Bus companies enable live tracking of passenger numbers

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A growing number of companies are turning to technology to enable prospective passengers to check how many are on board an approaching bus.

First is among the companies to add a live capacity-tracking feature to mobile apps to allow passengers to see how full an approaching bus is. FIRST BUS

First Bus has launched an update to its mobile app that enables customers across the UK to track not only the location of their next bus but also its available capacity in real time, as it continues to develop ways to help customers social distance on board.

First Bus has updated its app to roll out the live capacity tracking feature, helping identify to intending passengers how many people are on board which it says will reduce uncertainty for those waiting and allow them to make informed decisions about their essential journeys. The app shows customers a bus icon on a map depicting the live location and available capacity of each vehicle in the vicinity.

The feature has been made possible by First Bus’s new passenger counting functionality on its Ticketer ticket machines, announced at the end of May. Data from this system feeds directly to the First Bus app in real time. This app update coincides with First Bus doubling the number of buses operating across England from Monday 1 June, with support from UK Government. The operator expects to be able to increase service levels across its networks in Scotland and Wales in coming weeks. This additional capacity will allow customers to travel in comfort and safety, and in addition to passenger counting, seats on each bus are now clearly marked indicating where customers should sit.

First Bus continues to encourage cashless payments, and use of the app to purchase m-tickets, to reduce the need for contact between customers and drivers.

Managing Director of First Bus Giles Fearnley said “We are really proud to have been able to fast-track this technology to ensure safe, informed travel during these difficult times. Our buses provide an essential service for our customers and we are doing all we can to support them.”

Meanwhile Transdev across Yorkshire and Lancashire has adpoted a crowdsourcing approach in addition to Ticketer’s passenger counting feature. In partnership with information technology solutions provider Passenger, the operator has unveiled a handy new feature on its websites and mobile app to boost customer confidence as bus services return with the easing of lockdown restrictions on travel.

Customers planning to make a journey on Transdev’s buses across Yorkshire and Lancashire are now able to check how many people are already on board the bus they plan to use. The technology is powered by customers themselves, who will be able to add information on whether their bus is becoming busy directly onto the new system, helping others to make informed choices before they travel.

Customers on the bus can also use the feature to indicate whether a wheelchair bay on a bus is free, with this information carrying through to the live bus tracking on the app. A major step for accessibility which will no doubt be quickly taken up elsewhere, this will mean passengers needing the wheelchair bay will be able to see if the bay is free of occupied on the bus approaching their stop.

Transdev’s Alex Hornby took to Twitter to say there had been ‘loads of positive feedback from colleagues using the Ticketer passenger counting function.’ ALEX HORNBY via TWITTER

The feature has been developed at pace by Passenger, working with Transdev’s six local bus companies to have it up and running in time for the introduction of more journeys and extra buses across most of its routes from Sunday 31 May.

Transdev CEO Alex Hornby said: “We have been working really hard to ensure that all our customers can return to the bus with confidence. SpaceChecker is simple to use and builds on the success of our live tracking feature, which already allows customers to trace the journey of their bus towards their stop.

“Having the room to spread out and observe social distancing is vital to helping customers feel safe and comfortable on board, complementing the range of other measures we have been introducing over the past few weeks. Using live information provided by our customers themselves, everyone with access to a mobile device will be able to see how busy their bus is.

“This means customers can choose to catch a later bus with more space available if the one they plan to use is nearly full – and combined with our plans to introduce many more buses and journeys from this Sunday, we think this new feature will be welcome news for everyone.”

Passenger CEO Tom Quay added: “Crowdsourcing relies on the power of the crowd to be effective – and if anyone knows how to get their crowd to help each other, Transdev do. The Transdev team are first class when it comes to communicating with their customers, and we wanted to really put this new system through its paces as quickly as possible to keep all essential journeys safe.”

The use of technology to deliver more information to customers is being backed by Government ministers. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in his statement on Coronavirus on 9 May: “It is crucial that we take advantage of the UK’s digital expertise. With the right mobile apps, people can find out which parts of the transport network are overcrowded.”

Passenger is working with Transdev and other bus industry colleagues to access and use additional data from hardware on buses, including ticket machines. As this becomes available, the new system will blend it with anonymous data supplied by customers to make monitoring of available space on buses even more effective.

Another operator to adopt the Passenger app is long-term Passenger partner Nottingham City Transport (NCT). Anthony Carver-Smith, NCT’s  Marketing Manager said, “Alongside social distancing measures introduced on our buses and the Safer Travel Guidance we published to customers last month, this new feature helps passengers plan their journeys and travel safely with NCT”.

The information is available now on the NCT website and coming soon to the NCTX Buses app, where clicking on a bus icon on the map brings up additional information about the bus including its capacity and other features, such as Wi-Fi and USB chargers.