematics.  Once a fleet is fully computerised, the system can provide real-time data on engine temperature, rpm readings and other measures that might indicate an issue before it becomes a real problem.

Navigation power

Most people would be familiar with the navigational systems telematics provides for private vehicles and commercial fleets.  The use of telematics for navigating buses is also a good operational choice.

For bus operations involved in major events or experiencing an unexpected increase in demand for services, installing a telematics system allows companies to quickly bring new drivers and buses onto the roads to meet the demand.   

Removing the stress for drivers

Instead of having to train drivers on each individual route, drivers can pick up their terminals in the morning and follow the directions provided by highly accurate maps for heavy duty vehicles. This can save business thousands of hours, as well as delivering significant cost savings.

Even if there are road closures or significant congestion issues, a telematics system can help re-route the bus in real-time to its next stop. Using telematics truck maps, routes are selected based on vehicle size, weight and speed ensuring a bus doesn’t end up taking an inappropriate route.

The system also provides the real-time locations of fleet, enabling line managers to quickly identify which buses could be used to meet demand, with directions sent automatically via the in-cab driver terminal, allowing them to follow the most efficient route.

Setting your business apart

Feedback from drivers is that the navigation systems “just work”—and that they become especially useful if a driver isn’t familiar with a route before getting onto the bus.

The use of telematics is a no-brainer for companies aiming to save time and money up front. The technology reduces fuel consumption (which is good for the environment) and supports positive driver behaviours that ensure a high-quality service. Ultimately, companies that implement telematics enjoy a competitive advantage, even under the most demanding circumstances.

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christopher@mylogisticsmagazine.com'

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