With a fleet of 700 buses and a network of more than 7,000 stops (as well as 80 light rail vehicles and two inclined planes), Pittsburgh Regional Transit provides safe, reliable, and affordable public transportation throughout Allegheny County 365 days a year. Today, thanks to a joint effort from Digi and Clever Devices, PRT bus riders have real-time information about schedules, location and passenger density information, as well as free Wi-Fi service — all part of the goal to improve public transit ridership.
Each year, Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) provides more than 62 million rides across its vast network of buses and light rail trains — an average of 220,000 rides each weekday and 50,000 rides on Saturdays and Sundays. Public transit plays a pivotal role in economic development efforts and community vitality within Pittsburgh and throughout Allegheny County, which increasingly relies on PRT to improve how it serves the needs of riders and the broader community.
According to Scott Vetere, PRT’s director of intelligent transportation systems, enhancing the public transit rider experience remains a primary driver of innovation across the organization. “For years, our riders called into our customer-service center simply to ask: When the next bus will arrive?” he said. “We recognized we could improve our customers’ experience by implementing a system to show real-time routing information using Internet-connected vehicle systems and third-party such as Transit.”
In partnership with Digi and Clever Devices, a leader in public-transit technology, PRT created TrueTime, an application to share real-time scheduling with riders and transit managers. The system pulls data from Clever Devices computers on board PRT buses as well as a computer-aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location (CAD/AVL) system and publishes it through third-party apps.
One of the critical components of the TrueTime system is its use of Digi solutions, which include Digi Remote Manager® paired with Digi’s purpose-built transportation routers. These dual concurrent LTE-Advanced routers perform a multitude of tasks in complex transit and transportation systems using true segmented traffic flow with both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity. Internet access for riders is managed securely and without performance or impact to onboard communications systems. Onboard systems retain priority, and any remaining bandwidth is made available to Internet traffic.
The router also strengthens operational offerings with a suite of functions to facilitate fare collection, surveillance cameras, and dispatch equipment, as well as the digital signage and location maps passengers rely upon.
“Digi was the perfect choice for this application,” said Vetere. “Many other peer transit agencies around the country are using Digi on their vehicles, so we had a very strong comfort level right from the start. We were on a tight timeframe, and they had product availability with fast delivery. They met the commitments we needed.
“More importantly, Digi routers hold up very well in the field with very few failures. We mount one to a bus, connect it to the Clever Devices unit with an Ethernet cable — and then we don’t need to touch it until the bus is retired. Then we move it from an old bus to a brand-new bus — with zero trouble. We also connect it to our Masabi fare collection devices, so riders can scan their phones for fare authentication.”
With hundreds of buses in service, PRT faced the challenge of managing hundreds of Digi routers — and that’s where Digi Remote Manager® (Digi RM) entered the picture. Digi RM transforms the portfolio of dispersed IoT devices into a dynamic, intelligent network. With Digi RM, PRT can easily activate, monitor, and diagnose hundreds of Digi transportation routers from a single point of command. Vetere and his colleagues can edit configurations, update firmware, schedule and automate tasks — all from a desktop, tablet, or phone.
“It’s really great to be able to see if things are connected,” he said. “We can send out configuration files and update firmware — without taking the bus offline. It also provides asset management — we know which routers are on which buses.”
Digi RM’s role in keeping firmware up to date is particularly important because of the need to ensure compliance with PCI, the compliance standard that governs the use of credit cards. “Whenever we need new firmware on our fare-collection boxes, we can use Digi RM to send those updates — simultaneously and immediately. There’s no more walking around with a thumb drive. We hit a button and it’s done — no one has to touch the device. We have an audit trail of which devices are updated and can view dashboards to see uptime and downtime of every device.”
Today, PRT riders no longer need to review paper schedules or call the customer-service center to find out when the next bus arrives. “A rider can send a text to receive an update, they can look at the TrueTime website, or they can use popular third-party apps such as Transit,” Vetere said. “And we can tell them not only when the next bus is coming, but also how full or empty it is. We have sensors that can record the vehicle capacity, which became extremely important for passengers concerned about social distancing during the pandemic.
“We also provide our bus passengers with free Wi-Fi through a private network set up by Verizon, so this traffic never touches the PRT network. TrueTime has proven to be a reliable resource for Pittsburgh Regional Transit and has improved the city’s public transit ridership and the rider experience. It’s also given us data to measure and improve on-time performance.”
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