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Bus Co. Keeps Tabs on Fare Boxes

After a proof-of-technology pilot, a Vancouver bus company plans to roll out an active RFID system to track its buses and fare-collection equipment.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
The bus company hopes that using RFID for these asset-tracking initiatives will improve the items’ maintenance and inventory visibility. Fare boxes cost as much as C$40,000 (US$33,840) each, so keeping them fully operational and accurately inventoried is important. CMBC wants to use the RFID system to help identify recurrent maintenance problems with individual fare boxes. Jeff Vogstad, CMBC's client solutions team manager, says CMBC would eventually like to tag other high-value assets, such as engine parts, in order to accurately identify them and track their maintenance history.

At the start of the pilot, CMBC had to work through one major issue it had anticipated. "We're in an environment where there's a lot of metal," says Vogstad, "and the things that we're usually trying to track are steel parts in steel vehicles, so that was causing us some concern."



The company had investigated passive RFID, but determined that passive tags did not provide sufficient read ranges and suffered too many interference problems. "When we started talking to IDENTEC SOLUTIONS, they really opened up the possibilities for us because they had had experience dealing with the kinds of [harsh environmental] problems we were facing," says Vogstad. IDENTEC SOLUTIONS' experience included the deployment of its RFID tags on 23,000 buses in Bogota, Colombia (see RFID Speeds Up Bogota).

IDENTEC SOLUTIONS says it also had some concerns about getting clear reads from a tag attached to a stainless steel cash box located inside a steel fare box. When initially installed, the tags were not being read consistently by interrogators, which were installed at least 10 meters (33 feet) away. To remedy this, IDENTEC SOLUTIONS made a number of changes. First, it switched the tag orientation, so that the rectangular antenna inside its housing was sitting vertically rather than horizontally. It then placed quarter-inch rubber spacers between the tags and the assets, and experimented with different types and placement locations of the interrogator’s antenna.

IDENTEC SOLUTIONS' i-D2 tags were placed below the window and near the entrance of all 215 buses assigned to the Burnaby transit center. The same type of tag was also placed on the fare and cash boxes inside each of those buses.

The i-D2 tags, roughly 4 by 2 by 0.25 inches, operate at 915 MHz and have a 64-byte memory, which CMBC used to store a unique ID for each asset. The tags have a 20- to 30-foot read range, says Curtis Kieres, IDENTEC SOLUTIONS' regional sales manager and a key leader in the CMBC pilot. During the pilot, however, the tags were sometimes read by interrogators as much as 50 feet away, according to Kieres. This boosted signal, Kieres says, might have been due to metal reflection. The fixed-position readers, however, could not read the tag on a cash box still inside a fare box. Such a tag could be read only if an attendant boarded the bus with a handheld reader.

USER COMMENTS

Jack Witson 2013-11-27 12:04:12 AM
This blog gives me the inspiration I’ve been looking for! Nice piece of work. I’m glad I came by this blog on the web and thanks for sharing this bit.

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