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RFID Helps Maintain Shuttle Buses

Seattle Children's Hospital deployed a fleet-management system that automates vehicle inspections.
By Michael Belfiore
Oct 12, 2014

At Seattle Children's Hospital, a 323-bed facility in Seattle's Laurelhurst neighborhood, 20 shuttle buses transport roughly 40,000 employees, visitors, volunteers and occasional patients every month. The shuttles run every 15 minutes, 16 hours a day, transferring riders to and from transit hubs located throughout the city, so they can get to the facility without having to drive. Managing all these trips falls on the staff of Paulo Nunes-Ueno, the hospital's director of transportation and sustainability.

Nunes-Ueno likens his job to running the transit department of a small town. As with any such operation, his department is required by federal regulations to inspect and report on each vehicle's condition before and after every trip.

Twenty shuttle buses transport roughly 40,000 employees, visitors, volunteers and occasional patients to the hospital every month.
Previously, this was an inexact procedure. "The quality of the inspection was lacking, because a driver didn't really have to get out of their seat to inspect the vehicle," says Kyle Brown, the hospital's shuttle and parking operations manager. That meant maintenance issues sometimes remained unreported. Even the reports that were properly filled out were often difficult to read because they were handwritten.

That has all changed, thanks to an RFID-powered fleet-inspection and -management solution from Zonar Systems that Nunes-Ueno and his managers had installed on all 20 buses in December 2013. The new system provides more accurate reporting on vehicles' conditions before and after trips. The solution issues maintenance alerts to the maintenance supervisor in real time, so he can get on top of any mechanical trouble immediately. In addition, the RFID solution eliminates paper, serving the department's mission of sustainability.

Passive Tags, Active Drivers
In early 2012, after a number of customers complained about speeding and off-route shuttles, Nunes-Ueno and his team set about finding a way to improve fleet visibility. They wanted to be able to track each shuttle's exact whereabouts, speed and condition in real time. "We started doing some field research to find out what's out there, what's available," Brown says, "and how [we could] really go after our goals of improving customer service, at the same time improving the safety of our drivers and accountability."

Nunes-Ueno and Brown formed a team to evaluate technology solutions from a number of vendors. The team included Mike Roma, the fleet coordinator in charge of maintenance and repairs; Michael DelRe and Kim Klien, Brown's supervisors; and Tuan Lee, the facility's shuttle coordinator.

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