How Data Enhances the Passenger and Driver Experience
By Brian Higbee
Passengers don’t use public transport for the fun of it - it is always used as a means to get from point A to B. Enhancing this experience means making the whole journey easier, and not adding to the challenge. To achieve this goal, a technology solution is required that caters for both infrequent passengers who require support, and regular, experienced travellers who don’t.
The technology solution (namely, Intelligent Transport Systems), like the public transport itself, also needs to serve everyone – from able-bodied, highly mobile passengers to those with mobility limitations. Underpinning this is the access to reliable data that helps everyone, both drivers and passengers, move through the network easily.
How Data Supports Every Single Passenger
Ideally, all passengers should be supported on their journey unobtrusively and inclusively. Providing information is the key to providing this support. Historically, passengers would ask the driver for information.
Pre-journey support is usually provided through a journey planner via hardcopy, an app, or a website. During the journey, support is normally through the provision of real-time information. After the journey, it is through the reassurance of the availability of a return or follow-on trip.
Passenger support during the journey includes simple audio and visual information, which is updated automatically as the vehicle moves along the route. An example of this is announcing the next stop and destination to passengers on-board. More complex information can make use of more sophisticated graphical displays, which show the next stop and subsequent stop information, as well as additional alighting and connection information when approaching an interchange with other services. This can involve other transport modes on the same display.
Mobility assistance apps provide additional information to help passengers board the right service, and alight at the right place and time. For example, these apps can provide the passenger with a mobile application where a particular route can be identified which then alerts them to the arrival of the service. The app even provides guidance to the door – such as confirmation that the service is the one they want and then it continues to provide support while along the route. If necessary, passengers may also receive physical support from the driver, both when boarding and alighting.
Announcing the next stop at a suitable, but not intrusive, level provides all passengers with a basic level of reassurance on the progression of their trip. The regular passenger can read their book or look at their mobile device, and just keep an ear open for their stop to be announced. The more occasional traveller can follow the route in real-time, with audio announcements assisting visually impaired passengers. All passengers, regardless of their experience of the trip, feel reassured during their journey, which minimises the stress of missing a stop.
Technology can be quickly assimilated by passengers. For instance, when Transport for London first introduced its iBus technology across its London network with next stop audio and visual information, the national BBC news channel Radio 4 interviewed some passengers about the experience. One particular passenger complained about the audio announcements, saying they were too intrusive and disruptive. A few months later, the same passenger had changed their view entirely. They were now able to sit on the bus, lost in their book, and now they felt that they could only hear the announcement for the stop they wanted to alight at – without being startled or trying to work out where the bus was.
How Data Supports Drivers
Providing the driver with real-time status information on how early or late the vehicle is, or how close they are to the bus or tram is in front on a headway route, removes the mental calculations for the driver - who can just focus on driving. Such status information should be shown clearly, using an intuitive layout that is immediately obvious to the driver.
For instance, green means on time - just keep on keeping on. Red and orange indicate something is not right, so please look for the details.
Of course, if a vehicle is held up in a traffic jam and there is nothing the driver can do to compensate, then having a bright red button reminding the driver of how late the service is won’t be very helpful. In these circumstances, a control system should support either turning the whole timetable off or applying an offset to specific vehicles to bring them back into time. This productive action is normally taken in parallel with a plan to restore the network. Through data collection and measurement, the impact of the delay can be quantified, and the effectiveness of the dispatching actions assessed.
Accurate Data is Everything
This quick assimilation and rapid dependence on information means that information must be pertinent, relevant and most of all, accurate. The name of the next stop must be correct and clearly announced. The need for clarity and accuracy is particularly relevant during a disruption, for example, if a vehicle is being diverted. With the carefully prepared route information no longer being correct, the system must update what is being displayed to reflect what is actually happening.
The driver needs to know where to drive, so the diversion detail is sent to the on-board computer (which can guide the vehicle using SATNAV along the new route). The information displayed to passengers should, as a minimum, be clear which stops are not going to be served so that passengers are not left wondering or are denied the opportunity to get off this service and take an alternate service. Even better, if the information system permits - an additional message could be displayed explaining why the diversion happened.
In times of large scale or significant disruption, it may be sensible for the control centre to make announcements to the affected vehicles - informing the passengers and the driver of the situation, detailing what is being done to overcome it, and ideally advising how long the service is expected to be disrupted. Broadcast announcements to the wider fleet will also help optimise communications. Here, the right data is critical to delivering the right information.
Fare payment is another critical aspect of the journey. Making payments seamless, non-threatening and with minimal or no contact, helps significantly to encourage and retain passengers. The ease of use of mobile phones needs to be replicated in the transport world. Ideally, you board and then alight, perhaps using an app or just your credit card. Special offers, multiple trip tickets, and other paraphernalia of legacy travel can be swept aside with the simple intention of making the whole travel experience easier - therefore encouraging more passengers to use public transport.
These systems must work well and work continuously. In Moscow, the metro supports the use of EMV smart cards to check-in and out. It is an easy, simple process which meant no one had to struggle with the ticket machine. But when one day the EMV cards suddenly were no longer accepted due to data issues, passengers were significantly inconvenienced and forced to walk to their destination. It is essential that the system works well and continues to work reliably, with the data always being processed in the expected way.
Unfortunately, one single bad experience lingers and undermines many, many positive trips.
Travelling by public transport requires a degree of planning and knowledge, which technology can make less demanding – making it easy to use and creating a better experience for both passengers and drivers. Accurate data is needed both during the planning phase, and in real-time when travelling.
For passengers, the introduction of pre-journey, on-trip, and post-trip resources – from journey planning to real-time trip information, makes travel easier and increases the likelihood of continued usage. For drivers, removing the distraction of passenger questions, and having easy to understand, real-time data helps them deliver a smoother ride.
Intelligent Transport Systems have the capacity to help both passengers and drivers at the same time.
This blog is Part 2 of a series on data analytics and public transport. See also:
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