Features: February 21st, 2014

Since 1839 when George Bradshaw first published his Railway Timetables, travellers have had to put travel information together to build a complete picture of their journey. In this article William Flanagan explains how change is now on the way and he describes an early success in integrating travel information.

The market for intelligent transport systems (ITS) in Europe is expected to exceed €1.4 billion by 2017, according to new research from Berg Insight, with growth spurred on by significant developments in technology and demand for smart city initiatives at national and European level.

For the generation who have grown up in an era of mobile devices, social media and the internet, these smart travel tools can’t come soon enough, latest research by Expedia has concluded. “For Millennials, service doesn’t mean having someone else help you as much as having something to help you,” says its report. “Technology, particularly mobile, is their personal assistant… telling them when to be where and how to get there.”

Clearly, we’re some way off being able to hire a flying taxi to get us from A to B. However, in London, the fact that some black cabs now offer free Wi-Fi is proving a big hit. According to a recent survey by the communications agency Ubiquitous, 86 per cent of Londoners feel they need to be fully contactable across all communication channels when travelling in taxis.

Similarly, smart connected passenger apps are also coming to the fore that enable users to plan a journey in real time which involves several bus or rail operators, without having to switch between sites.

Following breakthroughs in data analytics and integration, it was announced earlier this year that a multi-operator, muti-modal, real-time national travel app had been developed for Ireland which converges and interrogates dynamic big data from several sources to give passengers real-time updates to their travel plans.

With gigabytes of information being generated on a daily basis, the National Transport Authority and Dublin City Council had identified the need for data integration and data management services which could operate in real-time for big data scenarios. Rather than having to access different sites, they wanted a solution which would enable passengers to plan journeys using a single app and set up alerts for when their preferred mode of transport is due to arrive.

One of the main challenges faced by opensky Data Systems when customising the app was the need to overcome the complexity involved in linking different platforms and technologies, while still providing accurate real-time data. The solution combined an adaptive big data integration framework with super-fast database technology to create a real-time system for all of Ireland’s public transport providers.

Now complete, the cloud-supported application successfully converges and interrogates dynamic big data from several sources within a real-time framework. With the technology now publically available, Ireland has become one of the few countries in Europe to have integrated, multi-operator, public transport information available on a national basis, taking it one step closer to Berg’s prediction of an intelligent transport network.

The RTPI system deals with 4 – 5 million requests each week. 80% of these are now made via smartphone/app (Realtime Ireland) developed by opensky Data Systems, compared with 20% made via the web.

77% of passengers leaving feedback on the customer-facing website say RTPI would encourage them to consider public transport more often.

In Dublin Bus customer surveys, RTPI improved the perceptions of service reliability from 30% in 2009 to 53% in 2012.

According to Simon Reed, head of Technical Services Group at Transport for London, the next phase in this rapid development of passenger travel technology will involve more instances of data being integrated from different sources onto a single smartphone platform.

“The travel apps of the future will take into account individual passenger routines and preferences, intuitively working out where people are going and drawing on an individual’s data history to make updates more personalised, in a similar way to online retail,” he says.

“Until now, we haven’t seen any successful multi-modal technologies come to the fore. In most cases, the innovation has been around the technology rather than the business case and there have been very few developments focused on serving the needs of the user.

“In reality, much of the technology needed to create smart, multi-modal travel apps is already here. As we progress along the information maturity cycle, barriers such as limited access to individual train operators’ live data will start to come down. What’s harder to predict is precisely how long it will be before we reach this next level in the UK.”

William Flanagan is CTO at opensky Data Systems.