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San Diego Airport Uses RFID, Sensors to Manage Taxis

The ground-transport dispatch office uses RFID to track cabs parked in the waiting lot, and BlipTrack sensors to track passengers at its taxi queuing area, resulting in shorter lines and faster service.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 19, 2016

If a city's entire fleet of taxicabs could pick up passengers at its airport, long waits might be unheard of—and so might taxi drivers' earnings. "Because they work on turnover, the more trips they take, the more money they make," explains David Boenitz, San Diego International Airport's director of ground transportation. If all of San Diego's 1,500 licensed taxi drivers could pick up passengers at the airport, however, the supply would be diluted, and "you'd have taxi drivers that make nothing." That's not to mention the traffic quagmire the airport would face with an unchecked number of cabs awaiting fares.

Therefore, the airport issues only 362 permits to San Diego cabbies. It also gives each of these permitted drivers a TransCore eGo passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag. The airport's ground-transport dispatch office uses a TransCore RFID reader to collect the unique identification numbers of all eGo tags mounted inside the cabs parked in a holding pen. Then, based on the length of their stay in the lot, it directs them to one of the airport's two taxi queues (there are two terminals, with a queue at each one). This gave the airport tight control over supply, but demand remained a mystery. "We might know that we have 100 cabs, but we wouldn't know if we had 200 people waiting for them."

San Diego Airport's taxi queue
The airport could send employees out to perform periodic counts (which it did occasionally), but that only provided snapshots of wait times, so it sought a technological solution. One option, Boenitz says, was to position infrared cameras along the queuing area and then use software to divine the number of people in line, as well as their wait times. But during hot weather, he adds, the heat radiating from the sidewalk could make the counts inaccurate. Thus, the airport opted not to test that technology.

Instead, a little more than a year ago, in one of its two terminals, the airport began evaluating technology provided by Blip Systems, which uses gateways, known as BlipTrack sensors, that collect MAC addresses being broadcast by Bluetooth or Wi-Fi radios in nearby cellular devices. The sensors then encrypt and time-stamp the numbers and send them to the server, hosted by Blip Systems.

At the San Diego airport, one BlipTrack sensor is installed above the sidewalk where passengers are directed to wait for a cab. A second sensor is installed where passengers enter the vehicles. So when someone carrying a mobile device that is broadcasting a MAC address gets into line, the first read of that MAC is time-stamped. The system then uses the time-stamp of the last read of that same MAC address, from the sensor near the end of the line, to determine that person's total wait time.

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