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Background Paper On Bus RTI

Enclosed is a two-page background paper issued to Christchurch City and Environment Canterbury Councillors about the Real Time Information system being installed at the new Bus Exchange.

Real Time Information

There has been some media coverage in the last few days about the bus tracking and Real Time Information (RTI) system at the Bus Exchange not yet being operational. The purpose of this briefing note is to set out the current situation. A report will be brought to the City Services Committee of the City Council in February, but at this stage the project looks to be on budget, the system is technically successful, although for the reasons set out below its public "switch on" is delayed.

This is a brand new system, which involves the provision of equipment both on all the buses using the Bus Exchange, and a computer and software operated at the control room in the Exchange. The contractors, Connexionz Ltd, are a small local company which successfully out bid a number of international proposals, with a new locally developed idea which is very cost effective, simple conceptually and able to be inexpensively extended system wide.

The purpose of RTI is to give passengers up-to-date information about the arrival time of their buses, not unlike the situation for arriving and departing aircraft at airports. This is part of the overall Public Passenger Transport strategy, adopted by both councils for the improvement and updating of the public passenger transport system. Other elements of the strategy include improved bus stop infrastructure, improved design and quality of vehicles, route changes and improvements such as new on-bus ticketing machines and a smart card ticketing system due for inauguration later in the year. Taken together, these measures will make buses more modern, convenient and accessible for the people of the Christchurch area.

The decision to introduce RTI to Christchurch at this time was made because the new operating system for Public Transport in the central city requires that buses spend much less time at the bus stops. One means to achieve this is to facilitate quicker boarding of passengers which the RTI system can assist by allowing passengers to be ready and waiting to board when their bus pulls up to the stop. Also the RTI system allows passengers to reduce the amount of time spent waiting at a stop, by the passengers taking opportunities of a few minutes to do other activities before their bus arrives. This has the flow-on benefit of slightly reducing the demand on waiting space and facilities required at the stops.

At this stage RTI displays have been erected in both lounges in the Exchange, and in Colombo St at the base of the ramp into the Exchange and in Ballantynes shop windows. At a later date it is envisaged that shopkeepers and café owners in the vicinity will install their own RTI monitors so that their customers will know what time their buses are due.

Stage 1 of the programme has been the installation and commissioning of RTI in the vicinity of the Exchange, later stages will extend the system out to the suburbs, to main stops on all routes.

It was not possible for the RTI system to be operable from the commencement of the bus exchange for a number of reasons. These included some delays in supply of hardware by subcontractors (the display screens), but more particularly the need to obtain real world operational information for programming purposes, only possible after the buses started using the Exchange. This latter task has taken time to accumulate and verify, involving a co-operative effort from all the bus operators, Environment Canterbury and Connexionz. There have also been practical issues to overcome relating to the automatic opening of the lounge doors, and ensuring that buses always go to the door (the stop) as specified by the system. All parties agree that in order to ensure long term public confidence in the system, it should not "go live" until it is functioning consistently and accurately.

Extensive testing was undertaken before the Christmas break, and with key personnel going on holiday, it was decided to hold over the completion of commissioning until their return to work on 15 January. The network RTI system being developed has been based on the system already in use on the Airport service. However, with the extensive nature of our bus network this has required greater operator intervention than expected, and at times has proven somewhat restrictive for flexibility of bus operations, e.g. introducing an additional bus on a route to get a service delayed by traffic congestion for instance, back on time.

Further testing has recommenced this week, and once all parties are satisfied that the RTI system is working accurately, the public screens will be switched on and brought into daily use.

In the meantime Environment Canterbury staff are successfully using a public address system on a temporary basis to advise people of the correct stop for their buses in the Exchange building. The bus stops on Colombo Street are still operating satisfactorily as the changes in the number of bus services through these stops has not changed significantly as yet (the November 2000 changes affected principally services using the Bus Exchange building). The final shift of services from the Cathedral Square Terminus planned for April this year will introduce many more services to the Exchange, including the stops on Colombo St.

We remain confident that once the present software and information database issues have been addressed and fine tuned, the RTI system will work and work well, but agree that rather than begin operating it with the possibility of errors and thus lose public confidence, it is better to wait and get it right.

We will keep you posted !

Christchurch City Council http://www.ccc.govt.nz

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