Two local authorities in Scotland have used technology to overhaul bus stop timetable information

Increasingly, the bus industry and local authorities are adopting the mantra of retailers in seeking to personalise and simplify services. A particular challenge is how to apply these principles to the printed information displayed at the bus stop ‘shop window’. This is partly due to the quantity of information which needs to be provided across a range of routes and markets and partly due to the complexity of traditional processes for updating timetables.

In many areas of the country, the process used by local authorities means a large number of printed timetables have to be altered manually whenever operators make changes to bus service schedules. The presentation style can mean it is not immediately clear to customers how to complete their journey or what the best option is.

This was the case in Falkirk, where the council’s sustainable transport co-ordinator, Chris Cox, recalls that during major service changes it had been a considerable challenge to update bus stop information within the
56-day registration period, prior to new timetables being introduced. In addition, the timetable format meant that at stops served by a number of routes, posters were often cluttered with a mass of timetable detail, which passengers needed to decipher, rather than being presented with clear information specific to their location. At other stops served by a single route, posters contained a small amount of information with much space unused.

Over the past year, however, the council has overcome these issues through using the ITO GO system to produce and design timetables. The software, developed and hosted by Ipswich-based transport technology firm ITO World, provides information in a number of templates specified by the council and designed to cater for passengers’ needs in different areas. The format focuses on deconstructing traditional timetables to highlight the information users value most, make it simple for individual customers to see which bus serves their destination, and make it easier for them to understand when services operate from their stop.

In Falkirk’s case, the council has opted to include line diagrams, so that people unfamiliar with the area and bus routes understand which localities the bus will pass through. Information on services is condensed so that as many routes as possible can be listed together on the same sheet, and a destination finder is included on the posters so that customers can easily understand which bus to catch. Options available to enhance the service include placing QR tags on posters so that passengers can download maps and real-time information to their smartphones.

As well as providing higher quality information, the system streamlines the procedure for updating timetables through an automated production process which fits the required information to each template. “We have nearly 600 stops with information cases which meant an awful lot of manual editing using a one size fits all solution,” says Cox. “Now, once we have updated the database with registration data, we can schedule an overnight export and download PDFs the next morning, which can save days or weeks of manual editing.”

The system can be adapted to simplify information in locations where the public perceive that bus services can be most complex to use. In Aberdeenshire, the council has used an industry-first addition to ITO Go specifically to improve the quality of information at major bus interchanges through an ‘automated interchange function’.

After an initial trial last year, new posters have been introduced at over 30 locations in urban areas, so that it is clear to passengers where they need to go to catch the bus to complete the next leg of their journey. A map shows selected stops within a short radius. The right place to catch the bus for the onward journey can then be easily identified by checking an A-Z destination finder which lists the locations served by bus routes, the relevant bus stop code for each one and the bus service required. As well as being provided at designated ‘interchange stops’ in Aberdeenshire, there are a number of posters in high footfall locations in Aberdeen city centre.

Previously, the cost of providing each poster made the provision of dedicated interchange information prohibitive. However, the automated approach enabled by ITO GO means there is minimal cost involved after paying the licence fee.

“Providing additional information at our key interchange locations which is clear and simple to read makes life easier for customers because it is making journey planning easier,” says Martin Hall, principal officer in Aberdeen’s public transport unit.


Highlighting local bus options

Within the next two months, Falkirk Council will be introducing travel plan posters in 80 locations including offices and public facilities such as libraries, using a new ITO World Travel Plan tool.

The posters, which will replace or supplement standard bus timetable information, include maps of the surrounding area showing the building’s location, how to get to nearby bus stops, and main locations served. An A-Z destination finder enables users to see which bus stop they need and identifies the service required.

The posters are designed to raise awareness of how individual buildings are served by bus routes to specific local destinations. The information is tailored in different template forms appropriate for different types of buildings.


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