Ocean City Today

Ailing bus tracking system software upgrade delayed

Program crashes 38 times resulting in 96 hours of downtime so far this year
By Katie Tabeling | Aug 24, 2017

(Aug. 25, 2017) The Ocean City Council agreed Monday to delay replacing the failing bus tracking system until further discussion takes place.

During the council’s Monday night session, Mayor Rick Meehan proposed upgrading the Auto Vehicle Locator (AVL) system to the GPS-based Transloc system for $103,782. Both the old and the proposed system allow transit department personnel to track — and shuffle, if need be — buses while they are operation.

Apparently, the proposal was endorsed by the city’s Transportation Commission last week behind closed doors without clueing in other council members.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of this,” Councilman Wayne Hartman said. “Having this come to us without review, I’d be a lot more comfortable if we could put this to a work session for further review.”

The council reportedly has been looking to replace the AVL system for a year and a half, since was originally designed for truck deployment. Transit Manager Mark Rickards said the program is 13 years old and reaching its end of life.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this summer, with 38 (program) outages that added up to 96 hours where the whole system went black,” Rickards said. “In the summer, we do not want to lose our buses.”

The AVL system is a bank of computers that allow supervisors a bird’s eye view of the resort and monitor the buses. When the blackouts happened, supervisors had to rely on video cameras and radio systems to direct traffic.

By comparison, Transloc is a web-based operation that integrates with Google Maps. People could also go through the website to see the map to find out when the next bus will arrive at a stop. It would also allow for text alerts.

“This program will open up our transit system to the 2.5 million riders a year,” Rickards said. “This is helpful not only in the summer when we have our visitors, but in the winter when buses aren’t as frequent. If you want to know where the bus is, you’ll be able to track it.”

Meehan pointed out that Transloc would be the next level in customer service, but is still necessary since the AVL system is failing.

“The company that makes the parts for the system has been sold off and no longer supports it, so we’ll have to replace it to continue with the distribution and deployment of buses,” he said. “The other part is that this is where the millennials and the next generation is in transportation.”

Transloc wants a multi-year deal, but the Transportation Commission recommended signing on for a year trial run. Included in the $103,782 is $44,000 for annual operating costs.

Council Secretary Mary Knight raised questions on how Transloc would work, and Hartman raised concerns concerning how city staff would educate the public how to use it.

“We’ve talked about our smoking ordinance and how we have to educate 300,000 people every week, and we’re still doing it three years later,” he said. “I wonder how we’re going to educate them with this. There’s a bus every seven minutes. If we put the message out on signs, I think that would answer a lot of questions instead of spending $100,000.”

Regardless, Hartman made a motion to discuss the matter during the Aug. 29 work session. The motion passed unanimously.

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