A Fleet Manager’s Guide to a Telematics System For Buses

April 27, 2021

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Key Takeaways

A telematics solution can help you increase the safety and efficiency of your bus operations, as well as increase passenger satisfaction. In this guide for fleet managers, learn about the benefits of telematics systems for buses and get a list of features to look for when evaluating different telematics solutions for your fleet.

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Technology is top of mind for industry insiders and it’s become obvious that it is indispensable to the future of mass transit. Today, technology drives innovation towards connected, smarter experiences for passengers and bus companies.

This innovation includes a telematics system for buses. As fleet managers search for ways to improve efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction, they’re increasingly looking at telematics solutions for help. This technology gives managers access to exact data on what’s happening on the road. Telematics captures important information about operations, bus driver behavior, safety, and vehicle health.

What is a telematics system?

Telematics, or telematics systems, refers to the convergence of telecommunications and information processing. It’s often interchangeable with vehicle telematics or fleet telematics. Telematics describes vehicle onboard communications services and applications that communicate with one another via GPS receivers and other telematics devices.

The rise of the internet and strength in telecommunication networks is causing telematics to grow. Current business demand and regulatory requirements have further contributed to telematics systems’ popularity. Electronic data is easily transferable for various purposes, including fleet management.

How telematics systems can help different kinds of bus fleets

Telematics systems are a great way for bus companies to create better routes, elevate safety, save fuel, and improve their bottom line. While these benefits overlap for all passenger-carrying fleets, let’s look at how different sectors can apply a telematics system for bus use.

Public transportation

Everyone knows the feeling of wondering when a city bus will show up. Some bus stops have an estimated arrival time display, but sometimes it’s not working or updating. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) was no stranger to this problem. To combat this, they partnered with Samsara to improve predictability and rider sentiment. Now, every bus is equipped with reliable, real-time GPS that provides live location information.

The results? Since implementing Samsara, the MBTA has seen a 10% increase in their buses’ predictability. They also resolve customer complaints faster. Before Samsara, the MBTA’s unreliable location data made proving vehicle locations complicated. Now, support center employees use data to legitimize complaints or can respond with confidence that their service was operating as intended. Further, the MBTA gained more visibility into their entire operations, from tracking buses underground to locating malfunctioning vehicles and diagnosing vehicle health without entering the yard.

Read the MBTA’s full story here.

Private transportation

Dolphin Transportation is one company leveraging video telematics to train drivers and keep customers safe. Before using Samsara Dash Cams, Dolphin Transportation had little visibility into driver behaviors. Now, they are able to review harsh event footage and can coach drivers to improve safety. Dolphin also uses dash cam footage for training purposes. Instead of spending weeks running practice routes, managers review hyperlapse video footage with drivers, coaching them on highways and turns. Dolphin has built an on-demand training video library which has enabled them to train drivers 3x faster.

Telematics also helps Dolphin improve the reliability of customer “10-minute out” calls. Using real-time GPS data points and geofence alerts, dispatchers are reminded to contact customers when drivers are nearby. Dolphin also uses Samsara’s Live Sharing links to provide their customers with vehicle locations and real-time ETAs from a unique URL. These kinds of services enhance the customer experience without creating more work for employees.

Check out Dolphin Transportation’s story here.

School bus transportation

Because they’re transporting students, safety is paramount for Birmingham City Schools (BCS). They set ambitious yearly goals to improve performance and track their achievements. Using Samsara telematics, BCS can identify unsafe driving behaviors like harsh braking and turning. Likewise, they use the data collected—for example, cornering too fast at a specific location—to show bus drivers their patterns and coach better habits. In 2020, BCS’ school bus fleet had driven over 119,500 miles since their last preventable accident. This is over 1.5x the Council of the Great City Schools’ average.

Besides improving safety performance, BCS used telematics to improve their vehicles’ fuel efficiency to comply with state laws and save costs. Failure to follow Alabama idle time laws could cause costly fines. To avoid fines and stay in compliance, they used the Samsara Idle Time report to track idle time and fuel usage.

See Birmingham City School’s full story here.

How can telematics systems improve fleet management for buses?

  1. Fleet tracking: No need to contact drivers to get their locations or ETAs. Telematics technology shows you where your buses are via real-time GPS. No matter how large your fleet is, you can view live-to-the-second information of fleet movements with a few clicks. 

  2. Routing: Do you get complaints that buses were too early or late? While routes may seem good on paper, telematics data can tell you why they’re not performing as expected. Telematics data can help you understand what is happening on your routes so you can make adjustments, improving both efficiency and customer satisfaction.

  3. Fuel consumption: Fuel efficiency isn’t always top of mind for bus drivers. Harsh braking, excess idling, and inefficient routes can contribute to higher fuel costs. Because telematics systems give you visibility into driver, vehicle, and route performance, fleet managers know what's causing the fuel waste and where to take action.

  4. Fleet sustainability: Looking to reduce carbon emissions? Your telematics solution can help. You can track fuel consumption and excess idling so you can take action to reduce fuel costs, which means you can also cut down on CO2 emissions. Similarly, route efficiency helps you save money while leaving a smaller carbon footprint. And as the demand for zero-emission buses grows, telematics can help you transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and manage a green fleet. You can track EV battery health and charge efficiency remotely with ease.  

  5. Maintenance: Avoid costly and reputation-busting roadside breakdowns. Telematics data helps you get proactive about maintenance. Spot issues such as failing batteries, engine fault codes, and warning lights before the breakdown. There's no need to follow a rigid maintenance schedule full of checkbox items. Instead, fleet managers can build a need-based predictive maintenance schedule, minimizing downtime.

  6. Driver behavior and safety: With telematics systems, fleet managers can gain insight into driving habits. Set up training programs, individual coaching sessions, and build a culture of safety that rewards safer driving. Video telematics offers more safety opportunities. You can alert bus drivers to risky driving behavior in real time, coach them at any given time with actual footage, and protect them from false claims.

  7. Insurance: After increasing fleet safety and reducing accidents, your insurance premiums might get lowered. Insurance companies are using telematics information to assess risk factors. They may update your premium accordingly, so safe driving pays off.

  8. ID Card readers: Combine near-field communication (NFC) technology with telematics to increase visibility into transit systems. Drivers can assign themselves a vehicle with the tap of a card. Students can check-in and check-out of school buses, giving parents peace of mind. The ridership data from card readers can further help fleet managers plan more efficient routes and balance busloads.

  9. Compliance: With changing regulations, keeping your teams in compliance is challenging. Since telematics systems track drive times, it’s easier to maintain electronic logging device (ELD) compliance. Track records of duty status and streamline workflows associated with editing, certifying, and annotating Hours of Service (HOS) logs. Proactive driver alerts help mitigate risk and prevent violations.

Features to look for when evaluating a telematics system for your fleet

There are many telematics system providers for bus operations. Consider these features when evaluating the best telematics system for your business:

Feature

Description

Real-time GPS tracking

“Near real time” isn’t real time. Search for solutions with true real-time GPS tracking functionality instead of breadcrumb tracking. Real-time tracking helps you keep up with demand by showing you live vehicle locations, traffic conditions, and distance from pick-up or drop-off locations.

Robust, flexible platform

A powerful data platform should capture data from sensors, cameras, and directly from OEMs. It should centralize all your operations data in one place. Check for dispatching, scheduling, record-keeping, driver and vehicle details, and similar fleet functionality. It should also have helpful out-of-the-box reports for performance analysis.

Easy installation and customization

Maximizing uptime is a priority. Explore solutions with plug-and-play hardware that connects in minutes. It’s also important that you can transfer current data to the system easily and customize the platform to your business needs. Test how you’ll access the information needed daily.

Connected dash cam

Pairing telematics with dash cams makes a significant impact on improving driver and passenger safety. Dash cams can help exonerate drivers from false claims, reduce accidents, and decrease insurance costs. Dash cams with embedded artificial intelligence (AI) can detect safety issues without a g-force trigger—such as distracted driving and tailgating.

Supplemental hardware integration

Supplementary monitors and accessories can offer even more visibility into operations. For example, NFC card readers log real-time ridership data. Environmental monitors and WiFi hotspots offer comfort and connectivity to passengers. Check that a solution can integrate and support existing or new tools.

Live ETA sharing

Reduce inquiries and boost customer satisfaction by sharing real-time vehicle locations. When you expect late arrivals, you can be proactive and inform passengers. Riders can plan better when they can see exactly where their vehicle is. By being transparent with this data, you enhance the customer experience, building trust and a positive service reputation.

Driver mobile app

A well-designed driver app makes communication and day-to-day tasks easy for drivers. They can receive instant notifications for route changes, messages, log HOS, complete DVIRs, and access and upload documents. Make sure the provider has an app for both Android and iOS-based mobile devices.

Open API

You may have existing systems you want linked to your fleet management software, such as accounting, payroll, or maintenance tools. Ask about REST APIs and webhooks to allow you to integrate into any platform.

Customer support

When problems happen, you want them resolved fast. Check the resources telematics providers offer for support. Services such as 24/7 support, onboarding and implementation services, training, and knowledge bases provide value on top of the solution itself.

What is the best telematics system for bus fleets?

Trusted by more than 20,000 customers, Samsara is your partner in fleet management. Samsara’s complete telematics system for bus operations offers a connected, powerful platform. It’s where you can manage your entire fleet in real time. Samsara can help you create a unified solution that fits your passenger transit needs, whether you need help with safety, compliance, or efficiency. The Samsara platform offers GPS tracking, routing and dispatch capability, AI-powered dash cams, ELD compliance, performance analysis, and more.

If you're looking for a telematics system, reach out to Samsara for a demo or free trial today.

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