By Ben Rand, manager of Content Marketing for Xerox

Operating a big city public transit system is a management challenge of staggering proportions. On a typical day in Chicago, for instance, buses and trains travel an aggregate distance of more than 322,000 miles – far enough to reach the moon and begin a trip home. In New York, subways carry an estimated 4.1 million people a day in a fleet that exceeds 6,400 trains.

Internationally, the numbers are even more daunting: More than 3 million people a day ride Bus Rapid Transit in Sao Paulo, Brazil; in Tokyo, about 9 million people take the subway every 24 hours.

With numbers that large, it’s inevitable that something will eventually go wrong – a mechanical breakdown, an accident, a schedule delay, a security incident. When it does, time is of the essence to communicate the problem to all concerned, identify and diagnose the issue and institute a fix.

Easier said than done. With large and complex systems, it has generally been a challenge to collect the necessary data to make effective real-time decisions. But that’s changing rapidly with the development of advanced computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location (CAD/AVL) systems that provide key pieces of information such as vehicle location, messaging and video. The goal: To improve the quality of service to riders as quickly as possible.

The CAD/AVL technology itself is not new. But the newest generations, such as the recently introduced Xerox Transit Matrix, offer new levels of interoperability between systems. The result: A central nervous system of sorts for a bus or subway car that provides drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and others with a 360-degree view of what’s going on with their vehicles.

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A decade or so ago, CAD/AVL technologies were really more disparate collections of systems, each providing individual streams of data with no integration. The Transit Matrix brings those streams together in a modern interface to make it simpler for transit personnel to do their work. Particularly important: Building the system to support cellular and Wi-Fi communications. Previous generations relied on low-speed radio links to communicate.

“One of the things we’ve done here is really enhance the ability for our solution to communicate with a wide variety of different types of equipment and different user groups,” said Marc Gordon, vice president of Business Development. “At a high level, this solution does a lot behind the scenes.”

The backbone of Transit Matrix is an integrated on-board vehicle processor designed specifically for the public transit agency. The open-standards processor provides the computing power needed to receive various data streams on vehicle performance and deliver them to a standard operating dashboard monitored in real time by dispatchers, drivers, mechanics and supervisors. The Xerox solution comes with a companion vehicle console featuring a touch screen that is the operator portal to route and performance information, vehicle health status alerts, as well as security and back-up cameras, turn by turn maps and fare box information.

By developing the processor around open standards, Xerox is future-proofing the system investment by allowing for future upgrades through software, Gordon said.

The Transit Matrix represents a “significant evolution” from prior generations of technology. “It’s now become an elaborate communications system that provides up-to-date views of the situation, with technologies securely integrated into one box,” said Maria Waddy, product launch manager.

The bottom line for the new generation of CAD/AVL system is it greatly enhances the ability of administrators to provide high-quality service and manage costs. And there’s still more to come, Waddy said.

“One thing that’s important in the world of public transit is data,” Waddy says. “In some cases, administrators don’t have enough and want more. But they also want to have tools that help them make decisions in real time. We have the tools to do that.”