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Transit Troubles: How EAM Can Give Public Transportation a Much-needed Lift

How EAM can give public transportation a much-needed lift

The transportation sector must accelerate its adoption of enterprise asset management (EAM) and proactive asset maintenance, especially in light of recent industry developments.

You’re late for work. You’re never late, but today you are. Your preferred mode of public transportation never arrived at your stop, so you’re forced to hoof it all the way to your office on the other side of town. After an obligatory chewing-out from your boss, you finally get down to business. An hour later, your co-worker, the one you always meet up with on your morning commute, bursts through the office door. He looks disheveled and is bleeding from the forehead.

“What happened to you?” you ask him.

“The front axle on the stagecoach spit right in half,” he replies, out of breath. “The horses got spooked and ran off. Had to wait for a carpenter and the pony wrangler to come remedy the situation. Took forever.”

“Typical Monday,” you reply. “You can never rely on public transportation.”

All this fiction is to say: Thank goodness for modern transit, right? Could you imagine if all 10.7 billion public transportation trips Americans made in 2013 – according to the American Public Transportation Association – were with horses and buggies? With subways, bus systems and trains, commuters get to where they need to go without the smell of manure mixing with their to-go coffee.

21st-century transportation with “industrial-era” issues

However innovative postmillennial people-movers might be compared to a horse-drawn carriage, the transportation industry as a whole still has major deficiencies when it comes to preventing small problems from escalating into full-on disasters. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board published the intimate details of a small electrical fire that broke out in a D.C. Metro subway tunnel last year. The smoke from the burning cables surrounded a stranded train nearby, claiming the life of one passenger who died from inhalation.

Reading the account from an enterprise asset management standpoint, the Metro suffered from two glaring organizational problems. First, a higher degree of visibility into hardware corrosion could have alerted transportation personnel to the faulty wiring earlier and perhaps even prevented the accident. Second, Metro employees may have lacked the resources to properly respond to the incident, which lead to a train full of passengers choking on smoke for more than 30 minutes.

Managing a network of public transportation assets isn’t getting any easier. Transit officials ought to recognize their systems may have gotten too intricate to depend on old-world reactive maintenance strategies. At the very least, they need to see the signs that further complexity is just down the road.

Throwing buses under the bus

Let’s use modern buses to demonstrate what we mean. Metro Magazine conducts an annual report on the state of bus transportation repair in both public and private organizations the U.S. Its 2016 release, along with annuals from previous years, shows several remarkable trends:

  • Fleets are getting bigger: The transportation sector underwent considerable fleet expansion over the last year, unprecedentedly so. In 2014 and 2015, the average fleet comprised of between 285 and 288 vehicles. In 2016, that number shot up nearly double to 534 vehicles per fleet.
  • Maintenance team size, knowledge base fluctuating: The last three years have been volatile for transportation maintenance workforces. In 2016, nearly half of all fleets had fewer than 40 full-time mechanics on staff. Although this is a marked decrease from 2015 (78 percent), one-third of fleets today do not budget for a single hour of mechanic training for staff.
  • Green light for green transit: While diesel engines still represent the majority propulsion type among bus fleets, mechanics have taken notice of a steep increase in hybrid-electric options coming into their repair bays. Hybrid usage grew 21 percentage points between 2014 and 2016.

All these facts and more indicate several dilemmas fleet managers and transportation agencies must rectify immediately. A greater volume of vehicles places a larger onus on management to develop expanded maintenance programs. As supervisors add more maintenance personnel to their staffs, their organizations will also not only need an intelligent way to deploy experts where they’re needed most, but also provide them with actionable data to make every repair straightforward, quick and cost-effective. This will be especially important as fleets begin onboarding new propulsion technology, including electric- and biodiesel-powered assets.

EAM puts public transportation problems in the rearview mirror

Avoiding enterprise asset management and proactive maintenance program integration will only stand to exacerbate the troubles outdated transit authorities already agonize under, as well as the people and the infrastructure itself.

"EAM ensures transportation meets its bigger obligations and preserves the future of its enterprise."

When we’ve discussed EAM as it relates to the transportation sector, reliability has always been the call to action. And sure, public or private transit organizations that adopt EAM and proactive maintenance plans have the potential to increase uptime across all their assets, navigate around unscheduled downtime through advanced CMMS software and utilize their maintenance professionals wisely and with greater attention to labor cost mitigation. They also preserve the lifecycles of their assets by tracking functionality and maintaining a database of relevant repair information that is easily accessible to the right people through dashboard visualization.

Apart from that, EAM ensures the transportation sector meets its bigger obligations and preserves the future of its enterprise. It must provide safe passage for every commuter, keep fare costs affordable for low-income individuals who rely on public transit exclusively and evolve away from its dependence on fossil fuels to a more environmentally sustainable system overall. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency findings from 2014, the transportation sector alone produces more than one-quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., a figure the agency directly attributed to the “increased demand for travel.”

The question is, can public transportation keep up with our nomadic nature while addressing these dire concerns?

As public transportation attempts to reinvent itself, EAM and proactive maintenance solutions can be there every step of the way. Platforms like IBM Maximo Asset Management can consolidate convoluted, multifaceted transportation networks anywhere under a single carport, so to speak. EAM can be both a guiding light for transit authorities looking to enhance performance, as well as the foundations for the unforeseen future of transportation.

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