Public transport communication system
Tallinn is working on making its public transport system more attractive. The measure was about installing a modern communication system to 145 of Tallinn Bus Company’s 350 buses.
Implementing sustainable mobility
The new PT communication system comprises of driver communication unit and operator workstation and is based on the 3G mobile communication standard. The system enables better information sharing possibilities, quicker communication and eliminates the bus drivers’ need for communicating with mobile phone whilst driving. Communication is especially important for solving quickly any upcoming problems and thus improving the PT service.The system has possibilities for verbal communication, text messages and sharing of exact bus location based on GPS location.
The main objectives of the measure were to:
- Improve information on traffic conditions;
- Allow the traffic management unit to promptly react to unexpected congestion and help to better plan interventions;
- Contribute to solving operational problems, reduce risks of service interruptions, and improve traffic flow; and
- Provide public transport statistics.
The driver communication unit comprises of an onboard computer Thoreb C74, (display with navigation buttons) and a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) module C50. The display is continuously showing a city map with bus line navigation guide and monitors the buses position’s accordance to the timetable.
The operator workstation comprises of a computer workstation with special communication software allowing contacting bus drivers separately or as groups verbally or with text messages. A technical readiness for 10 operator stations was created in the TBC headquarters in the scope of the measure.
The text messages can be chosen from existing templates or created according to needs. Communication is possible between driver and operator, between driver groups and operator, between drivers and driver groups. The pre-existing message templates are for breakdown, fire, emergency and SOS situations. Sending of this kind of message together with actual location to the operator is very quick compared to usage of mobile phone or verbal communication where explaining of a location alone takes time and can create mistakes or confusions. Communication between all on-board units and operating workstations is based on a 3G mobile communication standard. The system became fully operational in June 2012 after 6 months testing and troubleshooting of connection problems.
The measure was implemented in the following stages:
- Preparation for contest (2010–2011) – Instead of public procurement a contest with negotiations and chosen participants was prepared based on the RTD activities.
- Contest for acquiring the communication systems (2011) – Offers were received from three participating companies.
- Installation of the communication systems (2011) – Hardware was installed on buses and operator workstations were created in the TBC headquarters.
- System testing (2012) – The new communication system was tested before declaring it to be operational.
The research activity was aimed at finding an optimal technical solution for the communication in the Tallinn Bus Company. Research was carried out by the Tallinn University of Technology in October 2010 to consider technical possibilities of GSM mobile (including 3G) and radio (including TETRA standard) based systems. Different examples and experiences of cities were brought out. As a result of the research conclusions were made: • Technical possibilities of mobile and radio based systems are very similar; • Public transport is considered as a vital service by the Estonian Emergency Situation Law and thus can be included to the TETRA network which is used only by legal persons for operational and public correspondence traffic; • Considering possible systems devices in PT vehicle: priority system, ticket system, PT stop information system and communication system – latter of which is most suited to work as autonomous independent system, especially in case of TETRA communication due to low speed of data transfer. • Older radio based communication systems are not feasible to start with today; • The choice between TETRA and GSM (or 3G) standards depends primarily on costs.
The results of the measure could be up-scaled on different levels – from the local company level to national level. When the system has proven its value in practice, there is a good reason to install it into all Tallinn City Transport Company (former Tallinn Bus Company) vehicles. Communication arrangement in one company should be uniform to be effective and one reason for merging the different public transport companies was to be able to improve communication and work arrangement between different PT modes. The second level could be municipal level, because there are several private PT companies operating in Tallinn and uniting them into the same system would open again new possibilities in improving working arrangement and general effectiveness. The national level means introducing the same or similar system in other municipalities and introducing compatible system in intercity PT. One reason to do that is that PT is defined as a vital service in Estonian legislation and was therefore even allowed to be integrated into the TETRA communication used by emergency services. It was under consideration in the planning phase of the measure but the very high reliability and robustness of such system is not needed for PT as it comes with high cost. But the importance is still valid and therefore integration of all PT communication is worth considering.
The measure was evaluated with a survey after implementations, measuring acceptance of bus drivers and managers/operators on the system and impact of the measure on mobile phone usage while driving. The key results from the evaluation were:
• Positive acceptance from bus drivers and managers/operators – 84% of bus drivers and 90% of managers/operators consider that the new communication system has positively affected their working conditions; 92% of bus drivers and 90% of managers/operators consider that the new communication system has improved working arrangement; • Potential improvement of traffic safety – 90% of both drivers and managers/operators consider that the new communication system has improved traffic safety.
The most important barrier to the measure was a planning barrier - the decision to treat all public transport information and communication system related to MIMOSA measures separately and in separate procurements. This required considerably more time and energy for preparing the measure. Secondly, technical dependency of the system on other related MIMOSA measures of Tallinn made the process of finding suitable solution difficult and delayed the installing of equipment into PT vehicles.
The most important driver was problem related – development of worldwide technology offered possibility to use 3G standard mobile communication technology for the system. Also, active and focused operation from all partners involved in the measure was considered as an involvement and communication related driver. This helped cooperation and achieving of the objectives in all measure phases.
Recommendations for measure replication are: • Whole fleet should be equipped with similar system - It is important to equip the whole fleet of a PT company with similar communication system. Partially equipped fleet gives only a limited effect. • One integrated PT IT-system has advantages - PT information and communication systems should be considered to be implemented as one integrated solution. Trying to implement different parts of the system separately and from different providers has many potential disadvantages: high amount of resources needed for arranging separate systems acquiring and implementation, possible problems with compatibility of different parts, doubled equipment, etc.