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Transportation Agency Accelerates Vehicle Technology with Cellular Connectivity


Pierce Transit’s transition from land-based radios to in-vehicle LTE routers enables new and future applications

For years land-mobile radio (LMR) has been a staple of communication within public transportation fleets. However, LMR can’t support the many connection-reliant technologies that are becoming so common on buses and other transit vehicles — devices and applications such as AVL systems, fareboxes, surveillance cameras, digital signage, and rider Wi-Fi.

When Pierce Transit was looking at replacing its land-based radios for voice and data communications in its fleets of public transportation vehicles, the IT team knew cellular broadband was the logical next step. This agency — serving 292 square miles in Pierce County, near Seattle, Wash. — needed reliable in-vehicle connectivity for its CAD and AVL systems, DVRs for on-board video cameras, and public Wi-Fi in transit buses. And with many more prospective projects on the horizon, they needed a scalable solution.

“We started out with Cradlepoint routers on about half our buses, connecting public Wi-Fi and the digital camera system. But eventually we started working to ‘cellularize’ our on-board data way from the antiquated UHF system,” said Aaron Lenk, communications technologist assistant manager for Pierce Transit.

Pierce Transit transitioned to Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for Mobile and wireless edge routers — with FirstNet and Verizon SIM cards for priority and pre-emption during emergencies — in more than 500 vehicles. Since first deploying this in-vehicle networking solution, the organization has found several key benefits of mobile broadband and cloud-based network management.

Improving connection speed for real-time data and video streaming in transit vehicles

LTE enables Pierce Transit to have accurate GPS information for tracking its vehicles. Whereas land-based radio used to pull location data every several minutes, LTE pulls it every 10 seconds.

This up-to-date bus location data is especially important for the agency’s customers. Riders can rely on the information being pushed through to their phones.

“We’ve been offering this service for a while, but LTE has made that bus route tracking information actually meaningful for our transportation customers,” said Brent Campbell, information technology supervisor for Pierce Transit. “We had cases where the old radio system would misplace a vehicle because it went into a tunnel. With the Cradlepoint solution, we are able to give better predictions on where the buses are going to be and how soon they are going to arrive.”

Fast data transfer also is essential when a dangerous incident takes places inside or around one of the buses. With high-performance LTE in place, Pierce Transit staff and law enforcement elsewhere in the county can have a live view of what’s taking place and then respond accordingly.

Managing connectivity across the fleet

Monitoring and addressing network connectivity and security throughout hundreds of vehicles moving all over a 292-square-mile county can be a complex process. Pierce County’s IT team uses Cradlepoint NetCloud Manager to handle all of this centrally through the cloud, and without having to sending a staff member to troubleshoot each issue in person.

“We have more than 500 routers; it wouldn’t work to manage each one individually,” said Christian Handsaker, assistant manager, network and security, for Pierce Transit.

Through NetCloud, the IT team easily schedules updates and views easy-to-read dashboards about information such as per-vehicle data usage. They can dive deeper into why a certain bus is sending and receiving an unusually high amount of data, leading to evidence-based decisions from one bus to the next.

“From a project management perspective, we’ve seen the benefit of being able to pull up NetCloud during a meeting to figure out why certain buses we’re taking our updates. It’s a huge value to be able to log in and see what’s happening in the background,” said Usame Dahir, senior IT project manager for Pierce Transit.

Preparing for the future of public transit technology

Mobile broadband gives Pierce Transit the ability to continue adding new on-board devices and applications for years to come. The organization is considering rolling out digital fare systems as well as technologies such as digital signs, transit signal priority (TSP) devices, and new CAD and AVL systems.

“We were limited with land-based radio. LTE makes it possible to add a wide variety of technologies new needs arise,” Campbell said.

Explore more about vehicle LTE and 5G routers for mass transit fleets on our public transit webpage or in our public transportation solution brief.

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