The savings to be made by providing commuters with the ability to obtain real-time transport and traffic information are significant: Transport for NSW (TfNSW) receives over 40 million requests for transport information per month. It is no surprise therefore that across Australia, transport agencies are increasingly using real-time data to provide citizens with up to date commuting information. What is surprising is the lack of commonality of approach to what is essentially the same client service issue.
Intermedium’s review of such solutions indicates that the ‘share, before buy, before build’ mantra of ICT strategists and policy makers is not yet in evidence in the Australian public transport sector. The research shows a divergent range of real-time data solutions have been adopted to meet essentially the same basic commuter needs; some but not all utilising Apps to provide the desired information and some, but not all doing so under the principles of Open Data.
NSW’s 2012 ICT Strategy flagged the release of real-time data as a key action for the State with the stated aim of improving the way government agencies interact with customers. “We want to transform government through IT over the next 10 years by better utilising mobile apps and social media, improving the way we interact with customers,” previous NSW Minister for Finance and Services Andrew Constance said at the November 2013 launch of the NSW Government’s first Open Data Policy. “Open data is at the heart of open government and we have developed a principles-based approach to the way public sector agencies provide access to their information.”
In late 2012, real-time bus timetable information became available to NSW commuters on their smart phones. Commuters are now able to track the location of buses using GPS data from the Public Transport Information Priority System (PTIPS). In April 2014, TfNSW revealed it was planning to complete the roll-out of this real-time data, extending the data to ferries and trains.
In addition, TfNSW’s 2012-13 Annual Report flagged the development ‘Live Traffic’ information. Now a reality, TfNSW provides commuters with real-time news of traffic incidents and conditions via mobile apps for both iPhone and android, the Live Traffic NSW website and mobile site as well as Facebook and twitter.
While Victoria was an early mover in its desire to provide real-time data on its bus network, it ran into trouble with what became a very high cost, complex and ultimately cancelled solution.
In 2010, it appointed Sigtec to a five-year, $16 million contract to develop a GPS bus tracking system. It engaged Plexicor for a two-year, $1.4 million contract for the system's installation. However, the project was halted in October 2013 due to rising implementation costs. The complexity of the solution was blamed for the cost blowout.
Key hardware and other assets already installed in the buses was however retained and in December 2013, Victoria again approached the market for a solution to allow real-time tracking for 1,100 buses. The redefined project is due to be completed by June 2014. Fairfax reported that SmartTrak is providing the solution under a five-year contract.
Other real-time transport Apps for citizens in Victoria include Public Transport Victoria’s (PTV) App that provides tram information while VicTraffic allows users to view real-time travel times on Melbourne freeways, see traffic alerts across Victoria and view road works and events likely to impact travel.
Queensland’s TransLink is trialling a real-time information system on two bus services and the system will be rolled to other transport networks across the State if the trials are judged a success and if there is available funding.
Adelaide Metro has real-time transport information that covers 7,650 bus stops, tram spots and train stations. The information is provided via satellite tracking installed on all vehicles as part of the Metrocard ticketing project. It predicts when the next service will arrive based on speed and its last reported location, according to the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI).
Western Australia has no city or state wide implementation of real-time data for commuters, but is moving in that direction. It is currently trialling technology to track bus services in real time on a select number of bus routes. There are 130 buses currently fitted with the real time tracking technology.
Real-time data from the buses is transmitted to the official Transperth App – downloadable for iOS and Android devices – to give users access to real-time information on more than 2000 individual bus trips on an average weekday.
In what is claimed as a first, Gateway WA, working with Main Roads, has implemented a real-time traffic map to ease the congestion and inconvenience associated with road works and upgrades in the Gateway WA project area. The traffic map establishes the most efficient route with colour coding on the map denoting congestion status. The live information is updated through the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) data. It is claimed that the Gateway WA project has seen, on average, an improvement in traffic flow and travel time in the areas where works are being carried out, rather than a degradation.
The ACT Government has provided $12.5 million for the design and implementation of a real time passenger information system to be known as NXTBUS, which will track buses and provide information on arrival times. Global supplier of real time fleet management systems Trapeze Austrics Pty, was selected to deliver of NXTBUS and a progressive roll out commenced in September 2013.
It is anticipated that the installation of the NXTBUS system to the majority of ACTION’s bus fleet will be completed by April 2014.