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Why Data Analytics and Reporting is so Important for Public Transport Authorities

By Brian Higbee

We live in a world surrounded by data – and public transport is no exception. 

Buses, trams, and ferries run, passengers board and alight, and all of the time, a wealth of data is generated and collected. This data complexity ranges from simple, such as actual arrival and departure times at each stop, to the more complex – with speed profiles, GPS tracking, and acceleration/braking information. Other information is less visible, but just as important – such as vehicle device messages that report defects, and vehicle performance.

All of this data is useful, but how can it help transport authorities deliver better public transport services?

What Data Can Tell Us. The Insights a Door Provides!

At the control centre, the data received only needs to relate to the information transmitted from vehicles in real-time. For example, the arrival and departure times at a stop. However, within the vehicle, a lot more data such as the actual time and location the door was opened, closed, and perhaps reopened, can be recorded. 

When downloaded at the end of the day, this enables the actual travel profile of an individual vehicle to be analysed in detail. For example:

  • When did the door first open?
  • When was it last closed?
  • How many times was the door opened, and how long was it open for?
  • Was the door opened outside the defined limits of the stop?
  • Was the door opened between stops?
  • Where did the vehicle stop, but not open its doors? (so-called ‘non-productive time’).

These travel profiles, using the number of passengers boarded/alighted at each stop can then be used to draw valuable insights, such as:

  • The time taken to board and the number of passengers can be correlated.
  • The dwell time (time stationary at a stop), and the number of boarding and alighting passengers can be profiled.
  • The travel and dwell times between, and at stops, can also be calculated.

These insights can be inferred from the dataset provided by the simple act of a door opening and closing.

This information can then be used to inform the planning process, for example:

  • For 80% of the time, the dwell time between 7:00 am and 8:00 am is 20 seconds, with five passengers boarding.
  • The travel time between stops A and B is 48 seconds between 07:00 am and 08:00 am.

This information can now enable a travel profile that reliably reflects the ‘normal’ situation and includes some capacity for potential delays. The informed planning and scheduling team can now build a much better timetable with resultant service improvements.

Driver and Vehicle Performance

Driver performance can be measured by recording the detailed GPS locations, acceleration, deceleration, and cornering information, as well as other variables. Data also allows vehicles to be quantified along with driver performance, which can be improved over time through the careful application of feedback. 

For example, aggregating places with high levels of braking identifies places in the network where additional care is needed. These areas, once identified, can then be used to educate drivers so their ongoing performance can be monitored, especially at incident ‘hot spots’.

Data-driven performance monitoring, when used as a tool for training and driving improvement, results in a smoother ride which then translates into a better passenger experience.

It can also result in reduced fuel consumption. In addition, vehicle performance can be measured and correlated to a route to provide a vehicle ranking. By normalising this information, driver and vehicle performance is measured against a benchmark, and ‘best’ or ‘worst’ vehicles or drivers are not publicly identified.

Service Delivery Measurements

The overall service delivery can also be measured. The mileage performed, the trips operated, and the stops visited can be compared against the planned services. With headway services, the regularity of the service can be measured and reported on.

It is important that data measurements correctly reflect the contractual framework under which the service is being delivered.

A timetabled service should be measured by punctuality and mileage operated, while a headway service is less concerned with the timetable – focusing rather on the service regularity, often measured as the Excess Waiting Time.  However, headway services may sometimes have specific timetables included for the first and last trips of the day.

When outsourcing service delivery, and then making payments to the operator based on the actual service delivered, the measurements need to reflect the contract conditions. If the contract allows disruption due to circumstances outside the control of the operator to be compensated, then there needs to be a mechanism for this contractual compensation to the registered, aggregated, approved, and then incorporated into the reporting. 

Generally, this involves statistical computational mechanisms to impute what the actual performance would have been, had the service taken place at the same level as the rest of the delivered services.

Equipment Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance

Datasets can also contain performance information for equipment, interconnected systems, and the vehicle itself hidden within the data. 

For example, the bus or tram that continually reports no open-door events probably has a faulty door sensor. The vehicle with no odometer speed recorded, but has GPS speed available, probably has a problem with the odometer connection. 

For buses, this analysis can be extended into the CAN Bus data, for example, monitoring oil, water, and air temperature and correlating this to vehicle standards and detecting drifts over time and mileage.

Processing data in this way will help to usher in improvements in vehicle reliability - reducing the number of breakdowns, while potentially also extending the time between servicing.  Most preventative maintenance measures will be triggered by data, rather than a regimented service interval. Of course, vehicle safety must always be assured through regular, mandatory inspections, but the need for more invasive precautionary maintenance activities will require a move to data-driven services.

Conclusion

Overall, data insights have multiple uses for transport authorities. It can show how services are being delivered and help manage your valuable public transport assets. Knowledge is power, and if you know exactly what is happening across all aspects of your public transport services, this enables leaders to make better and more informed decisions on optimising the network.

This all leads to providing better services for passengers, which then translates to increased user acceptance and ridership.

This blog is Part 1 of a series on data analytics and public transport. See also:

Trapeze Group Intelligent Transport Systems for Bus, Trams, Ferry Hub

Meet the Author:
Brian Higbee
International Project Director, Trapeze ITS UK

Brian has over 25 years of experience in implementing AVLC and AVM solutions globally, including Transport for London. Brian’s expertise includes embedded mobile solutions, data and voice communications, real-time data processing, central control systems, database solutions, and systems integration. Connect with Brian on LinkedIn.

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