How LAVA Helped Make Toronto Transit More Accessible
By: Adam Swimmer
3 Min Read
October 18, 2023
The Toronto Transit Commission’s Wheel-Trans program has been around since the 1970s. As part of its services, it uses special “kneeling” buses to provide affordable transit for customers in wheelchairs. Metrolinx, the Ontario Crown corporation that manages and integrates road and public transport in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), wanted to expand this service to customers with other types of special physical or mental health needs that couldn’t get a driver’s license. Since many of these individuals do not use a wheelchair to get around, they don’t necessarily need to ride in a specially designated bus. Metrolinx realized that this need could be better fulfilled with taxis. LAVA helped Metrolinx realize this idea.
Difficulty tracking transit fares
Metrolinx worked with several taxi companies to let these individuals pay a transit fare for a ride. The taxi company would then receive government subsidy for the trip. However, it was difficult to track these kinds of trips. The cab drivers had to submit paperwork through a government department to get the subsidy, making this lengthy process more of a hassle than a solution.
Tablets in taxi cabs
While searching for a solution, Metrolinx noticed many taxi cabs started using tablets in their cars. They would use them for Google Maps directions, a taxi meter, and other things. So, Metrolinx decided to incorporate payment terminals with the tablets. This meant that a passenger could scan their Presto card on a scanner connected to the tablet through an OTG adapter and have their trip logged properly in the database to ensure they wouldn’t be overcharged.
However, Metrolinx quickly ran into problems as they learned that tablets can’t charge in OTG mode. These tablets sat in the cabs all day long, their batteries constantly draining whether they were on the road or not. A solution needed to be found, once again, as soon as possible. This is where LAVA comes in.
LAVA keeps the tablet charged with custom adapter
We build a custom unit with a LAVA adapter and a built-in third-party scanner from a Presto-approved vendor. The unit features a big button that can switch the adapter in and out of OTG mode. The initial order was for 2,750 units.
When OTG is on, you can access the scanner and passengers can scan their cards. When OTG is off, the adapter switches to a charge-only mode – so the scanner is inaccessible. OTG only stays on for a few minutes. This is a precaution in case the taxi driver forgets to turn OTG off between passengers. This ensures tablet’s battery won’t drain completely.
A universal adapter
As the units were used in the field, we learned that standard micro USB and USB-C didn’t always like being jostled around in a vehicle when it’s driving around the city. Vibrations and the tablet getting knocked around affected its performance.
In response, we built special Molex to USB-C and Molex to micro USB cables, making the unit sturdier and compatible with almost any OTG-capable Android tablet. This also made the adapter universal. As an upgrade we also built SimulCharge cables for tablets that are capable of receiving simultaneous power and data.
These newer units also feature Continuously Active Battery Modulation (CABM), LAVA’s plug-and-play battery protection solution. However, if the device is set up to turn off by default, the technology may not be needed.
Because the different cab companies preferred to power their tablets in different ways, we have built special Molex power cables as well. Some go to Micro USB power adapters, some go to USB-C, some have USB-A so they can plug into the cigarette lighter receptacle, and some have wiring on the one end so you can connect it directly into the vehicle’s electrical system.
Phasing out older units
We have been slowly phasing out the old units in favour of these newer ones. These newer units also feature an upgraded scanner with better security. The newer scanner is also future-proofed as it is designed to handle payments beyond a Presto card if Metrolinx ever chooses to go that route.
We have delivered roughly 2,000 of these newer units.
With LAVA’s help, Metrolinx, Presto, and participating taxi companies have been able to provide a cost-effective and accessible alternative to Wheel-Trans kneeling buses.
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