Accurate on-board information for a better transport experience

When your transport network runs efficiently, with frequent services and on-time performance, life is great, and you rarely hear from passengers. But when things go wrong, your passengers will let you know! A single missed connection may negatively impact many passengers, and not providing accurate service information, reflecting the actual situation, can compound this, turning grumbling passengers into vocal critics.

Customer satisfaction is just as closely linked to the information provided as it is to the frequency, timeliness and quality of the actual services provided . To deliver this value is a two stage process. First, we need to get the right information and give this to the right people. Second, the information needs to be provided in a way that those people can act on it.

An Intelligent Transport System (ITS) does exactly this, equipping drivers with comprehensive real-time information and automating many of the tasks required, enabling Automated Vehicle Management (AVM) capabilities. The system can calculate the consequences of possible holding actions, and determines if the waiting receiver vehicle should hold longer for the feeding service, or depart to maintain the timetable or headway.

The system then feeds the status of the connection across the system, to passengers as well as external information displays. Along with visibility of services, AVM gives drivers the power to dynamically change service operations as they drive, to better match the timetable, headway or, through central calculated instructions, connection timing. The result is better quality services, better information, and increased passenger satisfaction. The driver can look at the connection status information on the interactive driver display as well as showing the same information to passengers when the vehicle is equipped with information displays.

AVM supports connection protection not only between vehicles across multiple operators, but across modes of transport, for example displaying information in trams approaching the railway station about the status of the train connection. Though it is unlikely that a rail operator would be able to wait for the passengers to transfer, if the tram is delayed, they would at least be informed as soon as possible on the likelihood of making the connection.

Integration starts with both light rail and tram on-board computers working with a common data supply that defines where and when the tram needs to travel and the actions that need to be performed at different positions along the route. This defines the plan.

Then, location information is sent to the control centre in real time so that network controllers can see the performance of multiple services and their relationship with one another. From here, the ITS and AVM combined deliver advanced capabilities such as headway, route diversion guidance, optimised passenger information and overall enhanced passenger comfort. With complex networks the consequences of disruption can be significant and the need to have a coordinated and central control is exemplified. Using Incident Response tools enables predefined operating procedures to be activated, providing a consistent and structured response. Combining predefined plans with ad hoc responses maximises the efficiency of the response and the return to normal operations.

Managed Headway; Mind the Gap

Since the control centre knows when each tram on a line arrives at each stop, the headway to the vehicle in front can be calculated and displayed to the driver. This allows the driver to maintain the target interval, for example, by holding the vehicle at the stop for extra seconds to maintain the required gap to follow the timetable.

For transport, history is often times a fair predictor of the future. We can use history-based predictions, to calculate not just timetable and headway adherence for the current location, but also make a data-driven prediction on the likely arrival time over the next 45 minutes or so.

Tracking all trams across the network and collecting this location data in the control centre enables these sophisticated prediction algorithms to provide valuable updates to you and your customers. Even disruptions can be factored in; if all trams passing along a certain section of track are experiencing delays that increase travel time, then it is reasonable to predict that the next trams will experience additional delays.

For high-frequency services, this history-based prediction is significantly more accurate than schedule deviation alone and enables the operator to reduce bunching of services, giving passengers a more regular service and avoiding the pain of no trams for a long time and then two or three arriving nose to tail.

Automate Route Diversion Guidance

The location-aware, on-board computer can provide the driver with a map display showing where to drive. Whilst not essential during regular service, when operating a diversion the additional guidance helps the driver follow the defined diversion route without needing to contact the control centre for instructions. Freed up from guidance calls, the service controllers can concentrate on managing the disruption directly, reducing its impact and severity.

Efficient in-route plans, diversions and alternative patterns can be identified and prepared for likely diversions. The AVM system enables these to be activated centrally as required. It also offers the ability to create ad hoc diversion, taking into account the actual network and routing restrictions, to enable disruption without a pre-existing plan to be managed. In either case the AVM solution takes the updated planned information and ensures it is cascaded across the various passenger information channels, keeping passengers informed.

With the location awareness and control possibilities, as well as the ability to feed information to the driver, the on-board computer can be linked to the train protection systems, via suitable firewalls and specialist interfaces, to provide enhanced information flow between the two systems to support improved operations and enhanced passenger information. For example, identifying the actual platform in a multi-bay interchange without fixed allocation, or detecting when trams are on the opposite tracks. These project-specific enhancements optimise the value of existing investments.

Optimise In-Vehicle Passenger Information

Automating tasks within the tram allows the drivers to focus on safety of customers and delivery of service. An on-board Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) updates the ‘next stop’ information as the tram moves along the route, and the synchronised ‘next stop’ announcement is made together with any additional information. Where trams are equipped with digital information displays, these are automatically updated with the destination and next stops, showing special ‘alight here’ information as well as the status of other services at a stop.

For example, as a tram pulls into a busy interchange, a screen shows departures on other lines providing passengers with important updates on their next transfer point. Where the system implements connection protection between lines, the status of the subsequent connection can also be shown. AVM-based connection protection is just one tool that equips drivers with the information they need to hold the vehicle at the stop to ensure passengers can connect to services on other lines. Short delays for connection protection don’t negatively impact the overall network running time, but they do positively impact passenger experience and greatly help in the delivery of an effective multi-modal network. Using headway operation, the following trams, on arrival, would be informed on the proximity to the vehicle in front, enabling headway regulation to be undertaken and the interval to be maintained.

The information screen also provides layout information, particularly at very large locations with more than one stop on the route. For example, at a large football stadium, different stadium access points might be serviced by different stops. Providing this information within the tram (for example, “alight here for Gate 2”) directs passengers to the most convenient access point.

“The on-board tram system provides in-cab driver alert of the network Permanent Speed Restriction (PSRs) signs changes along with over-speed and violations alerts. This will increase driver hazard awareness and enhance day to day operational safety.”
Terry Hewlett, Systems & Business Manager, Transport for London

Enhance Passenger Comfort without Driver Interaction

Other automated features provide further driver support. For example, on entering a tunnel, the passenger lights are automatically turned on, or their brightness adjusted, and the volume of announcements is increased to offset any increase in ambient noise. On exiting the tunnel, the lighting and announcement volume reverts to standard settings. Where the tram is fitted with external speakers, announcements at different times of day are broadcast at different volume levels, limiting the disturbance to residents at night. In fact the on-board computer can be configured, in the data supply, to activate and deactivate digital outputs which can be used to control a range of functions within the vehicle depending on the route and location.

Knowing with confidence where the tram is, without needing to talk to the driver, significantly enhances the safety, security and outcomes for drivers, passengers and the public.

The ITS can also provide integration of the CCTV system monitoring its status and automatically flagging issues to the control centre. In the other direction, it can provide information relating to the position of the tram along the route, as well as GPS coordinates, to the CCTV system. This can then be used to assist in later video retrieval searches and enhance the safety of passengers and drivers.

Improve Driver & Customer Experiences

The provision of on-board driver information and automation of non-core tasks lets drivers focus on customer safety and the core functional vehicle tasks, minimises distractions and ensures the control centre maintains a current, accurate operational view.

This helps reduce the likelihood of things going wrong and improves the opportunity for operators to correct a situation before it has an impact on passengers. With improved efficiency, performance and safety, the ultimate test lies with the passenger who alights at the end of a trip informed and with a sense of satisfaction and ease.

If outdated, disconnected technology is resulting in basic or non-existent driver control or passenger information, your service delivery is being held back.

Current research projects underway together with university partners, take this one step further, looking at ways of improving the energy efficiency of the tram operation by combining real time information, planning and operational controls.

Mode of Transport

Bus, Ferry


Intelligent Transport Systems

Meet the author

Brian Higbee

ITS Project Director

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