The National Academies

Transit IDEA J-04/IDEA 70 [Completed (IDEA)]

Effortless Passenger Identification System
[ TCRP J-04 (Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis--The Transit IDEA Program) ]

  Project Data
Staff Responsibility: Jon M. Williams
Research Agency: NDSU
Principal Investigator: Del Peterson
Completion Date: 8/18/2013
Fiscal Year: 2010

The objective of this project was to evaluate the technical, operational, and economic feasibility of
using medium-range radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track of four main tasks included field testing, controlled testing, consumer acceptance, and both operational and economic feasibility.

Detailed passenger ridership data can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of transit planning, operations, and reporting. The RFID tags used by an EPIS system can be read at longer distances than contactless or proximity cards currently used in the industry. This characteristic allows passengers to be identified and counted as they board and alight vehicles without requiring them to physically present their card within a short distance of an on-vehicle reader.

The medium-range reader used during field testing at North Dakota State University (NDSU) successfully recorded riders boarding the bus almost 90 percent of the time. The RFID tags used at NDSU were attached to the outside of student backpacks allowing for little interference between the card and the reader. Controlled testing results indicated that the reader received a valid signal from the RFID card if it was in plain sight and there was no interference present. When riders boarded the bus with the card either in their pockets or against their cell phones, the read quality dropped dramatically. However, read quality was very good when the RFID card was attached to a metal wheelchair.

The consumer acceptance task evaluated the RFID perceptions of college students, people with physical and mental disabilities, and parents of school-aged children. Overall, all the three groups believed that RFID technology has merit with respect to bus transportation. Many respondents felt that an RFID card kept in a wallet or pocket would be more efficient for the riders and system as a whole. Students largely agreed that they would like to see RFID implemented at their college or university, replacing the use of their current student ID cards. Also, most felt that using RFID technology would reduce boarding times and keep the buses running on schedule, which is a main benefit when implementing an RFID system. However, the main obstacles and resolutions for successful implementation are the issues of multiple reads occurring when riders get too close to the antennas, and the current inability to create a system where the cards are read successfully through clothing and when interference is present from other items such as cell phones. Measures that could
be taken to resolve these issues may include more advanced RFID readers and tags that employ technologies limiting interference from clothing and electronic devices.

The economic feasibility of EPIS was evaluated by conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis simulating different agency and ridership scenarios. The analysis identified the economic impacts of EPIS on the agency, riders, contracting agencies, and other external stakeholders. The economic impacts in this analysis were quantified by identifying explicit and implicit costs and benefits over the life cycle of the investment. Measures including net present value (NPV), cost-benefit ratio (CBR), and internal rate of return
(IRR) were calculated for each alternative to determine the economic feasibility of EPIS for different agencies and ridership scenarios. The analysis showed that with proper ridership numbers and varying percentages of
non-student riders, EPIS technology can provide an economic benefit to transit agencies.

Controlled testing of the equipment indicated that when interference was present, from clothing, cell phones, etc., card read quality dropped considerably. Because of this, field testing at NDSU was conducted with students attaching RFID cards to the outside of their book bags to minimize interference between the cards and the reader. Also, Zonar Systems has discontinued selling and supporting their medium-range readers because of their inefficiencies in tracking elementary aged children riding school buses. Therefore, in order for transit agencies to implement an effective EPIS system utilizing medium-range RFID readers and cards, current technology must be improved upon to address both read quality and interference issues that deem the system insufficient in its current form.

The Contractor's Final Report is available.

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