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Montreal Commuters and Dispatchers Get Bus Info Via RFID

The passive-tag system displays real-time status reports on digital screens inside the waiting rooms, to alert commuters to their busses' arrival.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 06, 2007Commuters using two newly built bus and subway transit terminals in the Montreal suburb of Laval won't need to worry about frostbite as they wait for busses during cold winters, thanks to an RFID-system deployed by the city's Agence Métropolitaine de Transport (Metropolitan Transport Agency).

RFID interrogators mounted on lampposts at terminal entrances read the unique ID numbers of passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags attached to the busses (on a side window), then send the tag IDs, along with a timestamp of the read event, to a server inside each station. Every tag ID number is associated with its respective bus's route information in the agency's database. The server uses the RFID data to determine that a bus is approaching its designated terminal dock, and displays this information on digital screens within the terminal to alert commuters, giving them ample time to walk out to the dock and board the bus.

Pierre Malboeuf
The system has been well received by Laval residents, says Pierre Malboeuf, president of Eminencia, the RFID systems integrator on the project and a presenter at last week's RFID Journal LIVE! Canada 2007 conference, where he explained the system to attendees. According to Malboeuf, some residents say they would not likely use bus services at the transit hubs—which also include subway stations offering service to Montreal—if not for the ability to wait for their buses inside the terminal rather than outside.

The RFID system also helps improve overall bus service and operations at the two stations, Malboeuf says, because it provides terminal operators with visibility they would not otherwise have since they cannot view all bus docks from where they sit. Thanks to the RFID system, they can now use a station map on a computer monitor at their desks that shows every bus as it arrives and departs from the terminal.

On a separate computer screen, each dispatcher can monitor a list of bus schedules showing the expected arrival and departure times for every bus throughout the day. In the past, a dispatcher might not have realized a bus was running late unless the driver called to indicate a delay. With the RFID bus-monitoring system, however, the dispatcher need not wait for the driver's report before deciding to dispatch another bus and driver to keep a specific line on schedule.

Before deploying the RFID system in April, the transport agency worked with Eminencia to compare the use of passive RFID tags against other technology options, including infrared tags and readers, as well as active RFID tags combined with GPS receivers. Infrared indicators, however, would have required a clear line of sight between the bus and interrogator, and there was no way to ensure this happened each time a bus approached a terminal or its dock landing. Active GPS-enabled RFID tags would have given very precise location data, but Malboeuf says such an option was cost-prohibitive .

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