How do bus telematics work?

Zero-emission vehicle technology is currently at the forefront of new bus and coach developments. But telematics continues to sit unseen in the corner, where it operates best.

How do bus telematics work?
Telematics systems are evolving more and more for modern buses

Telematics. It’s a word used increasingly often in the bus and transport industry. Yet it’s also a mystery to many.

Nowadays telematics and fleet management is at the cutting edge of bus and vehicle technology. One would be hard pressed to find a new bus coming from manufacturers that doesn’t have integrated solutions running through it, undiscernible to the passenger or driver’s eye. Fleet management is no new term, but many in the industry may not realise the benefits to having these systems onboard.

Telematics is a branch of technology that deals with long-distance transmission of computerised information. On vehicles such as buses, telematics is an installed system that monitors key functions of the vehicle and reports this data to one central hub off the bus.

Yet this sleek technology wasn’t always so complex. Australian Fleet Management Association (AfMA) executive director Mace Hartley says telematics has evolved its purpose since its historical inception.

"Historically telematics started as a way of locating assets at any given time," Hartley told ABC. "Back in the day its first purpose was as a locating tool.

"Now there are hundreds of uses for telematics. Since its inception it has come a very long way."

Now, it’s difficult to find something that telematics can’t do while installed on a bus. Hartley says a primary function of modern fleet management technology is to act as a live monitor inside a bus. Cameras facing the driver’s seat and the road are often paired with bus monitoring software that can indicate significant events occurring in the bus. This ranges from harsh braking or poor cornering to bursts of quick acceleration to help fleet owners better understand how drivers perform.

Hartley says that bus drivers once hated the idea of being constantly monitored by camera and live incident observations. But perspectives have changed and members of the bus industry have realised the benefits this feedback and technology can have. Instead of being used to solely hold bus drivers to account, the AfMA executive director says fleet management solutions can actually protect drivers.

"A benefit of using this technology on buses is when taking passengers, there may be incidents where passengers fall due to a serve or harsh braking," Hartley said. "Unfortunately, in this litigious world some bus drivers may receive claims for damages.

"If you have telematics installed in the bus then it’ll tell its own story. These systems have gyroscopes built into them that tell the story based on time whether there was an event and it can often protect drivers."

Hartley says the Australian telematics market now provides various solutions to transport fleets that can have both driver facing and forward-facing cameras installed. He says when they were first introduced, they received plenty of pushback from drivers not wanting to be constantly recorded on the job.

But there’s no need for drivers to be concerned about always being watched. Hartley says telematics technology only stores camera footage and incident reporting if there is a harsh event that happens, such as a crash.

Modern telematics is so streamlined that systems now record only 30-second snapshots of time before or after the bus swerves or brakes harshly. Hartley reiterates that this technology is mainly installed to protect drivers and prevents them from being blamed whenever there’s an incident.

"What this technology does is protect the majority of bus drivers," Hartley said. "There are occasions when a driver error that causes the problem and creates an incident, but nine times out of 10 telematics and built-in cameras actually vindicate the driver.

"For the most part it is used to capture other vehicles on the road pulling out in front of buses or flying around a corner and identifies what has caused the incident."

This system is invaluable for drivers who receive complaints from passengers. Yet telematics is also a helpful resource for fleet owners who are wanting to increase the efficiency and safety of its buses and staff.

Hartley says over time predictive maintenance has become a key benefit of having telematics solutions installed on buses. From a bus operator’s perspective, it doesn’t just cut time and costs – it also keeps vehicles safe and ensure dangerous incidents on the road are less likely to occur.

"Having telematics on a fleet of buses has the ability to provide a range of predictive breakdown features," Hartley said. "It can say how long the battery has left, it can notify drivers and operators when brake pads are down to a certain level.

"This predictive analytics around breakdowns has the opportunity to reduce repair and maintenance costs exponentially. It means operators won’t have to pull buses off roads every other day to run checks, as the systems can tell them how the bus is running."

This ability to access bus maintenance data means operators can plan for repairs in downtimes to maximise services. Hartley says many operators weren’t initially inclined to spend extra money on installing and maintaining these solutions. But the evolving possibilities that telematics opens the door to has quickly become too good to turn down.

Telematics isn’t just a fancy addition to bus fleets. Hartley says new mandates on fleet management safety technology onboard buses has become widespread as it provides easier ways to hold operators accountable.

The AfMA executive director says fleet owners used to have the opportunity to turn a blind eye towards poor driving or faulty parts. But mandating the installation of telematics means there’s no excuse for operators to use if they don’t make changes when bus drivers are speeding or certain parts of a bus need maintenance works completed.

"Telematics has stopped historical attitudes and ensured managers are held accountable for what goes on with their buses," Hartley said. "Now organisations seemed to have gotten passed this and are seeing the benefits.

"They now realise there are hundreds of ways telematics can be used to benefit their fleet and their customers."

Telematics used to be a niche corner of the bus industry, but now the amount of fleet management technology providers is increasing. Evolving solutions now help operators to choose which buses can be switched across to electric or zero-emission vehicles. Hartley says operators should consider which companies offer the best post-service care for solutions when considering telematics systems.

There are many helpful features modern telematics possesses, all from the power of a singular screen and unseen connections installed in the bus’ framework. While technology continues to advance, Hartley says the transport industry should be prepared for an unimaginable amount of data being sent straight to fleet operators’ fingertips. If industry members embrace it, he says they will reap the rewards too.

"The power of telematics is incredible," Hartley said. "In some cases, the many different features being included on management solutions is being channelled back into giving driver bonuses and benefiting all workers in a company, so it’s good for everyone.

"With what we’ve seen recently in the growth of telematics, the sky is the limit with what’s possible."

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