Increasing efficiency and safety is one of the challenges of this decade for urban or intercity bus operators. Beyond the environmental obligations, both constitute one of the most effective ways to reduce operating costs and increase the quality of the service provided, even in the context of the electric vehicle.
In recent years, different driving support systems (ADAS- Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) have been proven effective in managing specific situations. An example may be systems capable of detecting invasions of the road by pedestrians. However, due to the uniqueness and operation of a passenger transport company, the technological systems that are incorporated must have certain characteristics to be successful in the medium and long term.
In this article, based on our experience in real cases, we first emphasize the importance of having a unique management system and methodologies that include the following aspects for a successful and long-term adoption:
Second, we highlight fair evaluation as a key element for the success of any system focused on efficiency and safety.
Thirdly, the importance of these systems for new types of vehicles such as electric vehicles is highlighted.
And lastly, it is presented how the seamless integration of driving assistance systems with existing operation platforms (AVL -Advance Vehicle Location or Fleet Management Systems) – will guide the mainstream adoption of these systems at the bus sector.
2. The importance of a Management System
Improving efficiency and safety is perhaps one of the most important challenges that road passenger transport will face in the coming years. At the dawn of the electric and autonomous vehicles, companies must ensure that the transition to this new model generates a reduction in economic and environmental costs, and a significant increase in safety.
Efficient and safe driving, also called eco-driving or in English eco-driving, is that way of driving a vehicle in which techniques are applied that allow fuel savings and greater comfort / safety. Fundamentally, efficient driving seeks the driver to change his/her driving in three aspects:
- Increasing the anticipation of traffic situations, which will allow you to act less aggressively.
- Changing the way to accelerate and brake.
- Trying to homogenize the speed and increase the timing taking advantage of the inertia of the vehicle.
This change of habits requires some simple or complex actions from the technical point of view . While learning to accelerate smoothly is an almost trivial action, driving ahead has a much higher learning curve, in addition to requiring greater concentration and intuition when applying it. This means that issues such as fatigue or lack of motivation can also have a great impact when driving efficiently.
The process for drivers to incorporate these techniques into their driving classically has been addressed from the transport companies through punctual training courses. However, doing so requires drivers to go through specialized academies repeatedly, which can reduce the profitability of the project.
Because of this, a more economical option has emerged in recent years through the use of intelligent tutors able to provide recommendations to the drivers in real time during their daily work.
This option has some advantages, but also disadvantages, especially if used without further support. If the assistance is not supported by an appropriate learning methodology that makes the driver evolve step by step, it can simply be seen as an annoying coercive element that does not provide any advantage.
Therefore, it is necessary that the improvement in driving efficiency be integrated into a management system that includes:
- Suitable technological support infraestructure
- Trainings (different techniques supported by tools for continuous follow up)
- Evaluation of results
- Aspects of communication of the results
- Motivation techniques
- Involving the different stakeholders from the company, as middle managers.
An organized management can give important results with reduced costs so the implementation of a Efficient Driving Management System (EDMS) may be the answer to this need.
2.1 Traditional techniques for driving improvement
Driving efficiency improvement plans have traditionally been based on training. Teaching courses, usually face-to-face, has been the classic way of getting drivers to apply efficient driving techniques. However, this way of working presents problems both in economic terms and in the persistence of improvements:
- The first of the problems that arise is how to control if they are really improving. Without a monitoring system it will be impossible to determine the impact that is obtained. This also prevents the results from reaching the drivers (which are a central element for any improvement).
- The second of the problems could be detected in cases where the implementation of the training plan was accompanied by some monitoring system, even if it was simple. In these contexts, it was observed that the results of the plan declined over time, provided that constant reinforcement seminars were not applied. However, this measure greatly increased the cost of the plan and could destroy profitability.
These results reinforce the idea that a well-founded efficiency improvement plan should have several elements that make it robust, beyond having proper training. There should be elements to carry out a fair evaluation, convenient information to the parties involved and important work in the aspects of attitude and motivation.
3. The importance of fair performance evaluation
Driving a vehicle is an activity carried out by humans. If we want to change the way we do it, we will have to start training processes that allow us to change habits, and in many cases the attitude of the drivers. One of the key aspects for the change process to take place is that the driver has sufficient motivation. In fact, motivation and communication are probably one key elements above other issues such as techniques.
Aware of its importance, bus transport companies that currently develop efficiency improvement programs focus on acting on the motivation of their drivers, since they are the ones who with their attitude can make the program succeed or not. In some cases the incentive has been based on reward plans, with the aim of making drivers feel that they are in a win-win improvement model, that is, the company wins and they win. In most cases, gamification techniques has also showed their benefits.
However, the implementation of reward plans introduces a new element to consider whose complexity is especially high, the evaluation. How do you decide who is driving the vehicle efficiently and who is not? This is not a simple task because there is no universal metric to determine efficiency levels.
Actually, one could think of the fuel consumption as efficiency metric, but there are significant drawbacks. For example: What are the values from which driving is efficient determined? Is the same reference value regardless of the road, vehicle or traffic conditions?
The important issue is that the driver is not the only element that influences the fuel used, there are others such as the condition of the tires or the use of air conditioning that can vary consumption widely. Is the driver evaluated through this metric even though he/she cannot control much of the factors that influence it?
While fuel consumption may be one of the benchmarks when assessing driving efficiency, there must be other complementary metrics that allow a fair evaluation. In fact, equity in the evaluation of drivers must be a major element in efficiency improvement plans, since otherwise the entire improvement plan will end in failure.
4. The new vehicles: electric, hybrid or NCG
Recently, sustainable alternatives to traditional combustion vehicles are appearing and spreading.
First, there are Gas vehicles (either CNG Compressed Natural Gas or LPG Liquefied Petroleum Gas) characterized by emitting less CO2 and not general particles such as Diesel. At the level of vehicle information availability (can Bus FMS) and driving indicators we can say that it is equivalent to diesel vehicles. Based on experience, it should be noted that it is important that the refueling systems be reliable for proper monitoring, as well as the need to have different baselines than those of combustion vehicles.
In a similar situation we have hybrid vehicles, which are very similar to traditional combustion vehicles, but in which lower average consumption is obtained due to the intervention of the electric motor periodically. Therefore, it will also apply to carry differentiated baselines.
A different case is electric vehicles (EV), where there are limitations of battery autonomy that can significantly affect service and operation.
In this scenario, efficient driving can be very valuable for EVs. In addition to the benefits of comfort or safety, an efficient driving management system can align the prediction of battery life and the influence of driver behavior (efficiency), all this for a fluid and predictable operation.
5. The need of an integrated IT ecosystem
One of the most important challenges for companies that launch programs aimed at improving efficiency and safety is that they are not isolated from the rest of the management. Being separated from the processes of maintenance control, fuel, traffic control, ticketing or services makes neither efficiency nor safety be considered an integral element of the business. However, in modern management both activities are basic for transport companies. To carry out this integration it is necessary to perform a technological and administrative/organizational integration.
5.1 Automatic Vehicle Location/Advanced Vehicle Management integration
One of the biggest problems of efficiency and safety improvement programs that are not integrated with the rest of the company’s operations systems is that a completely parallel technological system has to be developed. In these cases the vehicle will carry two on-board devices, it will have two transmission systems and even two independent screens if you want to transmit information to the driver. All this will generate extra costs and maintenance problems.
Regarding the applications and dashboards, having two independent systems will make those responsible for the fleet have to manage two totally independent systems on their computers to analyze the activity of their fleet or drivers.
To meet the challenge of integration, it is necessary that one of the devices be able to integrate the functionality of the other. For this it will be important to have several capabilities in the new device:
- Possibility of integrating new sensors or data collectors.
- Have a flexible architecture that allows new processes to be executed.
- Have a flexible transmission and reception system that allows new types of messages to be introduced.
In the scheme in the figure below the software architecture is presented in which elements of the efficiency and safety management system are executed on the on-board AVL .Advanced Vehicle Location- system. To make this happen, intra-device communication protocols must comply with the ITxPT (Information Technology for Public Transport) standard. At the central system level the collected data can reside in a server with independent data stores. The analytical processes may extract the information from the different stores and can combine it as required to present it in the different applications.
Regarding the presentation of information in the on-board system, the vehicle will have a single screen (the operational one) in which periodic information regarding efficiency and safety will be presented, including motivational and reward activities that stimulate improvement. In figure below you can see two images taken from a real on-board system.
5.2 Integrated data analysis
The integration of the data is possibly the easiest part to perform and at the same time the one that can give the most benefits. The possibility of crossing operating and safety and efficiency data provides a new level of decision to fleet managers and greater control over the operation, and at the same time, enables a fair evaluation analytical process.
Having activity samples collected under the same timestamps, unique GPS positions and unique driver and vehicle identifiers allows this data to be analyzed in combination with full confidence. Analytical processes should simply extract the information from the different data stores and process them.
An example may be a cross-adherence analysis, where driving indicators are combined with those of hourly compliance to have additional and combined information on driver performance. Experience indicates that the most efficient and safe drivers are usually the best in terms of adherence.
One consequence of this analysis may be to provide an indicator of antibunching to the driver in the AVM own assistant, recommending waiting at a stop for a certain time or showing combined messages to the driver in real time (i.e. good time compliance, but level of comfort and safety low, high cornering and speeding).
5.3 Integrated management
Technological and data integration allows the company’s management to be carried out with safety and efficiency as integral elements of the operation. In this way, incentive plans, shift planning or route reorganization can take both elements into account when making decisions.
A first aspect of this comprehensive management is the optimization of training plans. Operator staff, whether drivers, middle managers or control center operators, receive periodic training, for example the use of on-board systems or vehicle handling. To these sessions you can add specific training contents of the efficiency and safety management system allowing continuous and simultaneous updating without disconnecting it from the operation.
Continuing with HR, motivation and incentive plans can be implemented for the group of workers taking into account the performance in both operation and efficiency and safety indicators, whose union represents in a high percentage the performance and productivity of workers of an operator, especially drivers.
In the case of the operator’s operations management, the benefits of an integrated management are multiple, when using combined indicators integrated in the same tools used for the operation:
- When planning lines or studying the performance of existing ones, black spots (areas of high concentration of risk patterns or inefficiencies) can be detected in terms of safety and efficiency.
- Analyzing which vehicles are the most suitable to be assigned to the services according to the characteristics of each line based on the aggregate consumption obtained vs reference, for example.
- An optimal driver assignment can be studied (if the company’s shift management policy allows it), for example, experience has shown that certain drivers are more efficient and safer on certain lines or even on certain vehicles.
Finally, even when considering aspects of preventive maintenance, the driver’s AVM console could be used to notify in real time of certain vehicle faults (eg, excess coolant temperature), which would allow preventive actions, such as immediate stopping of the vehicle becausethis excess could cause damage to the engine.