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Bus information system gets green light


Bus information system gets green light

The real time passenger information and signal pre-emption system on Auckland City’s Link bus service is to be rolled out across remaining bus routes.

Auckland City Council’s transport committee has decided stages two and three of the $6.9 million project, covering radial arterial routes and cross-town routes, should proceed.

Councillor Greg McKeown, the Transport Committee’s chairperson, says the committee knows there have been delays with implementing Stage One, but there have been no cost overruns.

“We must press ahead with improving our bus services across the region and using technology, increasing bus numbers and creating bus lanes are all part of making that improvement,” Mr McKeown said.

“The anticipated benefits of the signal pre-emption and real time information system are already being seen. Monitoring of the system has shown 11 seconds has been shaved off the wait at many intersections for the buses and many journeys on the Link route are eight minutes quicker. That exceeds the project’s initial expectations.”

Mr McKeown says the decision is based not only on a comprehensive review of the system and the recommendations of two engineering consultants’ reports, but also on the bouquets the system has been receiving.

Blind and vision-impaired passengers are crediting the information system on the 24 bus Link fleet for enhancing their independence.

The Saab ITS system includes electronic signs at bus stops and on the buses that provide information about the next bus arrival or the next bus stop to be reached.

But for passengers with vision impairment it’s an audio part to the system they are finding so helpful.

Chris Inglis, Blind Awareness and Prevention divisional manager of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind says many of the foundation’s members catch the Link between the Foundation in Parnell and the Britomart Transport Centre in downtown Auckland.

“We’ve had feedback that it’s great not to have to rely on someone to tell them if a bus has just been, or how long they may have to wait for the next one and when they are nearing their destination,” Ms Inglis says. “ It makes them independent. They can make their own decisions.”

The foundation is keen to see the system extended throughout the city and the Auckland branch of the Association of Blind Citizens NZ has added its support.

Russell Turnbull, marketing manager for Stagecoach, says the transport firm is also keen to see the system rolled out to other areas. He says there are a variety of reasons for that, but they include evidence patronage on the Link route is increasing at a greater rate than comparable routes.

“Link passengers have commented on the increased reliability of the service and the usefulness of the arrival information,” Mr Turnbull says.

The signal pre-emption part of the system, has also meant drivers are less frustrated by waits at intersections that contributed to them not being able to keep to schedule, he says. Buses equipped with GPS communicate their positions on the route to the council’s traffic signals system, which uses this information to adjust individual traffic lights to reduce delays.

The system has also had a spin off for Stagecoach operationally, Mr Turnbull says. The system provides data which is tantamount to giving the operations team a “helicopter view” of how the buses are running. That has led to fine-tuning of general operating practices.

Bus passengers have not always been so supportive. Software glitches and information co-ordination difficulties, arising from the integration of traffic light, traffic and bus movement data from several sources in the trial stages, generated complaints early on in the trial.

But monitoring shows the system has been meeting its 99.8% system availability targets for the past two months.

Two separate reviews of the project, by Australian-based engineering consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and New Zealand’s Maunsell, make recommendations for some fine-tuning and support implementation of stages two and three.

The council selected Australian-based Saab ITS after a robust tendering process in 2002. Saab has a larger earlier generation system operating in Brisbane.

The total set up cost for all stages amounted to almost $6.9 million, which will be funded by Infrastructure Auckland ($3.1 million) Transfund ($3.2 million) and Auckland City Council.

It has been proposed that operating costs be jointly funded by Auckland City Council, Auckland Regional Council and bus operators. However, the Transport Committee noted at its meeting on 7 April that it believed in the medium term responsibility for the further development, operation and funding of the system should reside with a regional agency such as the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA).

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