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New real-time information system for Canterbury’s public transport

Wednesday, May 4, 2022   Posted in: Signatory Notice Board By: Administrator With tags: transport, public, services, technology

Environment Canterbury media release: 2nd May 2022

Late last year Environment Canterbury and Christchurch City Council successfully launched the new real-time information (RTI) system for the Metro public transport network. The implementation was completed when the Bus Interchange technology was upgraded.

Over the last 12 months, the project has refreshed and upgraded Metro’s RTI system replacing the previous radio-based solution with a GPS based solution supplied by NEC NZ Limited. 

The elements of the solution include improvements to:

  • the Bus Interchange;
  • on-bus equipment;
  • on-street bus locators;
  • feature rich bus location data;
  • the online passenger journey tools; and 
  • APIs to feed third-party mobile applications.

The new system also provides a bus operator management system which enables operators to manage their buses to Metro timetables and enables the monitoring and measuring of bus reliability on the Greater Christchurch network. 

Real time information a real game changer

With the project complete, Metro customers can experience accurate, real-time arrival information. Every bus in operation on the Greater Christchurch network provides an update on its position every second, and at a high level of accuracy.

“This timeliness of information gathering is crucial to be able to monitor and manage where and when we need to alter or make improvements to the network or timetable,” Environment Canterbury Manager of Public Transport Business Services and Improvement Jeremy Dickson said.

The previous system suffered from black spots in some areas, where the radio-frequency data could not be relied upon and the new system is designed so it can be integrated with other systems and evolve over time.

“As the Metro network grows, technology advances and customer expectations increase, we need to be able to be able to evolve to meet those expectations,” Dickson said. 

Project partners pleased to implement new system

NEC New Zealand Managing Director Mel Barber said they have been excited by the opportunity to work with the project partners to implement this new technology.

“This commitment is through a multi-year agreement that will see us, partner, together to continuously improve the passenger journey and experience for Cantabrians. NEC is committed to continue the build of our Smart Transport Centre of Excellence in the ANZ region,” she said.

The project was complex, involving multiple parties, software, and hardware for a fleet of 251 buses and the Diamond Harbour Ferry.

“COVID-19 restrictions right in the middle of upgrades meant scheduling complications, but the project team, operators and NEC were very agile in their delivery and we’re really happy we were able to deliver it,” Dickson said.

“With numerous stakeholders involved in the project, getting to a stage that we’re all happy with how things are going is a really great outcome,” he said. 

“The Bus Interchange - which allocates buses to bays in real-time - had to have its hardware and software completely swapped out.

“Upgrading the system on a network which operates 19 hours a day, 7 days a week was always going to be challenging. There was little margin for outages, testing and deployment.

“One of our key objectives in this implementation was to not disrupt our passengers. We’re proud that we were able to meet that goal,” he said.

Christchurch City Council Transport Operations Manager Stephen Wright says that the new system will mean there is more accurate and more accessible information at bus stops across the city.

“The new bus finders are easier to see, hear and operate, making it easier to catch the bus,” he said.

Regional planning provides framework for future improvement

During the development of the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP), reliability and punctuality were highlighted by the community as critical to public trust in, and use of, public transport.

“This is the key system that underpins our ability to deliver a service that meets these expectations and to measure and improve services over time,” Dickson said.

Now that the real time information system is in place, improvements to the service are able to be delivered, such as managing and minimising the bunching of buses, and improvements to driver display units with turn-by-turn instructions to assist with driver training.

The NEC system also has inbuilt machine learning that over time accommodates the impact of traffic at busy times of the day and/or week to allow for traffic in its predicted arrival times.

“These and other opportunities that emerge with the new solution will enable us to continually deliver improved reliability that we set out to achieve via our RPTP,” he said.

Customers will notice some changes

The launch means that customers will notice changes including better accuracy of journey planning tools and third-party mobile applications, correct te reo pronunciation at the interchange and more advanced on-street infrastructure including text to speech options. 

Customers who use Metro services in hilly areas and at the edge of the network will also find increased coverage of real-time tracking where it previously wasn’t available – meaning their estimated bus arrival times will be more exact.