Blog post:

Evolution in In-Vehicle Technology

Andrew Fish | September 18, 2014

Tags: Demand response | Local authority |

Screetshot of DriverMate on a phoneI was interested to note the recent Cardiff Bus case study, where driver footfall in the depot was causing problems for staff.

I have seen similar situations in the Local Authority Demand Responsive Transport sector, with drivers entering the office to collect keys, vehicles and manifests resulting in something of a scrum first thing in the morning.

Despite the different markets, it seems that related issues run through the public transport industry. In the Demand Responsive sector we have solved a similar issue in a slightly different way, using a system called DriverMate; I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about how that system has evolved.

Trapeze first launched a DriverMate-type application in 2003, originally called our Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) application. I was involved in the first global installation of that product in Nexus for their DRT service called Ucall which was operating in and around the Newcastle area. Sadly that service is no longer operating but at the time the benefits were clear for a DRT service with the objective of improving communications between the office and drivers out on the road.

The DriverMate system provides clear and powerful benefits in the provision of demand based services: Access to accurate real-time data; better utilisation of fleet resources; and of course a reduction in the huge – and time consuming – amount of paperwork.

Although the DriverMate product started out life as a dashboard-mounted MDT, in recent years there has been a trend towards using Smartphone technology for all kinds of communications. Responding to this trend, the Trapeze DriverMate app is now available via Android devices.

With Local Authority Budgets so restricted, cost was of course a major reason for this platform shift: Installed devices are expensive to buy and fit, whereas ‘off the shelf’ Smartphones have fallen in price at a rate only outstripped by their increase in available functionality.

Switching platforms has also brought functional benefits, because it enables the DriverMate to make use of existing installed software: For example, DriverMate can link with Google maps to provide satellite navigation for the drivers.

Screenshot of DriverMate mapThere’s also an interesting cultural shift here: With Smartphone penetration high and rising (to a predicted 80% penetration by January 2015 and 90% by the end of 2017), the majority of drivers already have access to a modern device; the idea of asking them to ‘downgrade’ to a less functional, less flexible and – in most instances – less responsive one feels like something of a non-starter.

There is admittedly a durability issue with Smartphones in comparison with installed devices, but most of the clients I speak to feel the trade off in terms of reduced robustness is acceptable when considered alongside all the benefits – especially when factoring in the relatively low replacement cost should a Smartphone be broken or damaged.

In organisations where transport provision is contracted out to external providers, the Smartphone approach has clear advantages over an MDT and has meant that providers can be integrated into the back office system and have electronic manifests despatched to their smartphone device without the need for any dedicated installed kit.

Meanwhile, where the organisation owns the vehicles there is the additional benefit of ensuring that all the drivers know when and where to collect their vehicle… and that’s how we can help to remove the early morning office scrum problem!

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About Andrew Fish

Andrew Fish is Trapeze's Product Manager for the Demand Responsive Transport sector of the Local Authority Transport market. He has worked in transport & technology roles ranging from software engineering to product management and implementation delivery.

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