Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will spend up to $4 million to track hundreds of shuttles, buses, taxis, limousines and other commercial vehicles that ferry passengers.
The city has entered into a contract with two companies for what is being billed as a first-of-its-kind vehicle tracking system, using radio frequency identification and global positioning systems that will let the airport keep tabs on vehicles using the congested Sky Harbor Boulevard that runs between terminals.
The goal, officials say, is a more efficient flow of traffic while improving customer service.
"There are certain times of the day where sometimes we don’t have enough vehicles here to serve our customers and it’s really kind of a challenge when we’re using hand-written forms to try to determine how many of our providers are actually here providing service," said Janice Jacobo, aviation superintendent. "We’ll be able to print out a report and quickly see if we need to notify a company to send some additional vehicles to the airport."
The new system also gives Sky Harbor the ability to more closely watch the fees it charges some airport operators. Cabbies and limo drivers pay a $1 trip fee to pick up customers. Drivers pay the fee to the city, but they can recoup it from customers, Jacobo said.
"We’ll have an accurate accounting of that, as well," she said.
"We have a trip dispatch log that we keep, but it’s a manual log."
The technology will also be a security enhancement.
"With the cabs and limos, there’s not a security component because any cab company can drop passengers off at the airport, but with the buses, there will be," said Julie Rodriguez, airport spokeswoman. "We’ll know where the buses are at all times. We’ll be able to track them so we’ll know if anything unusual is happening."
The airport’s priority is to get the system up and running in time for a new rental car center that opens early next year.
Sky Harbor will use a fleet of 62 shuttles that will take passengers from the terminal to the center. The city plans to contract with a private company to dispatch and drive the buses. The generic shuttles will replace about 100 vehicles currently being run by rental car companies.
Using GPS, the airport will be able to track the shuttles in real-time, allowing the airport to space them apart well enough that customers shouldn’t have to wait long. The system will also be added to 33 interterminal shuttle buses that pick off and drop off flyers at parking lots located away from terminals.
If a customer says they have been waiting a while at a stop, someone will be able to determine right away how long it’s been, officials said. "We do at times . . . get a report that a customer had to wait too long for a bus," Jacobo said, adding dispatch employees will even be able to figure out which driver has the wheel.
Taxis, limos, Super Shuttle vans and other vehicles that come and go from the airport will be outfitted with automatic vehicle identification technology used at several airports across the nation, including in Las Vegas.
"It’s similar to the technology that’s used for turnpike and toll roads where you go through a toll gate," said Dennis Murphy, Sky Harbor technology project manager. "There’s people that are using it for . . . regular uses of parking garages, you just get the radio frequency tag and put it on your vehicle and when you pull up to the gate, the gate opens."
Drivers will carry a paper-thin card that they will use to send data to an antenna.
"They’re reasonably inexpensive so for an application like taxi cabs, where cabs are rotating in an out, where windshields are getting broken, those kinds of things, it’s very easy to replace that without a high cost," Murphy said. The system will be Web-based so those authorized to use it can easily access it.