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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
When the bus pulled up to the cash hut, the interrogator captured the tag data from the bus and the fare box. It did not read the tag on the full cash box inside the fare box, however, because its signal could not reach the fixed reader's antennas. When the worker walked out of the cash hut with an empty cash box, the interrogator read its tag. The tag on the full cash box was read once the attendant removed the box from the bus and brought it to the cash hut. Each time it read a tag, the reader associated a time stamp with the results. Based on the time stamps of the reads taken of the two cash boxes, CMBC could identify which box had been brought onto the bus and which had been removed.

Fare Box Tracking
Each year, roughly 200 fare boxes are removed from buses, taken to inventory and put through some type of maintenance. CMBC's current inventory system is capable of tracking each box, but this would require someone to enter the serial number (printed on a sticker attached to each unit) into the system manually. Since that would require too much labor, CMBC does not currently record such data. Instead, it counts all fare boxes with one generic stock number.

"We know how many [fare boxes] we've bought over the years, and we do a physical inventory twice a year to ID all the units, but we normally come up short," says Vogstad. CMBC believes that in a given inventory cycle, the missed fare boxes that account for the shortage are somewhere in the maintenance cycle. Once the RFID system is deployed, CMBC will be able to account for all fare boxes at any time because the readers in the storage facilities will track them as they go out for maintenance and come back into inventory after being repaired.

During the pilot, two fare boxes on buses failed, and the system tracked the two malfunctioning devices as they were being repaired. The reader installed at the central storage facility read the tag on each malfunctioning fare box as it passed. The box was later trucked to CMBC's electronics lab, where it was repaired. An interrogator read the box again as it was brought out of the storage facility, headed for reinstallation on the bus. The cash island reader then read the tags on the fare box and the bus (as well as the one on the cash box) at the end of the first day of deployment.

Fare boxes have a number of moving parts and can break down for a variety of reasons—for example, if the bus power system were providing inadequate voltage. Because the fare boxes are not currently tracked individually or associated with the buses from which they are removed, it's impossible to detemine if certain buses are causing fare boxes to fail due to inadequate power. Once the RFID system is permanently deployed, however, the company will be able to track this data and thereby identify buses with power problems that are causing fare boxes to fail.


Jack Witson 2013-11-27 12:04:12 AM
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