Automatic Vehicle Location and Control: ITS Evaluation Guide

Published August 26, 2022 in ITS Evaluation Guide

Automatic Vehicle Location and Control (AVLC) and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology have become interchangeable terms. However, AVLC technology is built on the foundation of a good location system, and GPS is the technology that provides that location.

The early 2000s saw the convergence of GPS technology, the internet, desktop computers, and mobile phone networks. This allowed vehicles to obtain exact locations via satellite and transmit their location back to control centre computers via the mobile network. GPS has replaced roadside beacons and induction loops as the technology used to monitor vehicle locations.

Lower communications costs have meant frequent location updates are possible, and greater GPS accuracy has meant passenger information, particularly arrival time predictions, have improved significantly.

Greater real-time fleet visibility has helped improve the overall reliability of passenger transport dramatically since the 1980s. Increased GPS accuracy has also meant that voice announcements, transfer information, local information, or advertising calls can be effectively triggered by vehicle location.

For example, the triggering of a voice announcement telling passengers to transfer at the next station to another line is now far easier to implement. The passenger experience becomes seamless, as they are provided information on screens and audio announcements relevant to where they are right now.

For drivers, an onboard driver console supplies turn by turn navigation when required. Drivers can see at a glance if they are ahead or behind schedule and can communicate with a control room through either voice or via short, predetermined messages. Two-way communications have resulted in control centres having a much clearer view of what is happening, freeing up radio capacity, and giving drivers options to communicate and obtain support if an incident occurs.

For operators, reporting is now significantly more accurate and meaningful. Advanced systems detect issues like traffic jams and notify the control room of disruptions. More accurate operational data allows them to plan trips and transfers for planning and scheduling teams. This helps improve travel times and deliver more reliable services.

Many AVLC systems have an emergency duress button near the driver, that allows them to covertly notify the control centre of an emergency, enhancing driver and passenger safety. The controller can immediately view the exact vehicle location and can communicate with the driver or activate emergency services as needed.


AVLC system benefits include:

Improved service reliability. Which increases passenger trust in service delivery, which in turn increases overall ridership.

Faster reactions to disruptions. Operators can respond more quickly and improve service reliability by automatically detecting disruptions.

More accurate reporting and planning information. The better information you have, the better decisions you can make. AVLC systems now have accurate reporting that goes beyond just the mileage travelled. Reporting now includes travel time deviations, passenger excess waiting time, and trip disruptions, amongst others.

Better passenger information. Not only is passenger information more accurate at stops and stations, but it is also more relevant to where a passenger wants to go.

Better driver guidance. New drivers may become lost on unfamiliar routes. Having turn by turn navigation gives an operator the ability to use drivers who might be less familiar with the route, allowing the spread of resources.

Faster emergency response. How fast you react to an emergency, or a vehicle accident can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. AVLC systems fitted with emergency buttons improve driver and passenger safety by giving accurate location data and enabling significantly faster response times for emergency services (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The ‘Trouble shooter’ van monitoring public transport routes for disruptions in Zurich.
Figure 4: The ‘Trouble shooter’ van monitoring public transport routes for disruptions in Zurich.


Evaluation Guide

When assessing AVLC systems, you should look at the following aspects:

1. Do you need a GPS or an AVLC system?
GPS systems are great for tracking locations, but they only provide the base functionality of what an AVLC system offers. If you are only looking for an asset management solution – go with a simple GPS based system. If you want to implement accurate schedule adherence, provide passenger information and reporting, you need an AVLC system. Be aware that it is generally not possible to upgrade from a GPS to an AVLC solution, as the hardware will require replacement.

2. Does your AVLC system have a driver console?
Consoles are essential for displaying relevant information to the driver. Information like routes, timetables, disruption notices, schedule tracking, or even turn by turn navigation can be provided. Consoles should be robust, with bright touch screens and intuitive interfaces that make them user-friendly, like the Trapeze Driver Display Unit shown below. Essential information, such as performance against the schedule, should be readable at a glance, and multi-language capability is a valuable feature for some operations.

Figure 5: A Trapeze Driver Display Unit

3. How does the driver console connect to your vehicle systems?
Most AVLC systems connect to various onboard vehicle systems. This includes systems like door and ignition signals, audio systems like speakers and microphones, external and internal displays, panic buttons, passenger counters, ticketing equipment and vehicle monitoring systems via CANbus.

Public transport vehicles can operate in harsh environments, with large temperature fluctuations, high vibration levels, and potentially large electromagnetic flux levels for trams and trolleybuses. Ensure that your driver console and onboard computers are certified for operation in these environments, have appropriate transport-rated connectors, and withstand vibration and large temperature ranges.

4. Can the AVLC system import timetables?
Seamless integration between your AVLC and Planning and Scheduling systems is essential. Check that the AVLC system can import timetables directly from your planning and scheduling system. This integration should have an error checking function that runs before the import occurs to verify the timetable. This prevents bad data from being transmitted to your live vehicles and allows potential issues to be corrected before going live.

5. How frequently do you update your timetables? Is it twice a year, once a month, or once a week?
If you update timetables regularly, on board systems can be easy to be overwhelmed with data. Your AVLC system should help by allowing multiple schedules to be uploaded, overwritten, or even deleted as needed and then activated at times you specify. This frees an operator to develop multiple schedules ahead of time, knowing that the correct schedule will be active on the right day. Last-minute changes can be applied right up to the night before. These systems have a dashboard that displays whether each vehicle has received the new timetable and if it is active.

6. Does your AVLC system have a central data management functionality?
Having consistent data across your vehicle fleet is essential for large public transport systems. It is not feasible for operators to check every vehicle for information consistency or software updates. A good AVLC system will have a central data management functionality, where you can easily manage service-related information and the actual devices in the vehicles.

The functionality should include dashboards where you can view and manage:

  • Device types and versions (important to asset management)
  • Software updates and patches
  • Timetables and release dates
  • Passenger information and media, like voice announcement recordings and videos

The central data management systems allow you to update information quickly and easily across your fleet via WIFI at depots or the GSM network.

7. Do you need to provide passenger information on vehicles?
If you are considering a service that needs to meet universal access requirements for persons with disabilities, then voice announcements and next stop displays are a must. If you are running a high-frequency or high-volume service, accurate on time and relevant passenger information should also be a priority.

Passenger information on vehicles can include predetermined voice announcements for the next stop and transfers, LED displays for next stop information, or infotainment systems to display route information, weather, and advertisements. Usually, this information is set up on a central data control system, where display texts, voice announcements, and video clips are managed. These are triggered by the vehicle’s location on a particular route and are played by the vehicle unit. This ensures information is consistent and regularly displayed and played. Make sure your AVLC system manages your passenger information and automatically triggers your media.

8. Do you require at-stop passenger information?
If you would like to provide at-stop level passenger information with accurate arrival time predictions, you need an AVLC system with a prediction engine for vehicle arrivals. These engines calculate the expected arrival time and vehicle position based on current traffic conditions. These systems then display the expected vehicle arrival times at the appropriate stop for passengers. Most advanced AVLC systems will also allow a control centre operator to send messages to passenger information signs at stops. This allows for the easy communication of disruptions and delays. Ensure your AVLC system can predict when the vehicle will arrive and allow controllers to communicate with passengers when services don’t operate as planned.

9. Do you need two-way communication with drivers? Do you need to communicate with multiple drivers along a route?
Two-way communication is essential for running an extensive public transport system. Any AVLC system that you implement should allow for voice and text message communication between drivers and the control centre. Communicating with multiple drivers along a route is essential for dealing with service disruptions. It is far easier for a controller or operator to make a single voice announcement to all vehicles on a route or send a text message than to call or message them individually.

10. Does the AVLC system support a redundant voice communication system?
Most modern AVLC systems support multiple communications systems. Private mobile radio, terrestrial trunk (TETRA) radio, GSM, and VOIP can all be used as primary or secondary voice communications channels. This ensures redundancy in the event of failure of one of the voice communication systems. Ensure your AVLC system can integrate with the communications system you already have and has redundancy features.

11. Can the AVLC system automatically detect service disruptions?
Disruptions are part of operations. The sooner you are aware of them, the sooner you can react and reduce their impact. Many modern AVLC systems have disruption detection to identify events like traffic jams. When a vehicle fails to move or cover a certain distance over time, the AVLC system alerts the control centre operator. This allows early intervention by an operator when a disruption occurs. Check if your AVLC system can automatically detect disruptions to your services.

12. Do you need an emergency duress button for the driver?
How an agency or operator responds to emergencies can make or break its reputation. Things go wrong in public transport operations. Ensure you can respond when they do so that driver and passenger safety is enhanced. Make sure you know what happens when the duress button is pressed. The control room should be alerted and be able to access the vehicle’s CCTV system (if installed), and a covert audio channel should be opened so that the control room can hear and see what is happening on the vehicle.

13. Do you need to empower your drivers to self-manage schedules?
Regardless of whether a public transport system uses schedule adherence or headway management, the console should inform drivers if their vehicle is running late or early or too close to the service in front. The AVLC system should also notify the driver if they need to wait longer at a stop or make up time to maintain services.

14. Do you need to report on service performance and require analytics for your fleet?
If you need to report on service performance, trips completed, on-time performance, missed services, stops not serviced, or short turns, etc. Then you need an AVLC system with a business intelligence package with a reporting function. Most GPS and basic AVLC systems do not provide that level of reporting, and staff will need to spend hours undertaking reconciliations manually. For more analytics information, refer to our section about Business Intelligence.

AVLC Case Study: London Bus Services

Megacities pose a significant challenge for transport planners and authorities. We can learn what has worked for them by looking at their success stories.

London is one city that has effectively managed its public transport. They have a complex public transport system – their bus service alone consists of over 9,000 vehicles on over 770 routes. It also includes tram, rail, ferry, and taxi services. Management of such an extensive and complex public transport system can become overwhelming.

For this reason, London Bus Services Limited has split their bus operations between 15 operators and 89 control centres. This enables competition between operators, who compete to operate routes, which keeps prices low for commuters while maintaining good service levels.

This split also allows each control centre to manage their individual routes and vehicles in their area. This hyper-focus on local operations keeps bus drivers, control centre staff, and operators accountable for their area. The result is a reliable service that delivers high levels of passenger satisfaction.

This hyper-local management is only possible by implementing an Intermodal Transport Control System (ITCS). The ITCS allows control centre staff to monitor just the vehicles they are responsible for while ensuring that the overall public transport system and different modes of transport connect and transfer passengers effectively.

You can find out more in Multi-Operator Management and Franchising Support and our Transport for London case study.

AVLC Case Study: Singapore integrating policy, planning, and ITS systems

Singapore’s population has nearly doubled in 30 years – from 3 million in 1990 to 5.8 million in 2021. Yet, they have some of the fastest vehicle travel times of any developed city in the world. With an average car speed of 27 km/h on main roads, this compares well to 16 km/h in London, 11 km/h in Tokyo, and 5 km/h in Jakarta.

Singapore’s 2040 Transport Master Plan targets an average 20-minute commute between local centres, including time spent walking, on a bus, or cycling. It also focuses on providing no more than a 45-minute commute into the city during peak periods.

To achieve this, they have focused on an integrated approach – combining public transport friendly design, clever policy, and ITS to provide feedback mechanisms. Singapore has focused on developing local nodes close to where people live, where they can access shopping, entertainment, schools, and services like health care and childcare.

On the policy side, they have implemented strategies like free public transport before the morning peak to reduce demand. Singapore also has a policy to actively manage the number of vehicles entering the city to reduce travel times.

They use ITS to monitor incidents, disruptions and detect faults like traffic light outages. These systems then allow for the early dispatch of technicians to conduct repairs, tow trucks to remove vehicles, and emergency services to deal with incidents. This incident information is then transferred to commuters upstream through roadside displays, traveller information systems and mobile apps. This allows commuters to choose the fastest way to get to their destination and diverts upstream traffic from delays.

Electronic tolling and parking management systems are also used to manage the number of vehicles entering the city during peak periods.

The use of ITS as a policy tool to measure, monitor and inform ultimately makes Singapore one of the most liveable cities in the world.

You can find out more in our Singapore case study.

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David Panter

Industry Solutions Manager, ITS

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