In-vehicle navigation solution keeps airport shuttle service running smoothly

Finding the best, most efficient route for drivers to take can be challenging without the proper technology. Doing so when those routes change dynamically throughout the day is a monumental task, particularly when drivers have to come up with their own routes on the fly. That was the challenge facing airport shuttle service provider SuperShuttle, but an onboard mobile computing and automated routing solution has helped the company improve customer service while making drivers’ jobs much easier.

SuperShuttle operates airport shuttle services at 33 airports and in more than 50 U.S. cities and surrounding communities, providing door-to-door transportation to and from customers’ homes. Nearly 20,000 passengers use the service each day, so the company has to manage a fairly dynamic routing scenario for every driver. Although pick-ups from customers’ homes are scheduled days in advance and can be mapped out accordingly, pick-ups at the airport are first come, first serve.

In the past, drivers had to develop their routes from the airport on the fly. “The driver had to determine which person to drop off first and last,” says Mike Hogan, Super- Shuttle’s Chief Information Officer. “If you can imagine being at an airport, and four people walk up to the van saying, ‘Here’s my address,’ that can be a bit of a challenge.” The scheduled pick-up process worked more smoothly, but the company’s existing mobile technology was not perfect. Originally, SuperShuttle’s drivers used Java enabled mobile phones to receive trip assignments, accept credit card payments, and provide status updates to dispatchers. “That worked pretty well, but the phones had a very limited screen size,” Hogan says. “We wanted to present maps to the drivers, but it just didn’t work very well using the phones.”

Tablet Computers Improve Operations

In 2009, the company began looking at new in-vehicle systems to improve customer service and efficiency. They selected Mobile Tablet PCs from NEXCOM to provide franchise drivers with better access to routing and dispatching information.

By switching to Tablet PCs, drivers have a better view of their route maps. The computers have built-in bar code scanners for scanning prepaid tickets, vouchers and coupons, and the devices are wirelessly connected via Bluetooth to Zebra Technologies EM220 mobile printers that allow drivers to print receipts and process credit card payments. When pick-ups are assigned to a shuttle, the driver downloads the route to the Tablet PC, including turn-by-turn directions.

For airport pick-ups, SuperShuttle wanted a highly functional mapping solution for the computers, and selected Telogis GeoBase via a recommendation from NEXCOM. “We wanted an integrated mapping solution inside our application,” Hogan says. “I downloaded a trial version of Telogis GeoBase, and it was perfect for what we needed.”

When drivers pick up new passengers at the airport, they can enter the drop-off addresses into the computer, and Telogis GeoBase optimizes route. “We’re doing geocoding on the fly,” Hogan says. “If a driver enters an address, the system will show suggestions of likely addresses so he doesn’t have to type out the whole city name or street name.”

The Telogis solution has greatly improved the process of routing drivers after they’ve picked up new passengers at the airport. “Using the routing algorithm in Telogis GeoBase, the system determines which order to drop off the passengers,” Hogan says. “They enter all of the locations, hit a button, and they instantly get a route.”

Because the routes are generated automatically, drivers save time by not having to search for addresses. “There would occasionally be complaints because of the routing,” Hogan says. “It makes things go much more smoothly when the optimal route is easy to get to.”

Because the drivers are more efficient, they can service more pick-ups and drop-off s during the day, as well.

The GPS-enabled tablet computers also monitor driver speeds. “Every sixty seconds the terminal sends back its location to our system, along with the speed and the posted speed limit,” Hogan says. “Our safety staff can see reports on driver speeding issues.”

In the future, SuperShuttle hopes to integrate traffic information into the routing algorithms so that drivers can see if there are any problem areas during their trip, and change their routes accordingly.

So far, the company has equipped more than 300 of its 1,500 shuttles with the new hardware, and plans to complete the roll out. “The drivers love it,” Hogan says. “It makes everything easier. They don’t have to search for all of those addresses. It’s been a night and day difference for them.”