Passenger information has improved quite steadily in past years, however, general public appetite for more information leading to better understanding of what’s going on while awaiting one’s transport service is still very strong. Developing real time information systems is undoubtedly the spine of improvements for the near future. Today most of data made available is “static” because it does not imply heavy investments implementing it. Making real time data available generally means more investment into more complex systems and more operational costs as precision doesn’t come cheap. Also, real time data is only useful if it is accurate: any system delivering poor quality information will purely and simply be discarded by users. This makes it a bit more challenging for organisations that want to implement this kind of feature on their network. When everything works fine, user’s relation improves thus creating true conditions for an interactive dialogue between transport authority and its passengers. This relation allows to better apprehend network malfunctions or operational mistakes which in turn supplies the means for fine tuning the system very quickly. Improvement of services fosters for more people getting on board.
The City of Adelaide in South Australia is currently finalising implementation of its real time information system.The basic source of information comes from all vehicles in the fleet (trains, trams and buses) which are emitting a location pulse every 15 seconds. This pulse is generated by the recently implemented smart card system (ATLAS supplied by Xerox) and transmitted via 3G network. A back end system uses these pulses to feed an information passenger system and a fleet management system. To give you an idea of the result, you can follow this link taking you to a bus stop in the heart of Adelaide CBD that is served by several bus routes. Be careful with time difference (+7H30 winter Europe or +9H30 summer Europe) you may try to watch it when there is no service. At time I am writing this article, the precision of predictions has already gone beyond 95% for over 96% of services. Following introduction of this service, the number of hits on the web page carrying the real time information (since 3 months) is permanently increasing proving a growing user’s interest. The near future will see a number of smart phone apps, using real time data, made available to the public. Displaying information at major stops is on the agenda but not yet implemented.
One of the positive side effects concerns the fine tuning of geographical and service parameters due to improved inter-action means between site operation and operation supervision. Adelaide is a “Google transit” city since a long time and Atlas system gets all its parameters from a “Google feed” allowing very simple updates on a weekly basis. The big advantage of such a set up lies into modifying parameters via a single input channel thus removing constraints of synchronising multiple inputs. The result is a real improvement of service that may explain the success amongst users.
At the same time, the fleet management system, using the same source of information and based on the same parameters, allows the detection of operational errors in real time and improves the capacity putting into place quick fixes. It also greatly improves answering user’s queries by being able to replay past services thus giving very accurate answers. Depot dispatchers now have a very powerful tool to ensure drivers are following instructions. Again, we are talking here about inter-action “field-user-management” positively improved by gradually removing conflicting topics that are damaging network image.
It is integration of ticketing, passenger information and fleet management that has allowed to reduce the cost of the system on both aspects, investment and long term maintenance. I do also believe that to be complete, operational gains should be measured and introduced into the equation to fully apprehend the benefits.
The big challenge implementing such solution requires fulfilling a few general requirements:
- convince the various operational entities involved to work on a common project
- if possible deal with only one supplier => multiplying interfaces is a project killer on both money and schedule accounts. In this field of industry with a sizeable engineering input going for multiple suppliers will not reduce costs but increase them.
- you need to have the budget for the whole package from start => knowing that such budget will be far less than if you consider purchasing the three elements separately. The three functions being intimately linked together, taking them as a single project will again give opportunities to save money.
- avoid being too ambitious with the schedule, such projects take time => you do not want to run into the “late delivery syndrome” that inevitably adds pressures dangerous to quality
An improved inter-activity with your users is very important as it generates an improved image of your services for a long time: it is the very definition of a quality circle.