How to launch a 400 bus transit system for one week
Syncromatics is all about Making Transit Work. In our part of the public transit industry, that usually means bringing technology advancements to an existing transit system and allowing dispatchers, planners, and executives to do their jobs with a newfound wealth of data behind them.
But what happens when the transportation system is brand new, made up of more than 400 vehicles borrowed from agencies in all the surrounding areas, and will only exist for one week?
That’s the problem we faced when tapped by Event Transportation Associates (ETA) to help implement a temporary transit system capable of moving people from hotels scattered around Philadelphia and the surrounding region to various convention sites for the Democratic National Convention.
ETA had the role of transit agency in this case, and we supported them with GPS hardware, dispatch software, and a real-time rider information website.
It all starts with route planning…
And this new transit system sure had a lot of routes. With specific routes for airport and train station arrivals, hotels in outlying neighborhoods and even neighboring states, and schedules that changed based on the convention agenda, all of this data had to be imported into the system.
While there were official routes going to different areas, each of these routes had many different “patterns,” or versions, that were used at different times of day and were modified frequently due to security concerns, weather, and other necessary detours. All of the patterns were drawn ahead of time, but the system kept them flexible so things could be edited or added to on the fly.
The weekend before the convention, we had 48 hours to outfit more than 400 buses with GPS tracking devices. These buses were sourced from over 20 different agencies and all had a variety of current technology on them. In order to provide a consolidated system, we installed a new device on every single bus.
Having sourced, inventoried, and provisioned the devices ahead of time we were ready for a quick deployment once arriving on site in Philadelphia. The parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center became our home for two days as every piece of equipment was installed and validated by our field team.
The Emergency Operations Center was the temporary home to dispatch operations and combined services from police, first responders, and other convention operations and safety staff. The ETA team managed the operations of system on a minute-to-minute basis, and our staff was on hand for support at all times. If detours became necessary, everyone in the room knew exactly what was going on in the real world.
So, you’re waiting for your bus?
The final piece of the puzzle was the rider information. As most routes stopped at multiple hotels, riders waiting down the line were able to see their bus in real time as it made its way toward them. Not only is this a benefit for the riders, but it was a benefit for the operations as well.
Since this wasn’t a typical transit system with buses coming at regular intervals throughout the day, it made a huge operational difference to have passengers ready and waiting just as the bus pulled up. Convention events don’t wait for latecomers, and making sure buses arrived on time was of utmost importance. Letting the riders have real-time information was just one small part of helping the entire operation to run smoothly.
It takes a village
Some themes of the Democratic National Convention were that we’re stronger together and it takes a village. Syncromatics was just one part of a much larger team. We’re grateful to the staff at ETA for bringing us along with them — nothing would have happened without their expertise and professionalism in the face of the security and logistical requirements of such a complex event.
In events, as in cities, it takes a committed and collaborative team to Make Transit Work.