beleben

die belebende Bedenkung

To boldly go by bus

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Some years ago, London’s Underground was one of the first public transport systems to get real time passenger information (RTI). By monitoring the current location of trains into the RTI system, visual display panels on platforms could show accurate destinations and arrival times of the next trains. In practice, though, things were, and are, not so straightforward. It’s not unknown for the ‘time-to-next’ minutes display to go down-and-then-up, or completely disappear, or show gibberish.

RTI has also been applied to bus services, with live display at bus stops and interchanges, and the provision has extended to provincial networks. Despite the increased maturity and experience of the technology, accuracy and reliability problems have not gone away. In January 2009, This Is Leicestershire reported on the East Midlands’ StarTrak system:

Monday, January 05, 2009

It was meant to transform the bus network, but after eight years and more than £2.5 million of investment, the Star Trak information system still does not work.

Leicester City Council said operators were letting it down, with one in three buses still not having a functioning system.

It said unless the situation improved it would lobby the Government’s Traffic Commissioner – who regulates the industry – to put pressure on companies and force them to improve.

Passengers have complained displays at stops do not show how many minutes until the next bus or that the figure is wrong.

A task group set up to investigate problems said until bus companies showed more willing, it would continue to fail.

Star Trak boldly gone

In the West Midlands county, real time information was a feature of Centro‘s so-called ‘Bus Showcase’, and under the ‘Network West Midlands’ rebrand, coverage was expanded to other bus services, and local rail platforms. Only a small proportion (less than a tenth) of the 13,000 bus stops have an RTI display, but all of them should have a code number vinyl — allowing waiting passengers (who happen to have a cellphone) to get the arrival time of the next service, by text-message.

'Real time' information display at a Centro bus stop

Unfortunately, all the money put into West Midlands hasn’t translated into an overall improvement in information quality, as can be seen from an RTI-equipped bus stop on the National Express West Midlands #1 and #31 routes (see picture). The display shows the next three buses to be 2, 17, and 47 minutes away, all on route #1. The daytime service on that route is four per hour, so what’s with the bus that should be running, 32 minutes away? And why are there no route #31 buses showing?

'Meeting the needs of the customer'

The Centro RTI does not include all buses using a particular stop, and if vehicles aren’t suitably equipped, or there is a malfunction, there will be no ‘information’ — leading to the system misleading passengers about the state and availability of services. These types of problem could (and should) have been resolved years ago, but it appears that Centro is not much bothered.

Centro 'Vision for Information', 2011

Written by beleben

February 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] 1970s. Passenger transport authorities have not had the skills needed to implement smart ticketing, usable real time information, and […]

  2. […] Bus patronage has been declining for years. the multi-million pound real time information system does not work properly, and the bus fleet is largely responsible for the poor air quality on Birmingham […]


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