Ricochet News

Intelligent Big Brother watching over buses

Jul 31, 2017
Intelligent Big Brother watching over buses

To monitor operational compliance within a system the size of the GO GEORGE bus service, takes more than the usual Big Brother. Making sense of 450 000 data entries per day, alerting control room operators pro-actively to potential problem situations, takes a different kind of beast.

According to James Robb, Manager of the George Integrated Public Transport Network (GIPTN), this is why a very powerful Intelligent Transport System (ITS) is being phased in over a period of time, to further enable GO GEORGE to deliver the highest possible quality of service.

"We stand amazed at the scope of the ITS and the immense value it is adding to our service," says Robb. "Through tracking devices and sensors installed on the buses, the system monitors the performance of the driver and the vehicle against the timetable, in real time. Of course, not all active buses on duty can be watched at the same time, but potential problems are highlighted for the operators' attention. In this way, the control room gets a warning that a bus might be running early or late, so that George Link can communicate with their driver. This enables us to take steps to restore service level. In case of a technical problem or break-down, two replacement vehicles might have to be sent out: one to pick up the stranded passengers, and if necessary, one to pick up the next trip of the faulty bus."

Control room operators are trained to discern which alerts should take priority, and how to handle emergency situations. A panic button alert will enjoy priority above an alert that a driver is braking too harshly or pulling away too fast. The latter kind of information, however, is important to identify areas where more training should be focused. Driver performance is measured in terms of compliance to the speed limit and passenger comfort.

The 450 000 data entries per day consist of each vehicle being updated every 30 seconds, registering exact locality and speed. The GO GEORGE network executes 35 000 bus stops per day. These are matched with the timetable within 17 seconds after every "heartbeat" or update.

Apart from promoting operational compliance, the ITS enables the GO GEORGE Call Centre (0800 044 044) and social media agents to get real-time feedback to answer passenger enquiries. Complaints are investigated in the same way: video footage as well as ITS data can be accessed to get the finest detail about a reported issue.

"Among all these powerful statistics and non-compliance alerts, the cardinal sin remains a bus departing from a stop too early," says Robb. "The minute the ITS senses an early bus, a red alert appears at the top of the list. Few things upset a passenger as much as arriving at their bus stop on time, with your bus having left too early. And rightly so. But the ITS empowers us to improve our service to the community who relies on us to get to work and to school on time. It is a never-ending, ever-evolving process. But we're getting there!"