YRT Phasing Out Radio Communication

September 20 update: I received a response from YRT, and have included it at the end of this entry.

The current radios on YRT vehicles will be phased out as new systems will be installed. Operators will continue to be able to contact the control centre, but will not be able to contact other operators directly. I am not aware of the specific timetable for this, but it involves the installation of the hardware that includes the GPS system that provides automatic stop announcements as well as “next bus” displays (which will likely only be at stops shared with VIVA routes for quite some time).

There have been some delays in this as some bus models have made it difficult to find a workable place to install the new equipment.

As a heavy user of YRT, this concerns me. Very frequently, I have had to request an operator to contact another bus in order to make the connection. I wouldn’t have to do that if the wait would be 10-15 minutes, but in York Region 30-minute headways are often seen as “frequent service”. I have sent the following email to YRT to see what their response is:

One of your drivers recently told me that the day is coming when you will be removing the current radios from all buses as new equipment is phased in. The new equipment will allow the operator to speak with your control centre, but not directly with other operators.

I am aware that operator-to-operator communication is not possible when the two buses are operated by different contractors, but YRT should be moving towards fixing this problem and not extending it to all buses.

I am also aware of the fact that the TTC has never had operator-to-operator capabilities, but this comparison is not germane. The TTC operates with minimum headways of 30 minutes at all times, with plans to decrease this to 20 minutes in 2009. Many routes operate with headways well below these maximums. YRT, as you are aware, operates with many routes with 60 minute headways and longer. In my use of transit, there have been numerous occasions, including this very morning, where the existence of radios has prevented a 30 minute wait or longer. When a 23-minute trip takes 53 minutes because of this, using an automobile is a more economical alternative, even at current fuel prices.

I would not have a problem with the elimination of radios if it was concurrent with the elimination of headways longer than 30 minutes. Somehow, I do not suspect that is in your plans for quite some time. Somehow, I believe that the operational cost of radios is significantly lower than the cost of improved headways until rider ship numbers warrant them.

I would be interested in hearing your comments.

I encourage others to also email them, and also post your comments and correspondence here.

Rhonda DeBaeremaeker, YRT Customer Service Coordinator, responded on September 19 with the following:

We are currently in the process of outfitting the YRT Fleet with a central communication system that will replace radios on the buses. The process for communicating will be slightly different; however, drivers will have the ability to phone or text message their control centre. The control centre can then determine the location of the connecting bus (using GPS) and relay a message to wait for transferring passengers at a particular location if possible.

While this new technology will not improve communication between contractors, our TMS (Transit Management System) department isresearching “connection protection” technology that would notify Operators to wait for transferring passengers due to arrive within a predetermined amount of time regardless of which contractor operates the route. This initiative is still being researched at this time and nothing definite has been decided.

The central communication system is expected to eliminate problems such as radio “black outs” and reduce the amount of time the Operators must talk on the phone for safety reasons. We anticipate the entire fleet will be outfitted by year end.

The one thing that I get out of this is that it will be necessary to ask the operator, upon boarding, to contact control to make sure they contact the other operator to wait for the transfer. This could make it more hectic for many operators, unless they are the surly type who won’t radio the other bus anyways. Currently, this type of operator is fairly rare on YRT. Where I know the connection will require waiting several minutes or more, I don’t bother the operator unless we are within visible distance of the transfer point and the other bus can be seen approaching. Just this past week, I had a connection that usually involves a 2-3 minute wait. Just as the first bus I was on arrived, the other bus was only then seen to be passing. Fortunately, the bus-to-bus radios helped out once again.

If your first bus ride is rather short, you may be out of luck. It will just take too long to contact control, have them figure things out, and contact the other bus.

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