The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

predictive bussing revisited

by Alan on April 4, 2011 in Transport

It’s been the better part of a year since we wrote about the Regional Council’s Real Time Passenger Information project. GPS units are now being fitted to a growing subset of Go Wellington buses (other companies to follow soon), so that their real-time positions can be used to calculate exact “time to arrival” information for each bus stop on their routes and you’ll be able to know exactly when your bus is coming.

Late last week, the system finally went live.

The most visible parts of it will be the 190 electronic signs spread around the region’s bus stops (here’s a PDF list of the locations) – but as of now, only the Railway Station stops have the signs installed.

Signs are good, but they suffer from one flaw: you have to be physically at the bus stop to use them.

  • Before: you grew frustrated waiting at the bus stop;
  • Now: you grow frustrated waiting at the bus stop for exactly 15 minutes.

The only real difference is that you know how bad it’s going to be before you start waiting. Well… at least you know you’ll have time to nip into the dairy to get the milk and top up your transport card.

The real value is in the remote ways to access this information. Luckily, the Metlink website (and Google Transit) provides this. At work; at the pub; or perusing the shelves at the bookshop, you’re thinking maybe it’s about time to go home. You can check out the “Live Departures” on Metlink for the bus stop you want to use; it will show the next hour of buses passing it. Fifteen minutes until yours! Aha! You can finish that email / pint / regretfully put down that book, before making your way to the bus stop. No wasted time lurking on the streets for you.

Live DeparturesIf you have a smartphone, you can take this one step further. Once you search for and learn a bus stop’s ID number, you can bookmark its Live Departures page (e.g., http://m.metlink.org.nz/live-departures/stop/5000/ for the Courtenay Place – Paramount stop); and from there save it to your phone’s home screen for easier access.

Sadly, the equivalent functionality for non-smartphone users – an updated TXTBus service – is scheduled for “later in the year”. We look forward to seeing when this gets a firmer timeline.

So there we have it. A new, and potentially very handy service from the Regional Council. Though trailing our sister cities around New Zealand, a little piece of the future has arrived in Wellington.

Alan Macdougall

Citizen of Wellington April 5, 2011 at 9:41 am

I was at the railway station the other day and saw the new RTI screens. It was interesting waiting for a bus that was 5 minutes away… Eventually the screen said it was “Due” and I kept waiting… Then the whole line of text for this bus disappeared. A few minutes later the bus finally arrived. Personally, if there really is GPS in the buses, I think it should continue to say “Due” until the bus has arrived, “Here” when it is at the stop (IE Go look for the bus, you might miss it) and “Gone” when it has passed (for another 90 seconds)

Bambi April 5, 2011 at 10:46 am

This is eminently app-able, obviously. Wellibus Nick, are you listening?

Michael Hudson-Doyle April 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Hooray for progress! It doesn’t seem to actually work terribly well yet though — slow responses from the servers and seemingly slightly dodgy data. Hopefully just teething problems.

The pedant in me wants to point out that it’s not GPS units that are being fitted to buses as they’ve had those for years — it’s how the snapper reader knows how much to charge you. I presume they had to add something to transmit this data to some central location though…

Alan April 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Sadly, while it’s true that Snapper has installed a GPS in each Go Wellington Bus, it’s not used for RTPI (though potentially it could have been).

Instead, the Regional Council is installing dedicated GPS units across all bus companies to support the RTPI service.

Seems like a stupid duplication of resources… but once you realise that Snapper is owned by Infratil, who also own one of New Zealand’s biggest bus companies (NZ Bus, parent of Go Wellington) you can see that practical paths to a solution with Snapper would quickly run afoul of inter-company politics in the bus industry. Especially given that we’re still waiting for Snapper as a payment method to extend into some more of the major Wellington bus companies!

This way we get RTPI now, and not in several years time.

Michael Hudson-Doyle April 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Oh, didn’t know that. Does seem a bit demented!

Robyn April 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm

In Auckland, if a bus is delayed, the screen displays “DLY”. It seems that Wellington buses are either coming in X minutes or they’re due. There’s no way of communicating delays (or is there?).

Nigel Ramsay April 5, 2011 at 8:44 pm

My recent experience with the Wellington buses suggests that they would all be marked with “DLY”.

Very happy with the RTI, as now it doesn’t really matter what the schedule is. If I know it’s arriving in 5 minutes, then that suits me fine.

Ben July 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Once you get to know your route it becomes very predictable. Easy to plan ahead.

button April 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Ooh, this sounds promising. I’ve been using the “Wellington Transit” Android app, that gives me the scheduled bus times for any stop or route but this sounds much better – once it works!

Miki Szikszai April 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm

This is a nice addition to the Wellington Public Transport network.

We’ve been working with ACIS – the provider of the Real Time system – so that when the driver logs into the Snapper system, it automatically initiates the Real Time system. They are a good bunch of people to work with.

There is some minor duplication (GPS antennas) but otherwise, the ACIS system has its own hardware with a 3G connection that sends its location to a central server that runs all the prediction algorithms. My guess is that its prediction capabilities should improve over time as the system collects more data. Most of the cost of the system is in the displays – the more people use smartphones, the better!

Miki
Snapper

Joanna April 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Great, thanks for giving us more info on how it works, Miki!

David Lewry April 6, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Due/Delay/Cancelled – Gone! Some explanations…

Feedback from Wellingtonista contributors on the usability of the RTI system and the information it provides is appreciated. The system is a highly evolved example of its type and adopts current best practice, but this may help to explain a bit about how the it works and what can be expected.

Currently, in the event of an in–service bus not moving for more than 5 minutes (which is in fact a rare occurrence), the predicted arrival time remains static. However, this is planned to be amended so the static time will alternate with a ‘Delay’ message, until the bus starts moving again and a newly predicted time can be restored.

We have deliberately avoided the confusion produced by some systems, where a ‘Delay’ message may be generated against a scheduled bus trip that for some reason isn’t actually running. In that undesirable scenario, a user could see ‘Delay’ continually until it disappears from the display, when what is actually a phantom bus ‘passes’ the stop in question. Where a scheduled bus doesn’t run, the Wellington system will show a ‘Cancelled’ message.

The arrival prediction uses position data obtained for every bus, every 30 seconds. The performance of the GPS positioning, as well as communication of positions upward (from buses) and prediction messages downward (to displays and other media) was assessed in Wellington’s fairly challenging environment (hills, valleys, tunnels, hairpin bends, tall buildings…) during the system Pilot last year. The Pilot featured no publicly visible display signs, but performance was and remains comfortably within specified tolerances.

Live deployment inevitably identifies some requirement for optimisation of the system’s performance. For example, many buses begin their journeys at Lambton interchange where the first live display signs are located, and we’ve found that initial driver sign-on to new journeys or shifts can take place geographically close enough to the display sign for the system to believe the bus is about to arrive and show ‘Due’, before clearing the display sign prematurely. Once identified, such location-specific issues can be progressively and conclusively dealt with.

At the moment, the system may continue to show ‘Due’ for a few seconds after the bus has left and before the system refreshes. However, the majority of users will have used the system to anticipate the arrival of a bus and caught it, and so won’t be disadvantaged. A ‘gone’ or ‘left’ message could only be reliably displayed with the addition of extra proximity equipment that allows the bus to communicate directly and locally with the display sign, and this is not part of the current project scope.

We are aware that visibility of the flat screen summary display sign at Lambton interchange is compromised, especially in bright conditions. A solution to that problem is in hand.

Daivd Lewry
Greater Wellington Regional Council

Michael Hudson-Doyle April 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Yay, some of the performance problems seem to have been mostly fixed… hope I’m not jinxing it for tonight though…

I think one sort-of trivial problem I have with the setup is the use of the word “due” — to me, seeing “due” means “the bus should be here by now”, which is a property of the current time and a timetable, and it does not mean “expected to arrive within 2 minutes”, which is what the system means by it. Maybe “near” or “close” or something would be a better word? Of course now I’ve realized my confusion I’ll probably get used to it.

stephen clover April 8, 2011 at 11:41 am

Argh! Am a bit mystified about what happened to my #10 which was meant to depart from Stop B at the downtown interchange at 6.15 pm last night. From about 6.10 the display read “10 Newtown Park – Due: 8 min” and remained showing that for about 10 minutes at which point it just disappeared without a trace.

Seems like this fails any success factor you can possibly think of. What was I to do – assume the bus was late? Assume it was cancelled? Broken down? Alien abduction? GWRC, you must surely be able to do better with the quality of the information supplied.

Also, more than 3 lines at the interchange — where often 5 or 6 buses are due/impending — would be helpful. I know the display alternates between sub-lists when the list is too long, but having to stop stand and wait for the display to _possibly_ change and show you what you want is not the same thing as “at a glance”.

Alex Campbell April 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm

According to the real time data the route 10 arrived at the stop at 6:21pm, 6 minutes after the scheduled departure time. Be good to know if it was displaying that the bus was 8min away the whole time before clearing or did the display count down to Due and then clear before the bus arrived?

The display signs for Wellington Station are planned to be 6 line displays and these will be fitted when they arrive in NZ in the next fortnight or so. There are two display types and the three line version is intended for suburban locations. The ones at Wellington Station will be switched when the 6 line displays become available.

stephen clover April 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Sorry about the late reply. I was at the stop until 6.45 when I caught the #11, and I never saw ANY sign of the #10. Perhaps it got to the terminus late and the driver forgot to come around to Stop B and depart/start again?

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