Procuring a Vehicle Communication Platform (VCP)

When procuring a communication platform for vehicles, you very seldom start from scratch. You might have different solutions for different systems onboard the vehicles. You might also have some back-office solutions for the different systems. So, you need to make a review of what you have and decide what you can keep and what needs to be replaced. You also need a long-term strategy for what to implement and you need to know when and how, because it can take up to ten years to migrate to a new platform in an economically viable way.

What to focus on differs a bit from situation to situation, and a public transport authority (PTA) in general has a different viewpoint than a public transport operator (PTO). We will therefore discuss the two general situations separately, starting with the PTA situation.

To read more about the differences between an open communication platform and silo solutions, please go to these earlier Busforce blog posts:

Open cloud solution vs silo solution part 1, part 2, part 3

Public transport authorities (PTA)

Since a PTA contract with a PTO can run all the way from 3 to 15 years, and you usually don’t want to change too much during a running contract, it is important to think through your needs for the upcoming years. Since the contract sets the framework and in many cases is complicated and/or expensive to change, it is common to invest in an IT platform in connection with a new contract.

Since it is also common to renew contracts in different areas at different times, it is often impractical to exchange platform for the whole operation at the same time, unless it is already written into the contract that an exchange will be made during the contract period. You could for example state in the contract that a new ticketing system should be implemented during the contract, or a new platform. Even though you haven’t decided how the new platform should look, you should make sure the possibility is included in the contract.

A common way to deal with the roll-out of a new platform is to state that all new agreements after a certain date must include the new platform. For this to work, the new and the old platform needs to work together, since you are mixing legacy systems with the new system in the same fleet.

This is something that is not always so easy to achieve. It is harder to make sure that the new system handles legacy systems instead of running systems in parallel silos. It is therefore important to do a thorough pre-study and field tests to have a clear plan for how to migrate to the new platform. To learn more about the roll-out process, check out these previous Buforce blog posts:

Roll-out plan for telematics part 1, part 2, part 3

For a PTA it is important to demand that the ITxPT specifications are taken into the traffic contracts. This regulates what vehicles the PTO orders, so that they are ITxPT able, with full bus FMS support. It is also important to state what rights the PTA has, to use data from the bus FMS, in order to ensure the fulfillment of the contract. It is an important contract point.

Platform components

It is important to have a complete plan for how the platform should work. It is also wise to procure the gateway functionality and connected infrastructure in the vehicle first. Thus, you can communicate to the other system suppliers in which environment their systems will land, to avoid a situation where they have to prepare for integration into an unknown platform, which would make the purchase unnecessarily expensive.

It is also wise to procure integration services separately. You need someone who makes sure that the whole platform and the connected systems work together. It could even be wise to procure the integration service first, since it informs the design process for the whole platform.

Labels and certifications

It is important that the systems are ITxPT labelled and that they are certified for your different vehicle types. Some are not certified for train or boat for example.

Another aspect is that some vehicle manufacturers require the equipment to follow certain standards in order to be accepted for factory installation. This is important to minimize installations in the vehicles after delivery. The time span for the vehicle to be ready for deployment is much shorter if the equipment is pre-installed. Otherwise you risk having the vehicles delayed for weeks, while different teams pick the vehicle apart and install equipment, put it back together, just for the next team to come and deconstruct the vehicle again. This is important to keep in mind, because the PTO’s costs for idle vehicles become costs for the PTA in the end.

In the future, most likely, the vehicle manufacturers will deliver the vehicles with the gateway already installed and a network infrastructure already in place. This is further discussed in a previous Busforce blog post:

Focus shift from hardware to software.

If the platform used is ITxPT certified, it works with different gateways.

Public Transport Operators (PTO)

Generally, public transport operators are quite regulated by the contract and must comply. PTA’s are often reluctant to transfer responsibility for the platform to the PTO for security reasons. However, some operators have started to build or buy platforms of their own, independent of PTA’s. Sometimes the responsibility for the platform is even moved to the vehicle manufacturer.

It is also common that some systems are moved to the operator, like CCTV, infotainment and signage, but that the PTA often wants control over the ticketing.

The ticketing systems are thinning out onboard the vehicles, with less validators and coin vending machines due to increased online or mobile ticket sales.

For an operator it is important to use the ITxPT specifications when purchasing vehicles and to demand what should be included in the FMS. As discussed in the previous Busforce blog post: FMS integration and other solutions or in this post: Tips on how to specify BUS-FMS when purchasing new buses

ITxPT labeled vehicles make migration between different contracts much easier, since it often includes switching systems and equipment. With ITxPT labeled vehicles the job becomes much easier, because cabling and infrastructure are already in place.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is the author’s opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of any other person or organisation.