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A NEW LOOK @ TRANSIT TECH


Table of Contents About AESYS

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Then and now: an historical overview of transit technology

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By Brandon Curtis and Darryl Curtis

Looking ahead at UTA

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By Brandon Curtiss and Clair Fiet

Automatic Voice Annunciation – The Future Made Simple

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By Brandon Curtiss

Infotainment shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive

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By Brandon Curtiss

America’s maintenance departments need open architecture

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By Brandon Curtiss

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BUSRIDE | AESYS TECHNOLOGIES, LLC

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About Flexible Solutions Traffic congestion. Schedule changes. Equipment changes. Change happens every minute of every day. And now more than ever, having the latest information is critical—whether for drivers on the highway, passengers waiting for a bus or a train, or dispatchers inside the terminal. We at Aesys understand your need for a reliable solution to communicate with many people in different places. That’s why we

the Kaizen continuous improvement process. Through this process, we are analyzing our production for maximizing productivity, minimizing movement, reducing waste, and maintaining quality. We will continue to reduce our costs so we can focus our resources on discovering and refining the latest communication technologies. • Product Innovation With our technical department, including electronic, mechanical, and software engineers, combined with our full testing laboratory, Aesys teams work together to solve the industry’s toughest display and communication challenges. Some of our latest innovations include low power technology displays, filter-less ventilation systems for railways that eliminate preventative maintenance, and communication protocols that enhance the modularity and extendibility of our systems.

have a wide range of displays and solutions to provide the flexibility you need to be where your users are. From highway to railway, from LED to LCD-TFT, from hardware to software, and from a single display to an integrated system, we are prepared to meet your communication needs. As a pioneer in the LED display industry, Aesys has been synonymous with excellence for over 30 years. Constant research in software, electronic, and mechanical design has led us to become a world leader in communication systems and display technologies. We relentlessly innovate to bring our clients the latest solutions with the flexibility that meets their needs. Innovation At Aesys, developing communication systems and display technologies that convey change means embracing change ourselves. From our early days in industrial automation, to developing the first on-board LED bus display, to our complete communication systems today, we have never been restrained by our past. We constantly innovate—from our products to production and even internal business processes—to consistently generate the value and flexibility our clients have come to expect. • Process Innovation Our relationship with a local university has led us to further develop a lean organization and embrace the principles of

Integrated Product Development Clients depend on us to deliver reliable displays, whether with basic features, packed with the latest technology, or being able to withstand extreme environmental conditions. This need for reliability drives us to work together as one team—from software, electronic, and mechanical engineering to electronic and mechanical production and assembly—to ensure we always deliver the best solution. Our technical engineers are constantly researching areas like lower power consumption, environmental resistance, and systems integration. They also work closely with our production units to ensure the optimal production of all systems. And although the technologies are always changing, we still have the same attention to quality and detail we’ve had for over thirty years. Global Reach Viewed by millions of people daily on five continents, our displays are prepared for information change around the globe. We are a world leader in communication systems and display technologies, serving the traffic, transit, industrial, and municipal markets. All critical design and production functions are performed at our headquarters in Bergamo, Italy with additional offices located in Brazil, Germany, India, Spain, and the United States. Founded in 1977, today we have over 300 team members dedicated to product excellence.

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{ A New Look @ Transit Tech }

THEN AND NOW:

an historical overview of transit technology BUSRide recently sat down with Brandon Curtis, executive managing director at Aesys, and Darryl Curtis, vice president – technology, at Clever Devices, for an interview dissecting the last decade of transit technology. Furthermore, the two experts identify faults in current transit technology deployment and offer potential solutions for agencies that find themselves in a bind. What notable advances have been made in transit technology in the past decade? Brandon Curtis: We’ve seen a decade of continual advancement. Automatic vehicle monitoring (AVM) in particular is a whole new technology that has developed and evolved over the last 10 to 15 years. Automatic passenger counting (APC) has also made huge advancements. Radio frequency has gone digital, while Nextel iDEN pack systems have gone away. Darryl Curtis: In terms of transit technology, there are two areas an agency must understand thoroughly and execute well. The first is the advancement in vehicle location technology that includes improved GPS, refinements for more accurate location algorithms and a greater number of satellites. Together, these have greatly improved everyone’s capability to locate. Second, communications technology has grown dramatically since we were just using private radio 20 or 30 years ago. Although, the transit industry has been slow in adapting to the use of cellular streams for data communication. However, that is changing as well, as transit agencies have begun to accept cellular technology as a means for reliable data communications, and now voice communications to some degree. Along with these, advancements in routers – intelligent routers and mobile access routers – have actually moved networks out onto the buses; connecting them all the way back into the central system. Brandon: It is amazing how market demand has driven the technology. For instance, CAD-AVL has rarely shown a quantifiable return on investment for a transit agency other than safety. As an example, while there are many ways companies like Aesys can implement most any on-board multimedia and entertainment system, the problem for an agency has been in finding it cost-prohibitive to justify in terms of safety or ease of ridership. Transit agencies have not been able to develop marketing plans that incorporate that very same information for something like location-based advertising. With these technologies advancing so fast, and with their intricacies becoming more and more complex, are agencies able to keep up? Darryl: I don’t know how they can keep up, to be candid; especially where they’re trying to maintain the systems they already have. To stay on top of the technology, they end up relying on consultants or technology companies they can trust, because the changes are coming incredibly fast. So no, I don’t think they’re on top of it. I think some of the consulting companies directly involved on multiple fronts do have the talent and people who are capable of 4

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keeping up. However, they are not the ones deploying the systems. While they’re on top of the technology they think may work, it may not work when someone actually gets out there and tries to deploy the system. The best transit agencies staying on top of what is happening today are the ones that dare to ask, “What have you done for me lately?” Brandon: The people who purchase the technology systems often know what they want, but don’t always know how to articulate their preferences technically. Consultants take that information and interpret it the best they can. Once agencies deploy a system, I think they have a difficult time keeping up with the incoming data. I think it becomes an even more difficult situation when multiple integrators will not work together. They tell agencies they have to pay for their own data before they pair it with another integrator. So what they end up with, in most cases, is an agency that can either choose to update technology at 20 to 30 percent of the time or pay a massive amount of money for an end-to-end system. In light of that, what do agencies most need to know when purchasing a new system? Brandon: I would encourage transit agencies to communicate with one another. It doesn’t cost any money for an agency to pick up the phone and call for answers to their questions, and to get reliable information and perhaps some good advice. Agencies are in a better position to leverage their own domain knowledge for what works and what doesn’t, because the only people who know the system are those who use it every day. It’s amazing agencies don’t have more of a say in how a system should be developed, as they are the ones using it. Darryl: The optimum solution is going to come from a company that has deployed the technology numerous times in numerous situations. It may take a few calls to connect with an agency that can actually offer that guidance. Because there is not an agency out there than has never had a problem, these are the more important questions to ask: How did they respond to a problem before the deployment of new technology? What has their response been to a similar problem with the new the solution in place? Information is power and the best information is from reliable sources. Don’t be afraid to ask, as most people are most likely to share their successes.

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{ A New Look @ Transit Tech }

LOOKING AHEAD AT UTA BUSRide sat down with Brandon Curtis, executive managing director at Aesys, and Clair Fiet, chief technology officer for the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), for an interview exploring technological advances at UTA and across the transit world. Please briefly your role at UTA, how long you’ve worked there and what your day-to-day job entails. Clair Fiet: I’m the chief technology officer and I’ve been employed at UTA since 1994. However I’ve been involved in UTA technology implementation since 1977. I’m a senior executive and report directly to the CEO of UTA – and I don’t think that’s common in American transit. Along with my peers here in the agency and other executives, we assist the board of trustees on the development of our strategic direction. What specific technology changes have you seen or instigated since joining UTA 22 years ago? Fiet: Something that’s really driven us is the advent of cellular communications as a viable tool. It’s very high-speed and it’s very reliable. It really is a viable communications tool and it is playing a major role in future technologies. It’s also crucial that we now implement and utilize de facto standards that we’ve developed. We now have systems that developed largely through interfaces and integration, rather than all coming from a single supplier. Finally, a more recent technology development is the accountbased approach to fare collection. Many are open payment systems. With the emergence of Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay and other similar services, all will play together in an ecosystem that a lot of people are looking at for fare payment. It all comes down to data. It’s not just knowing where the vehicle is and telling the customer; it’s using that information to analyze your own performance. I think that is one of the biggest areas of payback that a company can get. Use system-generated data to analyze system performance and make it better. Brandon Curtis: The fact is we have an inversely proportionate problem – there is so much data that can’t be effectively mined. It’s amazing how much data is just sitting there, waiting for someone in an agency to speak with a technology provider to unlock it. UTA is renowned for managing systems in-house. What are the inherent advantages of that method? What challenges arise? Fiet: Because UTA does everything internally, we rely on our own people. Developing in-house requires a really high-level of imagination and discipline. It’s very disruptive for the transit agency because, as a public agency, we find it hard to compete against the private sector – we can’t compete for wages and we can’t compete for benefits. Discipline presents a major challenge. It requires discipline to keep stringent documentation in-house, rather than relying on an external vendor.

As for advantages, this approach came about because UTA was not a money-laden transit agency. We scratch for everything we can get. There’s never been a time where we can say, “We want to implement a smart bus,” then go out and buy all of the stuff on a bus and equip our entire fleet. We’ve never had that luxury, so we have to look at ways of incrementally doing that. I’m a firm believer in the value of pilot programs, because things on a small-scale really help you understand what the system can do; what the system requires in the way of support and agency involvement. It helps in finalizing our thinking about the system prior to a full-scale implementation.

Going “all-in” often overwhelms an agency. Going “all-in” often overwhelms an agency. They buy into technology they think they need and all of a sudden they have so much data and so much information that they can’t manage it. Maybe they didn’t realize it would put a maintenance load on their garage people; they didn’t know that office people would have to be involved to answer customer questions. Start small, learn what it takes and then expand. That’s been the UTA approach. Curtis: I think when an agency, like UTA, can design equipment, taxpayer money is used over and over again and proliferated. That’s a horrible statement for AVL companies. Technology proliferation is starting to make some really cool things available to smaller agencies who couldn’t previously afford it. What’s on the technology horizon for UTA? What do you think is on the technology horizon for the entire industry? Fiet: For the next couple of years we’re going to be focusing on business intelligence. That means utilizing real-time information, passenger counting, fare collection, vehicle telematics and other systems, bringing it all together in “big data” so we can analyze it on a macro level. I think that is really going to give us some payback. Curtis: I think Europe has a lot more advanced transit systems because necessity is the mother of invention. They’ve got more people trying to get to different places and they’ve got older cities that don’t have roads to accommodate. Europe had to become more creative. How do you get under a 12-foot bridge that’s 2,000 years old? Thinking outside the box and leveraging money and ideas from elsewhere will do a lot for American transit. I think a lot of our advancements are right in front of us, we just won’t get out of our transit “box.” busride.com | BUSRIDE

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{ A New Look @ Transit Tech } AUTOMATIC VOICE ANNUNCIATION – THE FUTURE MADE SIMPLE BUSRide spoke with Brandon Curtis, executive managing director at Aesys, about the benefits of Automatic Voice Annunciation (AVA). How does AVA benefit passengers and drivers? Brandon Curtis: AVA automates on-board passenger announcements, which not only keeps passengers up to date automatically, but also helps create buses with enhanced accessibility for low-vision and hearing-impaired passengers through audible announcements and text on the OBNSS (On board next stop sign). Automated voice announcements alerting passengers to upcoming stops are coordinated with LED signage on board the bus to help all riders travel with increased convenience and independence. The system is fully automated, freeing bus operators to concentrate on driving and the other myriad tasks requiring their attention.

What about the early days – before onboard GPS? Curtis: Prior to onboard GPS location systems, vehicle location was very different than it is now. In Seattle in the late 1980’s, for example, sign-post technology was used. Approximately 200 locations were designated relative to the number of routes that passed the proposed sites as well the frequency and quantity of vehicles. Each site had one transmitter and a corresponding identification number; the ID number is all that was transmitted. Each bus was equipped with a receiver. The agency would then drive the routes again and again, measuring odometer pulses to establish the number of odometer pulses for each route. As the bus got closer to the sign-post transmitter, it would use RSSI, (receiver signal strength) to determine the point at which the bus was likely closest to the sign-post transmitter. When the bus pulled away from the transmitter or site, an onboard computer would readjust the odometer pulses for the next known sign-post transmitter on the route. In the mid-to-late 1990s, AVA was first introduced. For the benefit of low-vision passengers, drivers are required to announce each bus stop manually. After it was clear that bus drivers couldn’t be effectively mandated to do this, the idea of AVA began to gestate. At that time, it was becoming feasible to use GPS. Technology had advanced, and there were more satellites in the sky than ever before.

How does AVA work in a digital world? Curtis: Onboard computers are either equipped with built-in GPS units or they draw GPS coordinates from an external source. In a typical “smart bus” scenario, route information is loaded into the bus’s computer. The smart bus is typically loaded with the route information for all routes in the system. Keep in mind that the smart bus is a vehicle that can operate without communicating to a central system. The vehicle “knows” the route it’s supposed to run, and it knows when it has entered a given zone of geographic 6

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coordinates that will trigger an automated announcement and/or a text message on the OBNSS.

Is the advancement of GPS technology making AVA better and/or more affordable for transit agencies? Curtis: To a large degree, GPS has been touted as a sort of “black magic” by providers – but the wizard behind the curtain has been revealed by technology like the iPhone, where users can enter an address and quickly triangulate it with their own geographic coordinates. It’s just not that hard anymore to be accurate with GPS. Why should I be able to do that at a low cost with a smart phone or TomTom, while the same task with a bus costs agencies and taxpayers many thousands of dollars per vehicle? Many technologies are reaching a breaking point, beyond the legacy systems that have traditionally occupied this space. Where these technologies were once complex, they’re now incredibly userfriendly. Providers are challenged to justify high costs while also making their products more usable.

What is being done to reduce costs? Curtis: We’re working on releasing a fully-automated stop announcement system that will cost around $2,000 per bus. It uses text-to-speech, which is a technology that’s become highly advanced in recent years. The programming software has become very easy-to-use. Furthermore, by using text-to-speech the cost of the audio is much lower, the relevant data maintenance much easier and the file that has to be uploaded to the bus is considerably smaller. This, coupled with Wi-Fi, makes the data nimbler and gives transit agencies more freedom to adapt and tailor the AVA to their needs and potential wants. Most AVA tools being circulated around the transit industry are very complicated; especially if an agency wants to use it for anything but stop announcements. We’re hoping to change that. The programming software package is very simple, to the point where it will allow agencies to program any geo-code they want, whenever they want for whatever they want. This will simplify stop announcements and also allow for new ideas. For example, agencies can use the AVA system as a tool to advertise local businesses close to a given bus stop, or tie any message to any GPS trigger as well as meet the requirements for the ADA community. This is the kind of idea that can help agencies fund themselves and make their systems easier to use, while opening up potential funding sources to benefit the taxpayers who pay to use that agency’s services every day. It doesn’t get more simple than that.

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{ A New Look @ Transit Tech }

INFOTAINMENT SHOULDN’T BE COST PROHIBITIVE

BUSRide spoke with Brandon Curtis, executive managing director at Aesys, and Kevin O’Brien, general sales manager of Complete Coach Works (CCW), about the rising demand for transit infotainment and why a cutting-edge system is often (unnecessarily) cost-prohibitive for public agencies. Please provide a definition of transit “infotainment.” Kevin O’Brien: Infotainment in transit has a few definitions. It can range from simple next-stop and nearby-route announcements, to local weather, to public and private advertisements. What’s the present public demand for infotainment in transit? O’Brien: Demand is starting to flourish, and we’re going to start seeing more advances in the cutting-edge of infotainment. Screens and monitors on buses are getting bigger. For example, some agencies are starting to run buses with wide-screen onboard monitors that stream stop requests, route intersections, weather information and local advertisements. Another exciting example: Aesys is soon releasing flat-screens which extend down both sides of a bus in place of the ad-cards with streaming digital signage, as well as leveraging existing technology for an exciting new product line. Brandon Curtis: I think there is a lot of demand right now. Infotainment started 15 years ago, but has it even been defined? What is a functional infotainment system? There are a few agencies and companies that have tried to resolve that and it’s had difficulty here in North America. There are more of these types of systems in Europe than in North America. For instance, if you were dropped off in the middle of Copenhagen, as long as you know the name of the area that you’re going to, you can follow easy to use information signs next to the trains, next to the subways, on the subways, et al. to easily make it to your destination. Visual information that shows what stop you’re at, what the next stop is, et cetera. But is that infotainment? People argue to great effect that information for riders right now is not really necessary because most of the people riding the bus are the ones that ride it every day, or they are looking at their smart phones. More commonly everyday people are looking at their smart phones for information relative to their transit trip. Much of this information is extrapolated by the rider/user. For example; looking at their smart phone for route and run information, checking Google transit to find the position of the vehicle and determine when it will be close, and watching maps and other apps as they are on their journey to either research business as they drive past on the internet or to compare their physical location with where it is they want to go. Maybe the real question(s) is how do you get passengers to look at the screens on a bus instead of the cell phones – and should we? Agencies are looking for ways to increase ridership. I don’t think there is a single transit agency in North America that works on a profit from the farebox, or a profit period. The best chance agencies have for increasing budgets without asking the federal government (which is the taxpayer) is by increasing ridership. I think there is a growing belief that infotainment is the next step toward getting people to ride the bus. In order to have infotainment that will rise to the challenge of increasing ridership, it has to start with good data and provide something useful and/or meaningful enough to the potential rider that it sways his/her tendency toward transit. The screens and hardware are simple tools for conveying the message.

What are the major roadblocks for agencies trying to upgrade to cutting-edge infotainment systems? Curtis: Firstly, these systems must have the correct information. Once the information is correct it must be presented in a way that the riding public can interpret as useful. Then the information needs to mix with something that could be classified as entertainment. Whether it’s a live news feed or a video that runs from the transitmarketing department, location-based advertising or “text in” trivia contests with results displayed on the screens. One of the major roadblocks is that the agencies don’t have the ability to create their own onboard VLU’s or computers with GPS. It’s tragic that many technology companies have kept taxpaying transit agencies in the dark about advances in technology. In many cases, it would make the integrator’s high system price tag more explainable since the actual benefit of the systems has been difficult to justify in light of the technology that people are walking around with in their pockets. Location-based advertising is another concept with a very fancy name in the transit industry and a mystique much greater than its real cost. There should be no problem in taking a geo-targeted location and either play an automated stop announcement, an advertisement or a recording from the transit agency or private coach operator. On your smart phone, you simply activate a menu item and you will be streamed advertising information for wherever you are standing. There should be no reason we can’t stream live satellite. One of the main obstacles to this is the wireless system. While some agencies require a mission critical command and control radio system that is completely self-contained, the greater majority of them do not. Commercial wireless is now a viable and affordable option for transit agencies that want to be able to move data real-time from the vehicle to dispatch and back and out to the riding public. The third common roadblock agencies face in using today’s readily available technology is data. Most companies charge agencies for the hardware necessary to collect the “data” and then they charge them to use their own “data.” Then they make it difficult to use their own data through proprietary protocols and databases. Lastly, I believe the software developed by most in transit for the daily maintenance and functionality of the system(s) is not good. Anytime you marry together software that is not intuitive or easy to use and constantly changes with proprietary protocols and comms so that an agency has to pay money every time they want box “A” to talk to box “B,” or to generate a report or use the data to hand off to another vendor to eliminate antennas, connections or confusion, is tragic and un-necessary. As we look around ourselves in this industry and what it is we are trying to accomplish, why is it that transit in our part of the world has lagged so far behind consumable technology? How are we still specifying and designing to J1708 requirements in an age of Ethernet and wireless high speed? I believe we are coming quickly to a time when saying something is “made for transit” or that it’s “very complicated in transit” are no longer going to be a valid reason for charging agencies millions of dollars for outdated technology that they cannot use on a daily basis. Even now, many agencies are figuring out how to put together commercial off-the-shelf into functioning information systems. Aesys is getting ready to deploy product suite that is a whole new look at transit technology. One of those items is an affordable and expandable infotainment system that starts with a stretch TFT screen and a single controller to provide simple rider information and locationbased advertising with easy-to-use software – leveraging technology available from other verticals.

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{ A New Look @ Transit Tech }

America’s maintenance departments need open architecture BUSRide spoke with Brandon Curtis, executive managing director at leading ITS-provider Aesys; and Ed Remly, director of maintenance, Northwest U.S., at Transdev North America. Because of their positions, Curtis and Remly have uniquely informed perspectives about why a lack of open architecture is negatively affecting American transit systems. In what ways does the maintenance department in a transit agency interact with open systems and open architecture? Ed Remly: Currently, in transit maintenance departments, we don’t see a lot of open architecture. Almost all of the systems are separate and have proprietary information from the vendors from whom we purchase them. That creates quite a bit of headache for many different reasons. As a contractor, Transdev doesn’t have a lot of say in the vehicles that are purchased by the agencies. Occasionally we do, and occasionally we actually purchase the vehicles – but, for the most part, we don’t. Because of that, we have little say what should be done with the systems and standardization. Many clients have gone with the cheapest product on the road; the best deal at the time; or the most aesthetically appealing. Unfortunately, when you’ve got a very diverse fleet that’s not standardized, systems don’t generally “talk” to each other and most of them aren’t interchangeable. That creates a whole lot of issues with spare parts availability, downed buses, training for mechanics and in other areas. Two systems might be very similar, but they require different sets of cables and tools, and a completely different knowledge base. We spend a great amount of time training our technicians and researching where to get less expensive parts quicker, so it creates quite a few issues. One of the biggest problems that we face right now in maintenance departments is finding qualified technicians. Standardization would really benefit contractors like us, and it would ultimately benefit the client, because it would create less complicated systems. That would allow us to train a technician once on multiple systems, rather than sending him to multiple schools, spending time and money on extensive training.

the world – so it’s not uncommon in the transit industry to have a bus down for weeks while waiting on a single part. With an open architecture implementation style, one part would be available from several different vendors. That would save us, and ultimately the client and their passengers, many headaches. Aside from costs, what other complications arise when onboard technology is based on a closed / proprietary system, rather than an open platform? Remly: One of the downfalls of proprietary systems is that, after an agency purchases them, issues can arise. They’re normal issues, like downed service, production issues or spare parts, but the vendor might be non-responsive. Now the client is completely locked into this system. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases, and millions in other cases, on infrastructure that will no longer do what they need. Perhaps they were sold something that was going to be great and it isn’t, or perhaps the vendor company has gone out of business. This happens quite often. The agency must then come up with some more grants or money to try to replace the entire system. It’s an industry-wide problem.

“It’s an industry-wide problem.”

Brandon Curtis: Whenever an agency, or contractor like Transdev, receives new equipment, a single point log-on affects the fareboxes, destination signs and all other intelligent systems the agency manages. Transdev is ultimately responsible for getting buses out on the road. A lack of open architecture can make it difficult to find the appropriate person to resolve any issues. In an open architecture system, agencies can “plug in” new equipment and, for lack of a better term, forget about it. Is a lack of open architecture costly for maintenance departments? If so, why? Remly: Absolutely. We often have buses that are down awaiting on a proprietary part from a certain vendor, who might be halfway across 8

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What’s the prescriptive “next step”? How can agencies demand more from their providers so that maintenance departments can fully realize the benefits of open architecture? Curtis: I think it will ultimately be difficult for this industry to move to open architecture when so many of its vendors have built their companies based on the margins available through a closed network. It’s frustrating because, in most cases, the only reason why the controller of a farebox won’t talk to an onboard computer is that the vendor host of the network has modified system protocols so agencies must pay for their systems to interact. Remly: When an agency is looking to purchase new vehicles, they should work with their contractor (if applicable) to help standardize the fleet. I recommend taking advantage of the contractor’s expertise in the industry. By working as partner with their contractor, I think agencies will cut down on many issues. Agencies also need to require vendors to have more of an open technology. If you don’t force the industry’s vendors to do it, they won’t, because they want to keep their systems proprietary. Push back against that, and a sea change will occur.

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A New Look @ Transit Tech  

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