Jul 9, 2014 12:13 PM, By Simon Fairbank, national sales manager, RSL
The evolution of public transport information in the British Isles
Engineering firm RSL developed a cloud-based data system, m-EPI, that’s tied into the city’s transportation signage.
Public transport is the backbone of the United Kingdom’s travel policies. However, the number of bus and train passengers has been static or declining for a decade, while the number of car users increases by 0.5 percent year on year.1
Independent research2 finds that improved transport information is key to encouraging public transport use. But how do transport operators provide that information?
Today’s population is busy, time-poor, and impatient. They want current, valid, and up to date information at the point of need. They need to know changes as they happen, not learn about them when their bus is 45 minutes late.
Across the U.K., local government transport providers were experiencing the same problem: How do you get relevant, accurate transport information out to all of your passengers in a cost-effective way?
Engineering firms such as U.K.-based RSL, who provided information kiosks in the bus sector, started to come up with the answer.
The market was using media-based content management systems (CMS), such as Scala, or putting the raw data directly onto the displays, which resulted in information that didn’t always make sense.
RSL spotted a gap in the market and went for a cloud-based system that was data first, specifically built for the transport market to process, manipulate, and enrich scheduled and realtime bus data from multiple U.K. and European data feeds such as ATCO.cif and SIRI. The output was better quality passenger information. RSL calls its system Electronic Passenger Information (EPI).
The mobile QR code and Twitters features of the public transportation data system.
Cloud-based CMS In Use
Cities such as York, England, used the EPI CMS for its virtual street. York’s street plan dates from medieval times; it’s unsuitable for modern traffic, with many transport restrictions. These constraints mean that York has only four main bus interchange points, with transport information previously centered on them.
The city council originally used journey-planning kiosks and low-tech dot matrix LEDs at these interchanges. However, to increase numbers on buses, they wanted to improve how, where, and what transport information the general public could access.
“We wanted to put even more transport information on the street via full-color technology but using a CMS we could control,” says Darren Capes, transport manager for the City of York Council. “We took the EPI CMS and now push out its configured information to displays and kiosks across our city, creating a virtual street of displays with relevant, up-to-date transport information.”
CMS Goes Mobile
With smartphone ownership up to 45 percent amongst British consumers,3 the U.K. population was getting used to having the information they needed in the palm of their hand—literally. Councils across the U.K. had to respond.
“We wanted to provide more options for our passengers and give them departure information in a more accessible way,” explains Martin Hall, principal transport officer at Aberdeenshire Council, Scotland.
Passenger transport information system providers reassessed their products to see how they could meet this demand. In RSL’s case, it took its cloud-based CMS and reconfigured it to push out the configured information to a range of devices, accessed through easy-to-use gateways such as NFC tags and QR codes. So m-EPI was born—mobile-EPI.
“m-EPI enables people, particularly younger people, to access departure information via their mobile phone,” says Lesley Jackson, travel manager at Middlesbrough Council. “We only had printed timetables at our bus stops, so this is a way to easily get up-to-date information out to passengers and to improve accessibility.”
All of us in the passenger transport information industry know we can’t sit back and relax, though. As domestic technology improves and changes, so does the public’s appetite for information. We are already looking at how we can digest social media feeds with other data feeds to produce intelligent information that delivers even richer content to passengers.
Imagine being able to look at your own personalized bus timetable, in the palm of your hand, which is flashing a message telling you to go to a different bus stop because there has been a road traffic accident. It has now altered the bus route and pushed out a message to all passengers who access information about that route.
Now stop imagining it, because my colleagues and I are going to make it a reality.
Simon Fairbank is national sales manager for RSL, a leading U.K. supplier of interactive, public information systems, and ITSO and EMV ticketing totems, pickup points, and software solutions. Fairbank is passionate about pushing the boundaries of technologies, such as smart phones, to deliver a seamless flow of scheduled and realtime transport information to U.K. bus passengers while giving the transport providers complete control. He has been responsible for RSL investigating and developing new software products to make this a reality. Contact Simon via [email protected] for more information.
UK Department for Transport, Vehicle Licensing Statistics, Statistical Release, April 2013, Vehicle Licensing Statistics 2012
Passenger Focus, Bus passenger views on value for money, October 2013 (most recent research) (http://www.passengerfocus.org.uk/research/publications/bus-passenger-vie…)