ITS UK forum warns of traveller information challenges still to overcome


Public transport information solutions are key to traveller take-up, but challenges remain warn UK public transport experts.

ITS (UK)’s Public Transport Forum marked its 20th anniversary with a meeting hosted by Jacobs in Birmingham which heard that the industry is moving towards a promising future but that a ‘level of realism’ needs to be adopted in setting expectations, which in turn should result in more efficient delivery.

Former Forum chairman Gary Umpleby of Hogia discussed how data management has become the key to delivering reliable public transport passenger information, but gave a warning to attendees. He said, “While the industry is moving in the right direction, experience shows that it will take time to deliver the robust and reliable information solutions that will meet the future expectations of the public transport passenger.

“Data format standardisation aids faster development and deployment, but data standards themselves introduce challenges in systems development.

“The mandate for all bus timetable data from all operators to be accessible via the Department for Transport’s Bus Open Digital Data Service (BODDS) portal is a welcome underpinning of the Bus Services Act 2017, but the scale of the challenges that lie ahead, and the timescale to fully implement, should not be underestimated.”

Discussing bus information, it was agreed that providing data services for smaller operators will be a challenge, particularly for those operating in rural areas, with small operators facing significant challenges in order to comply with the emerging policies and regulations.

The meeting also heard from weather company Vaisala which explained that with the right data, AI and machine learning people can make better transport choices and make using public transport more effective, while Transport for West Midlands introduced Sprint, an updated modern, high quality bus service with dedicated lanes and priority to make journey times are more reliable.

Forum chairman, Daniel Hobbs, of the Connected Places Catapult, said, “When people think ITS they often think of car travel, but when you consider what technology has done for public transport, it has been transformative.

“20 years ago when we launched this Forum, real time passenger information was an embryonic idea, now we couldn’t live without it.  Add the safety and traffic management benefits and you realise what a difference ITS has made.  This Forum meeting shows that we still have so much to offer.”

ITS (UK) Secretary General Jennie Martin added, “I remember the presentation of the first online Rail Departure Board system at an event in Edinburgh and how the industry first heard of realtime location referencing at our one of our events.  I am so proud our Public Transport Forum has led and shared best practice over the past two decades and long may it continue.”

The meeting concluded by agreeing that industry must do more to ‘sell’ the benefits to passengers.  It had heard how public perception of public transport in general and bus services in particular is more negative than the reality, which means that even where there is good quality realtime traveller information, people think there is no way of knowing when the next bus is due. That is the challenge the group will now work on helping to solve.

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James joined the Traffic Technology International team in 2017. Previously he was Assistant Editor on an engineering title for several years and has worked for various other trade magazines before that. James is happily married and has a young daughter and son who keep him busy.