As anyone living in Dublin knows, traffic these days is a serious problem. Journey times have increased enormously in recent years and every effort to combat this has limited effect given the huge increase in cars on the road.
Those who travel by bus are also affected. While bus lanes have done much to help keep buses running on schedule, buses are still to some degree affected by the gridlock.
In an effort to improve the level of information available to passengers, Dublin Bus has been piloting a real-time passenger information service on selected routes. The company now carries 500,000 passengers per day, operating 364 days a year, with an operating day of approximately 19 hours. It currently has a fleet of some 1,062 vehicles, with a staff of 3,300. Around 35 million kilometres per year, within Dublin and the greater Dublin area, are covered by its buses.
According to Brendan Flynn, technology development manager at Dublin Bus, the new initiative has been in the offing since 1998, when work began on evaluating the possibility of launching such a service. The current pilot scheme is aimed at improving the quality of the offering along the QBCs (quality bus corridors) and evaluating the possibility of introducing a citywide scheme on all routes.
The idea behind the scheme is that the customer benefits from knowing the waiting time for the next bus. The bus stop is equipped with an electronic display unit. The information displayed indicates the route number, the destination and the predicted number of minutes for the bus to arrive at that stop. This information is updated every 30 seconds.
The initial phase of the new service, known as Q-time, was implemented on the Lucan QBC in June 2001. The routes that serve this corridor are 25, 25A, 25X, 26, 66, 66A, 66B, 66X, 67, 67A and 67X. Electronic displays were installed at selected stops along the route.
The second phase of Q-time was implemented on the Ballyfermot and Clondalkin QBCs in January 2002. The routes that serve these corridors are 51, 51B, 51X, 68, 69, 69X, 76, 76A, 76B, 78A, 79 and 210. Again, electronic displays were fitted at selected stops.
According to Flynn, the system works using a combination of the GPS (global positioning system) satellite navigation system and the bus’s odometer (a device used to measure distances by counting wheel rotations). The system can identify the location of a bus and anticipate journey times between stops. “The easy part is tracking a bus,” said Flynn. “It begins to get complicated when you start relating this information to the timetable.”
The system works by identifying each bus, determining its precise location and transmitting this to the control centre every 30 seconds. The central computer compares the actual location of the bus at a given time with its scheduled location and then calculates the time for the bus to reach all subsequent stops along the route, bearing in mind the current bus speed and any deviations from the schedule. The central computer then transmits to the relevant display units, predicting arrival times for the bus.
According to Flynn, Dublin Bus has plenty of ideas for expanding the system. The company is already looking at ways of providing information through different channels such as the web and mobile phones.
As most bus users know, bus stops are prime targets for vandalism and there is a concern that a system of digital displays could be affected. “The displays are fairly vandal resistant,” said Flynn. “While we have had some damage, most of it has been superficial and we have never lost any of them. Obviously, widening the service to include information over mobile phones for example would further insure its viability.”
While Dublin Bus would like to implement such a service on a city-wide basis, the decision is not solely up to it, as the company is dependent on funding from the National Development Plan (NDP) for such an initiative. “We have a proposal for a city-wide scheme in under the NDP. However, we have had no clearance just yet to proceed,” said Flynn.
Obviously, with public spending cutbacks the order of the day, it is by no means certain that the company will receive the green light. However, should such a system be implemented on a city-wide basis, it is possible that passengers will welcome something which helps take the uncertainty out of public transport.
Pictured above: A Dublin Bus employee attends to the company’s central computer system which is part of a pilot project to provide real-time passenger information