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Expanding the Real Time System

I continue to hear gripes about the real time system for trains and buses and this post isn’t so much relating to what exists today and its issues but looking at ideas for after AT actually get it working reliably. Its probably a case of once you starting getting some real time crumbs you start to want more. So here are a couple of examples:

At Henderson the only way you can access the station by using the concourse from Railside Ave to the complex of buildings that houses Auckland Transport. I was there today to give my submission on the RPTP and afterwards was planning on catching the train home. Trains being only half hourly I wanted to know if one were about to arrive or if I would have time to go to next door to the neighbouring mall to get some lunch. The last thing I wanted to to go and get some lunch then see a train pulling away as I approached leaving me with another half hour to wait. The problem is the only place where any train information can be found is halfway down the platform which means someone has to spend extra time to get down there and back again. The good thing is the solution is really simple, a display on the concourse itself would easily solve this.

Henderson Concourse

Another location I have been thinking about is perhaps a bit different. Outside many stations there is a plinth to advertise the location of a station, like the one below. These are incredibly useful for perhaps people who aren’t local or who are catching the train for the first time but why could they not also be transformed to be useful for everyone. A simple display (but large enough to be read by people driving past)  could just show the time to the next train. Where this would be useful is for people who are still making their way to the station and could alert them that if they want to make the next train then they will need to hurry. Conversely if you see it saying your train is 5 minutes away you know you can take your time. The whole point is just to help better inform people as there is absolutely nothing worse that being say 100m from a station and seeing the train you had planned to catch just turning up. The interesting thing with this idea is that AT are going to have to replace these structures anyway due to the phasing out of the MAXX brand.

Sturges Plinth

Where else would you like to see the real time system expanded to? (providing it can be made to work right)

28 comments to Expanding the Real Time System

  • An API. Simply give access to the real time data to everybody on a non-exclusive basis in GTFS-Realtime (https://developers.google.com/transit/gtfs-realtime/)

    That way people can develop real time information displays where they want – On their company dashboards, in the cafe that is close to the station, on their mobile phones….

    • Agreed. I am one of many Auckland iOS developers who would happily build an app that would leverage the API to build experiences that will make PT more attractive. Better still, it costs next to nothing to release the data, yet leverages the economies of scale that come with allowing third parties to augment and produce better ways to manipulate and display such data to customers. Especially when the app they’ve released is so appalling!

    • Bryce P

      I’ve been pestering AT for 6 months as the Nokia Transport app on my phone has real time data for some cities overseas (just timetabled data for NZ) so I can see no reason why, with the right api’s, it cannot work for Auckland. C’mon AT. Get cracking.

    • I think issues around APIs are something entirely different from what I am trying to get at here. If I am walking to a station (or even driving to a park n ride) I am not likely to be looking at my phone to see how far away the train actually is. I’m thinking of places where having real time access would be useful for that.

      One the issue of apps though, I have not found a transport app that I actually find useful, even for timetables as they can never give me the info I want/need quick enough. Not saying a decent one can’t be done but at this stage I don’t hold out any hope.

      • If you’re walking to a station a lot of people will be looking at their phone. Also API’s open up a whole raft of opportunities outside of traditional apps. For instance one of the examples you gave was driving to the park ‘n ride. Now there could be real merit in your car being able to tell you about the train times. This can only happen with decent API’s. You are also assuming that what you want is what everyone wants but that isn’t the case. In Bryce’s example above the likelihood of AT building an app for Nokia devices is slim at the moment (not enough of a user base) but with the right API’s someone might build one.

        It is all about context and information where you want it.

        • Bryce P

          The Nokia Transport app is already a very good app for Nokia handsets using WP7 or 8. It just needs the data for Nokia to be able to use it. There are already other overseas cities on the same app using real time data.

  • Linz

    Works well at Grafton where the electronic signs are up at street level on Park Rd easily readable as you drive past.

  • Sacha

    Good idea. On those plinths, a 2-digit orange on black LED counting down minutes to next departure time would sit nicely where the Maxx logo is now. No need for any more detail than that.

    • Yes that is exactly what I was thinking, on the issue of needing one or two, could just use HOP data to work out the peak direction of a station (should be pretty much towards town) and have it only displaying that one as that is what is most useful to most people.

  • pete

    It never ceases to amaze me that there are flashes of forward thinking like the PID inside Sylvia park but overall it seems to be a let down and lack of joined up thinking. I know it had been commented on many time recently but AT and the service operators need to step up a gear or 3. The neat details are what will keep people coming back. International experience is only a plane ride away

  • Sacha

    (well, maybe two displays for both directions)

  • Malcolm M

    In Melbourne the Smartbus Passenger Information Displays at stations show the next bus and the following bus in orange, and the next train in each direction in green. These are clearly visible from an approaching bus. All major bus stops on the Smartbus routes have PID’s.

    It intrigues me that even though “international experience is only a plane ride away”, each city seems to have to re-invent its own experience.

    Each time there is a new transport committee, there should be a study tour planned within a few months to other cities facing similar problems but a little further along the experience pathway. A tour of committee members to (say) Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth wouldn’t break the bank, but could gain political support for initiatives such as driver-only operation of trains (which these cities have done for the last 20 years).

  • Rob Mayo

    The real-time displays at stations in Auckland are really hard to read. The text size needs to be much bigger and in a better display colour. Here’s an example of a much easier to read station PID (from Japan):

    http://livedoor.blogimg.jp/sashibuxxx_osaka/imgs/7/5/75fe2ad5.jpg

    Amongst all the countries I’ve visited in Europe, Asia and North America, Japan has in my opinion, the best station PIDs. JP is rapidly deploying standard LED TV screen displays in station concourses and on platforms, as in between displaying arriving / departing train times, ads and other public service aanouncements can be easily displayed. The screens are linked up either through a wired or an 802.11n network and the screens themselves are much easier/cheaper to deploy and maintain than the old-style dedicated PIDs.

    Now that the basic PID infrastructure has been deployed on stations in Auckland, LED TV displays should be installed in place of the existing displays as ‘readability’, ongoing maintenance and info management will be a lot easier and cheaper.

  • TimR

    Apologies for banging on about this -again- but the second entry to Britomart really needs this addition (amongst lots of other things) There’s a pole sign on the street that should have real time, and at the very least there should be a sign in the arcade under westpac. Did the developer do a deal to keep the clutter away?

    As a general principle signage should be located to be see before you enter the platform or station complex. That applies doubly now that HOP is operating – you only find out that the train is delayed or cancelled after you have tagged on in many stations. Poorly thought out, that. The units can’t be too expensive – surely it’s the cabling along the lines and the back end that costs. Leverage it as much as you can AT, don’t be stingy with displays.

    If I know the train is delayed I can choose a bus that departs next to the station at GE and arrives about the same time in the city. Withholding the information until I have tagged on is just mean and inconvenient.

  • Rob Mayo

    Have a look at this PID (from Japan):

    http://f.hatena.ne.jp/rapidwing/20051002215953

    Much easier to read than what has been deployed in AKL.

    LED screens are much easier/cheaper to deploy. Japan is rapidly moving away from traditional dedicated PIDs to standard LED displays because of the lower deployment and maintenance costs and the added advantage of public service announcements and even advertising being able to be displayed easily on these standard off-the-shelf displays. Furthermore, LED displays be deployed on both wired as well as 802.11n networks.

    Auckland needs to deploy LED displays for service info etc, at the very least, on concourses / platforms at Henderson, New Lynn, Newmarket, Britomart, Manukau and Panmure.

  • Sacha

    “you only find out that the train is delayed or cancelled after you have tagged on in many stations”

    Good point. That’s really not good enough. Lawyers might have a field day about informed acceptance of a contract, etc.

    • Max

      Probably not. The carriage contract is probably worded loosely enough, as delays are a matter of everyday life (even in systems where train delays and real-time info issues are much reduced).

      Plus, if you tag off again immediately, you don’t get charged. Don’t see much way for a lawyer to weasel himself into there.

  • Luke C

    One really annoying thing about many real time signs is they only point one direction. Case in point is at the Auckland Domestic Airport, if you come out of the far west end its fine, but if you come out the east end as most do, then have to walk all the way up to the sign and look back to see info.

  • I don’t think AT will replace all the maxx structures, they’ll just remove the logo, as they have already started doing on some trains.

  • Rob Mayo

    Apart from roadside LED displays, I suggest adding roof-mounted LED TV displays to station concourses such as Henderson and installing those same TV displays back to back on platforms at New Lynn, Newmarket, Britomart etc. TV display PIDs are now in common use in stations overseas and have the advantage of not only being cheaper to deploy/maintain but they clearly display train arrival/departure times, can immediately change to show ‘TRAIN APPROACHING’ etc safety messages and even show weather / news feeds.

  • Publius

    o Upgrade the displays to a much higher resolution. The new wellington displays are quite nice to read.
    o Optimise the displays to remove un-nessessary information. IE, the NEX should only show the next two busses and for the third line say “Every X min until X pm”.
    o CurrentlyNEX scrolls though so many hours into the future that most of the time you glance at it its not relevant and have to wait ages for it to return to the first page.
    o Indicate more clearly that the display is paging. I saw a tourist quite concerned as when he looked at the display it said the bus was over an hour away. He couldn’t tell unless he looked at that the display for 5 minutes that it was rotating though the pages.
    o On a very high resolution display this is even easier as you can do fancy things like show the next 2 busses then have a continuous slow scroll (not paging) of just the rest.
    o Similarly optimise the spoken messages so it doesn’t talk for 5 minutes about NEX busses coming 2 hours away. Or make it stop after pressing the button again.
    o Make it more obvious on train stations which platform goes in which direction. “Platform 1 To Britomart”. Obviously more important on split-platforms.

  • Steve West

    The monitors at ADIF’s Vialia stations are great – there are flat screen monitors between shop entrances so you can clearly see train times without needing to be on a platform – can shop while you wait etc. They also have quite good services for hearing impaired customers, http://www.adif.es/en_US/infraestructuras/servicio_dialoga/servicio_dialoga.shtml.

    In terms of bus displays, EMT in Malaga has very clear displays – seen briefly here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCL4FXVApfc

    Think their system cost around EUR 4m which does not seem that excessive.

  • Max

    I was involved in travel planning for a shopping mall in Auckland (not yet built) where providing real time info inside the mall concourse was part of the arrangement. Similar to what Sylvia Park has for the train station, but for buses in this case.

  • Anthony McBride

    I would love a really large sign displayed outside on top of Wellington stations entrance doors. Just so we can eat at McDonald’s across the road or sit on the grass on a sunny day while knowing when the train is due to leave.

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