The Evolution of Real Time Passenger Information: TRANSPORT Smart Class, London & South East England 2023 Retrospective


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Charul Gupta is Head of Technology and Data – Transport Services (Interim) at Transport for London, and co-founder of TfL’s award-winning Women in Tech (WiT) community.

Her keynote presentation at TRANSPORT Smart Class, London & South East England 2023 delved into the transformation of real-time passenger information within the realm of bus public transportation. Over the years, real-time passenger information systems have revolutionised the way we experience and interact with public transport.

Charul explored the historical context, technological advancements and impacts of RTPI, shedding light on the past, the present and the future, and demonstrating TfL’s continuing commitment to an open data policy.

Summary of presentation highlights:

  • Who are TfL’s customers? Pre-pandemic: 30 million journeys per day in London across all transport modes, 6 million journeys per day by bus and twice as many by underground – “We are recovering and have returned to 90% of pre-pandemic levels”;
  • How do TfL know what their customers want? 1) Collecting information about customers – Customer reported data, qualitative and quantitative research, feedback from stakeholders and colleagues, social and online data, external sources 2) Collecting information TfL know their customers value – Specific tools and frameworks, operational data;
  • Early Days – In 1992, London Transport (now TfL) initiated trial of Passenger Information at Bus Stops (PIBS) on Route 18; Findings from surveys carried during pilot phase demonstrated strong customer preference for Countdown; Countdown tested along several bus corridors in 1993 and 1994; TfL first deployed RTPI in 1997 with a system that took a feed from the then Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system, which used roadside beacons to locate vehicles and measure their progress; This solution was the original Countdown system;
  • Advent of Countdown Signs;
  • Case Study 1 – iBus: TfL introduced iBus system in London in 2005; iBus was and is amongst the largest and most sophisticated integrated AVL systems globally; Relies on GPS and complementary technologies to accurately determine bus locations, and started utilising the General Packet Radio System (GPRS) for seamless data transfer; iBus AVL enabled provision of real-time journey information for customers making bus network easier to use; Benefited passengers with hearing or visual impairments, who may previously have relied on route familiarity or bus driver assistance; iBus also enabled warning customers of planned disruption, encouraging advance travel planning…
  • The rise of RTPI – TfL now had reliable and consistent predictions of arrival times available for dissemination, which formed the basis for a viable business case for widespread RTPI; Countdown signs were refreshed from 2010 to be powered by iBus and currently London has approximately 3,000 Countdown signs;

  • Case Study 2 – Open Data Policy: Policy established in 2011; Data is free to use and usage is subject to license conditions; TfL’s digital strategy hinges around an integrated presence across digital media, including open data…
  • 1) Enabling passenger information channels – Open-access to public transport data enabled a revolution in passenger information developed and supplied by third parties; Research has proved that providing open data not only improves customer journeys, but saves people time, supports innovation and creates jobs;
  • 2) Why share data? Public Data – As a public body, TfL’s data is publicly owned; Reach – TfL’s goal is to ensure any person needing travel information about London can get it wherever and whenever they wish, in any way they wish; Products developed from TfL’s data can benefit more customers than TfL could manage with their own resources; Innovation – By having thousands of developers designing and building applications, services and tools with their data and APIs, TfL are effectively crowdsourcing innovation;
  • 3) What data is available? TfL powers website with same data they give to 3rd party developers; Their unified API is the developers gateway for data; Over 200 elements, including Journey Planner (bus, underground, cycle, rover, rail), Air quality, Safety data, Live roads, disruption and planned works data;
  • 4) How is the data used? Before the pandemic, around 13,000 developers had used TfL’s data to produce almost 650 apps for mobile devices that were used by 42% of Londoners – these numbers have since increased further;
  • Evolving Customer expectations – People have grown accustomed to highly accurate and easily accessible real-time information in all areas of their lives; this raises expectations for a level of information to be available when using the bus network which is often not met at the moment, making bus journeys feel slower and less reliable; Changing digital landscape means information products once thought of as ‘extra features’ could soon become critical factors in driving journey decisions; Risk of inaction is real and can lead to terminal decline; Need to keep pace by providing accurate information across a range of static and real-time digital channels;
  • TfL Go App – Launched in August 2020 and provides real-time train and bus arrival times in a mobile-friendly interface; Bus customers can check live arrivals at their nearest bus stop and see walking distance to get there; Allows users to plan bus-only routes and indicates any disruption so customers can plan accordingly;

  • Case Study 3 – Innovative Trials: Between 2010 and the current day, TfL have carried out a number of trials and PoC small scale rollouts, exploring new technologies such as e-ink displays, Totem type display and Virtual Screens…
  • Eden – e-ink display with LED backlight for low light conditions/night time;
  • Shelter TfT (Thin Film Transistor) – A high definition, full colour large TfT LCD display; Intended as a full rich content display, presenting enhanced Customer Information on a single display;
  • Countdown 3 – There will be a choice of a number of types of displays, comparable to existing signs deployed now; All displays will include remote monitoring and control of common faults; Displays will utilise the new industry standard RTIG047 as opposed to a proprietary interface, allowing TfL to adopt new displays and integrate them alongside existing displays;
  • In parallel, TfL will continue to engage and innovate with new entrants and developments in the RTPI market!

If you satisfy our regular delegate qualification criteria but were unable to join us in London on October 17th for the live in-person event at Greencoat Place, CLICK HERE and complete the short “Download form” (located at the bottom of the post) to receive a unique link enabling free access to the presentation video recordings and slides (including the film footage and slides from Charul’s keynote).

Those qualifying to receive the rich presentation content from this event include commissioning, procurement, trialling, partnering and policy leads, senior influencers, strategic decision makers and planners from local authorities (e.g. city, borough, metropolitan, district and county councils); public transport operators; regional transport partnerships, sub-regional transport bodies, combined authorities, integrated transport authorities and passenger transport executives; highways authorities and road operators; government and supporting national transport agencies; fleet operators, parking operators, prime contractors etc.

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TRANSPORT Smart Class, London & South East England 2023

On October 17th we will be casting a spotlight over London and South East England, hosting our speakers discussions on how the latest digital innovations can help overcome the transport and mobility challenges faced by the capital, its hinterland, burgeoning smart city-regions of the South East and East Anglia, and beyond.


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