APTA | Passenger Transport
May 25, 2009

In This Issue


See numerous senior transit positions    including two CEOs, one assistant general manager, and a senior vice president  —  in today's Classifieds. 


Empowering Passengers with Real-Time Information
By STEVEN HALBERSTADT, Director of Marketing, Digital Recorders Inc.

Historically, public transit passengers seeking information on route structures and stop times have been limited to information obtained from static, printed schedules. Many transit agencies have begun providing this information online and in other electronic formats, making it more accessible to an increasingly technology-savvy public.

However, just as news web sites and mobile alerts have elevated expectations of “breaking news” notification well beyond the daily print editions offered by newspapers, passenger demand for dynamic, interactive, real-time transit information is also on the rise. The ubiquitous nature of modern electronic data is driving the demand for more detailed and timely passenger advisory systems.

Passengers are no longer satisfied with just knowing when the bus is supposed to be at their stop; they want to know when it will be there.

In contrast to scheduled arrivals and departures, a passenger advisory system must employ complex algorithms that account for day-to-day operation variances. Examining this challenge with transit agencies across the U.S. shows several critical success factors: information must be accurate and available in real time; route and schedule data must be current; and delivery to the end user must be personalized.

When evaluating how best to provide a passenger advisory system, one might first consider what methods should not be employed. That is, a simple countdown to a scheduled arrival or departure time is not a reliable estimate. An accurate system must dynamically account for scheduled travel times, route structures, vehicle locations, and speeds.

Because scheduled travel times, stops, and route structure form the base on which system estimates are made, it is of vital importance that these data points be both current and correct. In-service schedule or route changes not taken into account in the system will likely have adverse effects on accuracy. Likewise, human error can come into play when inserting data into the system. Consequently, a passenger advisory system should have the capability of interfacing to existing scheduling software and include rule-based verification tests on imported data.

Once accurate data and processing is in place, the next challenge is to deliver the best possible end-user experience. Today’s transit passenger has ready access to technology and uses it in profoundly different ways compared with even a few years ago. Customers expect real-time information to be delivered to computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants at their discretion and in an interactive fashion. They also expect the availability of up-to-date information at transit stops via displays such as electronic signs, flat-screen monitors, and kiosk units.

Transit agencies can also offer further value through informative search capabilities and the delivery of personalized arrival alerts, providing a new level of satisfaction and confidence to the riding public.

When selecting a web-based interface, one must ensure that the interface is independent of the users’ computing platforms and accessible on multiple device types. By incorporating familiar features such as Google™ maps and controls, an interface can be provided that is both instantly recognizable and always up-to-date.

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