This blog post is part two of a four part series building a case for a cost-effective, fully-managed and scalable transport information ecosystem. Part one is available here.
This article was also written with contributions from John Chan.
Public transportation’s need for real time information
Public transport use across all modes of travel in Australia is forecast to grow by 30% by 2030, according to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, driven by population and jobs growth.
Transport agencies are committed to meeting this growth but a key challenge is how to do it in the most efficient way while balancing against other customer and agency priorities, such as:
– Improving the customer journey experience, from ticketing to real time data availability
– Creating integrated transport services to increase travel choice
– Applying effective land use policies for sustainable growth
– Optimising the balance of public transport use e.g. bus vs cycling vs walking
Research into the preferences of customers using public transport show that they value a number of factors that are related to having access to service information (highlighted in bold on the table to the above).
The most important factors are frequency and reliability of services, followed by being able to connect to other services. Coupled with the digital trends of any time, any device, anywhere, this points strongly to a clear need for real time data.
These trends have been addressed comprehensively by a number of progressive transport agencies. For example Transport for London (TfL) has had an integrated digital strategy and implementation plan since 2010, targeting:
– Web presence as a personalised, trusted source of travel information
– Mobile optimised services such as SMS payments and location-aware functionality
– On-system digital information such as electronic digital displays
– Syndication of transport data to developers to drive innovative new services
– Digital marketing integrated with traditional media
– Social media to engage with customers and stakeholders to achieve TfL objectives
– Value for money delivery of services through partnerships and revenue generation through sponsorship and licensing
This has completely changed the way TfL interacts with its customers, creating two-way communications and significantly enhancing the customer experience. The Tfl website now has 20m visits a month, with mobile soon to overtake desktop, and there are 500,000 Twitter followers.
A key enabler to achieving service improvements in a cost efficient way has been through its network of 5,000 developers distributing apps using TfL data through its Developers’ Area. This provides a number of free data feeds, including:
– Journey Planner API
– Live bus arrivals API (“Countdown”)
– Live traffic disruptions
– Coach parking sites
– Live traffic cameras
Specifically the Countdown API allows customers to receive bus arrival predictions via SMS, Web and Mobile and has 2.5m hits per day. Companies such as TomTom and Google Transit also use this data to enhance their journey planning products. This is a scalable solution that is being extended to river buses and digital signs.
Improving the customer experience using real time information
Transport agencies are looking to address these factors through greater availability of data and better analytics of the data that is captured. This can improve customer experience in a number of ways:
1. Real time data can take away the uncertainty for customers around travel times and allow them to better plan their journeys.
2. Customers and vehicle drivers are now equipped with mobile devices that potentially can be sourced to provide real time information that would be valuable to the broader travelling public. New applications need to be developed to stimulate and capture this feedback.
3. Customers are therefore also looking for integrated information on how to optimise multi-modal journeys, with the ability to change travel decisions in real time depending on real time conditions.
In order to keep pace with innovative global trends, it is important that the Australian public transport system promotes the widespread development of apps and platforms that use real time information. This is a critical feature as Australia seeks to attract tourists and businesses.
Providing agencies and operators with analytics to improve planning and optimisation
Besides benefits to the customer, real time data can also help agencies and operators to improve their operational and strategic responses to emerging transport trends:
Inline with the expected population growth, demand for bus travel in NSW is forecast to increase by 30% by 2031. This is likely to occur in both new and existing areas that are not covered by rail, supported by a push to encourage greater use of public transport rather than car journeys.
Bottlenecks can also occur due to buses operating significantly below capacity even during peak hours. This is related to congestion problems, since buses on the same routes may not have sufficient spacing between services or alternatively it may suggest there are too many services on that particular route.
Vehicle data can help plan which services don’t need to go through bottlenecks and hence relieve congestion, or alternatively allow operators to provide drivers with better instructions on when spacing should occur
Vehicle tracking data would help to dynamically allocate buses to available bays despite any delays in arrivals, whilst also providing real time data to direct customers. Ultimately it can reduce the space required at terminals, which can be an important consideration in high density areas. e.g. in the Netherlands, terminals that have implemented this have reduced the space needed by 70% (Source: ITS International).
While public transport agencies are committed to these goals, they have also tended to set very long timeframes for achieving them. For example, TfNSW has a 20 year target to have:
“Information will be delivered to our customers–whenever, wherever and however they want it.”
There is the potential to significantly accelerate these timeframes by leveraging the approach of a permeable enterprise, which would support and enhance already existing digital initiatives targeting the communication of real time information to customers
Other participants in the public transport market are trying to address the challenges identified above through other means. An example of this is Moovit, a crowd sourced transit app with over one million users across 30 cities. Moovit provides customers with real time updates on multi-modal travel times and degree of crowding to plan their journeys accordingly.
But it needs to be highlighted these types of solutions have their limits due to their dependency on active and participating users. It is expected that these types of solutions work only within metropolitan areas during peak time, but it is questionable if they would work in more suburban or regional areas or even during off-peak. In addition, there is a challenge with these solutions in that they are closed – meaning captured data is not shared outside of the solution provider.
Organisations need to understand that successfully tapping the new drivers of value requires a digital operating model, a model attuned to participating in or integrating with expanding digital ecosystems. And finally organisations need to adjust their business and enterprise architecture to become what PwC calls the permeable enterprise.