Cover Story: Wireless Revolution

A talking bus? Get up to speed on modern wireless diagnostics.

“This started when the Chicago Transit Authority came to us and asked if they could bring the product to the manufacturing facility, so that as the bus comes off the assembly line, runs its test route and coems back, we can do a thorough checkout then and there,” explains Saporita. “Their thinking was that it would help them and the OEM, and that is the truth.”

The OEM was uneasy about the idea at first, thinking it would slow down delivery times. Instead, they found that their inspectors were making more informed evaluations before signing off on buses, and they saved money addressing quality and warranty issues at the plant.

“It’s certainly a lot cheaper than shipping the bus, then going out to deal with a service issue at the customer’s site,” says Saporita. “That was something that we did not foresee,” says Saporita, “but now we offer it to all our customers.”

“Better to fix it now when you have total control, at the earliest possible stages of a procurement run, than to build 250 problems and then have to go back and spend the money and time to fix them later,” Wallace says.


Wallace is in a unique position at WMATA. With approximately half of his 1,508 buses and 10 maintenance garages using AVM, he can see at glance how the divisions with the new system compare to those without.

“We’re able to jump on trends a heck of a lot faster” at the AVM-equipped shops, he notes. “Of course that’s skewed, because the shops with AVM all have newer buses, but you have an easier time spotting trends because they’re monitored every day.

“We’ve seen three of four high dollar issues—I mentioned the brakes, and we also discovered problems early on with our fire-supression system, as far as mis-engineering of sensors, and we’ve seen some issues with the logic in the transmission we’re using,” Wallace says. “It’s been very beneficial in trend analysis, because you’re seeing things every day. You’re not having to wait 6,000 miles between inspections, or having to wait for it to break down. It’s a major predictive maintenance tool, to catch problems before they become problems.”


Because of AVM, Wallace has big plans for the future. He now has the fleet operating on new maintenance management software, and by the end of 2008 he hopes to have it fully linked to AVM. At that point, WMATA’s maintenance operations will be essentially paperless.

Wallace will be retired before the entire fleet is running on AVM, but he knows that WMATA will be humming along, trouble-free, because of the system he helped put in place.

You have to wonder what the buses will have to say about that.

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