Woman using smart bus stop to call CAV

What does the growth in CAVs mean for the future of mass transport?

By | CAV, Feature, Infrastructure, Multimodal transport, Public Transport, Smart transport | One Comment

How things change. Just a decade ago, the majority of people wouldn’t even know what a ‘Connected vehicle’ was. The past few years, however, have seen several transport technologies shift from the realm of fantastical to entirely possible.

The rapid pace of technological development has brought us to a point where an entirely connected transport infrastructure is not just possible, it’s becoming a reality as we speak. Likewise, the growth of data-sharing devices and AI has given rise to a new form of transport; the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV). These AI-driven, data-guided vehicles represent an opportunity to improve safety, reduce congestion and revolutionise travel as we know it.

What are CAVs?

The term CAVs actually covers a broad range of vehicle types. Some of these are already on our roads, while some (despite what excitable tech bosses might tell you) are still several years away from commercial deployment.

‘Connected vehicles’ refers to vehicles with the capability to ‘talk’ to each other and to the infrastructure around them. These vehicles communicate through onboard devices that connect to the internet, which then send information to other vehicles containing the same technology. These devices usually take the form of a dynamic onboard router, but they can also be GPS units, tachographs, or even a smartphone hooked up to an onboard computer. Connected vehicles have also been in use for several years. Features like automated emergency braking and lane assist technology are already included as standard in many new vehicles.

Fully automated vehicles, where the vehicle can navigate without the need for a human driver, however, are still in their tertiary stages. Although there have been some highly publicised test cases, we’re still several years away from seeing them overtake the human-driven car.

Why now?

Transport is in dire need of change. Cities can no longer continue to permit any and all vehicles on the road. Ageing infrastructure, increasing car ownership and dwindling public transport ridership are contributing to record levels of congestion and dangerously poor air quality.

Governments are responding to the demand for more sustainable travel initiatives by integrating technologies like big data, the Internet-of-Things and AI to usher in an era where CAVs are increasingly seen as the most viable option for transport networks.

In Edinburgh, where the government is set to trial it’s first autonomous buses, MSP Michael Matheson said: “The deployment of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles has the potential to bring transformative change to people’s lives, not just in how we travel, but in how we work; where we live; how we can achieve an environment with fewer emissions; and travel more safely.” The potential for CAVs to usher in a new age of clean, efficient transport is clear.

Reducing congestion through demand-responsive bus services


CAVs can help countries achieve a greater level of sustainability while encouraging greater economic growth and creating a more inclusive society. The market for CAVs in the UK (specifically, for road vehicles with CAV technologies) is estimated to be worth £28bn in 2035, capturing 3% of the £907bn global market. Simultaneously, UK jobs in the manufacture and assembly of CAVs could reach 27,400 in 2035, according to a study commissioned by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).

It’s not just the potential industrial benefits that should push cities to invest more heavily in CAVs, however. Streamlined urban transport allows passengers to get where they need to be faster. With the total cumulative cost of congestion in the UK estimated to be £307 billion from 2013 to 2030, these improvements couldn’t come soon enough.

Besides the benefits to the economy, using CAVs in mass transit can help entice car users back to public transport. This, in turn, enables more research into new technologies, which allows transport networks to grow and develop. It’s a cycle that, when implemented correctly, rewards everyone.

Queue of despondent people waiting at bus stop

Passenger experience

A streamlined service gives passengers more control over their day. When commuters know exactly when their journey will start and end, they can make informed decisions about other aspects of their routine. CAVs, with connected technologies optimising every journey, mean more reliability, leading to improved passenger satisfaction and increased patronage.

Onboard connectivity also allows passengers to create their own entertainment during the journey. Passenger WiFi enables commuters to browse socials, check emails or catch up on the headlines. With onboard entertainment, meanwhile, passengers can sit back and pass their journey with the latest TV, movies and music.

Perhaps most importantly, CAV’s will be vital to a future in which ‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) is the standard transport model. MaaS means unifying myriad forms of public transport (train, buses, taxis, bicycles) to give commuters access to on-demand transport. MaaS offers the most economically and environmentally efficient solution to urban travel, but it’s only possible with connected vehicles. This form of multimodal travel is also the most convenient, which increases the chances passengers will use it.

Women using smartphones on a bus


Whilst fully automated vehicles would render the human driver obsolete, that doesn’t mean vehicles would be completely unstaffed. Operators that have already trialled autonomous buses have so far retained human drivers in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Even with the AI handling navigation, onboarding and interaction with external infrastructure, passengers will invariably expect a human presence.

Of course, the shift from human to AI driver will inevitably lead to a reduction in drivers. Indeed, that’s one of the biggest attractions to transport operators; allowing them to save on wages while improving efficiency. But, at least for the first generation of CAVs, it looks like drivers will still be a required element.

For drivers of public transport today, it’s the ‘connected’ element of CAVs that offer the most opportunity. With connected vehicles, buses can ‘talk’ to every element of connected infrastructure. Other vehicles, traffic lights, road signs, even the roads themselves can provide information inform driver decisions. This helps to reduce congestion and coordinate journeys to reduce travel times.

Driverless CAV vehicle computer rendering


Reducing road dangers, for pedestrians and passengers, is of utmost importance to every transport operator. A major advantage of CAVs is they remove the margin for human error. Automated vehicles will never be too tired, drunk, or just distracted, to responsibly control a vehicle.

This improvement in safety, however, may not be obvious to passengers. Those already using public transport do so because they trust the driver to deliver them safely to their destination. This confidence doesn’t necessarily extend to new technologies.

A recent survey on public attitudes to driverless cars revealed just 17% of people would feel safe in an autonomous vehicle, compared with 61% in a human-controlled vehicle. This is partly the result of a general mistrust of new, (relatively) unproven technologies. But public reticence also stems from high-profile incidents in which AI failed to anticipate the most unpredictable of all variables; human behaviour. These behaviours; for instance, hand signals from traffic police, are key to maintaining safety on the roads. For now, at least, human driver behaviour is beyond the understanding of even the most advanced autonomous vehicles.

As Google’s Chris Urmson (co-founder of Aurora, an autonomous vehicle start-up) explained, self-driving vehicles are only safe in a vacuum; they can’t guarantee safety as long as there are other humans driving on the same road.


The transport sector is now the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions in the UK. The latest government figures show CO2 emissions from transport decreased by just 2%, meaning it now accounts for 26% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. For the UK to achieve it’s carbon reduction targets, the transport industry must push measures to reduce emissions now. Public transport, and CAVs, in particular, will be at the forefront of these efforts.

As more cities introduce Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in a bid to improve air quality, public transport must adapt with it. Part of this change requires introducing technologies that reduce congestion and optimise traffic flows. CAVs will play a key role in this change.

At its heart, connected transport is about creating a genuinely open ecosystem. CAVs only function in a cohesive and connected world; a world in which data informs every aspect of the journey. The rapid growth of the IoT sector is a testament to how much faith cities are placing in the power of data. Data from public transport can inform every stage of the commuter journey, and reduce fuel consumption in the process.

Red bus driving through London with Gherkin obscured in background

So far, autonomous transport technology has focused on the individual. Much more important is investment in mass transport options to draw people away from car travel. It’s only through encouraging greater use of the current transport infrastructure that we can hope to develop new services that truly appeal to the needs of passengers.

Even with major investment, rural areas could be shut out of the connected vehicle revolution. The majority of government grants will go to the largest national and municipal transport bodies. Simultaneously, most independent operators aren’t in a position to invest in autonomous vehicles. Sadly, while autonomous public transport could become a reality within the next ten years, it’s still just a dot on the horizon for the majority of transport companies.

Get in touch with Sygnal to for help on connecting your own vehicles with powerful onboard WiFi.

Could demand-responsive bus services save passenger transport?

By | Accessibility, Feature, Public Transport | No Comments

Cities across the world are facing a quandary. The very nature of travel has undergone a massive rethink in recent years, but urban infrastructure has not. As a result, public transport ridership is in freefall, congestion is at an all-time high and satisfaction with transport is at it’s lowest level in years.

Despite this, buses remain the most used form of public transport in Britain – accounting for 59% of all public transport journeys in 2016-17. Simultaneously, technology driven by the ubiquity of the smartphone has given people the power to create their own journey. Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft enable commuters to travel as and when they’d like, but they’ve also contributed to the rise in congestion in urban areas.

So could the solution lie in combining the two disparate worlds of public transport and private hire? How would it work? And, perhaps most importantly, what do demand-responsive transport (DRT) services mean for the future of public transport?

How does DRT work?

Modern demand-responsive bus services function much like ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft. Passengers register their request for a service via an app, which then uses algorithms to match them with vehicles travelling in the same direction. Drivers are then routed according to the information provided by passenger requests through the app to find the optimal route for their trip.

Journeys are calculated according to the fastest route (fed by real-time data on traffic and city infrastructural disruptions like construction, accidents, weather hazards, etc.). Journeys are allocated a guaranteed fare, time of departure and arrival, based on this real-time information.

Although there are a limited number of test cases, it’s clear that demand-responsive bus services work. Arriva, one of the largest transport operators in the world, launched ArrivaClick in 2018. The service currently operates only in Liverpool, but it has proven to be a major success. Arriva claims that, of those surveyed using the service, more than half of customers switched from using private cars to ArrivaClick, while 43% adopted the service for their daily commute.

Changing attitudes

The rise of ride-hailing apps points to a change in how people perceive transport. It’s no longer a service around which the passenger constructs their schedule; it’s a service that should work to fit around the passenger’s schedule. Passengers want something that is quick, simple and flexible to their own needs.

App-based transport services offer a key element of the modern travel experience – personalisation. While public transport networks are working to introduce new technologies, they’re still playing catch-up to the private ride-hailing companies. A demand-responsive bus network combined with a mobile app, however, could hold the key. A mobile app enables passengers to save specific journeys, track arrivals and follow their progress when on board.

There are many who would argue that demand-responsive bus services are just another attempt to reinvent a service that, if given sufficient investment, would work fine in its current form. But this misses the point – public transport is suffering not just because of underinvestment (although that is definitely a key reason). Previous efforts to increase ridership of mass transit focused on changing the commuter, rather than the amenity. In this context, DRT could be seen as the logical response to changing commuter requirements.

Using onboard WiFi on demand-responsive bus services

Public vs private

DRT is not a new concept. The idea has existed in some form for decades. Indeed, experimental flexi-route, dial-a-ride and community car and bus schemes have existed in some form as early as the ‘60s. But it was the rise in ride-hailing apps that sparked the latest push for user-oriented on-demand transport.

Simultaneously, when people opt for the private ‘ride-hailing’ bus, publicly run services suffer. This, in turn, means less money to expand services, which ensures public DRT remains a niche service. This has already happened in Bristol, where the local microtransit scheme recently announced it would no longer continue to operate, citing increased competition from other ride-sharing services.

Oxford trialled an on-demand bus service last year, part government-funded, run in conjunction with a local transport operator (Oxford Bus Company, owned by national transport provider Go-Ahead Group). Transport for London, meanwhile, announced last year that it was exploring the introducing a demand-responsive bus service as a means of complementing the existing bus network. In all of these cases, the local transport authorities have partnered with local transport operators to supply the vehicles. In this way, public transport isn’t completely shut out and passengers can choose the best option for their travel needs.

The congestion question

As cities begin to seriously consider how to reduce urban congestion and improve air quality, local transport authorities have turned to DRT as a solution. But questions remain about just how effective these services would be in reducing congestion. For instance, would these buses be allowed to use bus lanes?

Using them in areas underserved by current public transit services could help alleviate issues of accessibility, but they don’t go the whole way to reducing the number of cars on the road. For one, current demand-responsive bus services tend to use smaller vehicles than a standard public bus. So although there might be fewer vehicles on the road, there will still be more vehicles than if passengers were to utilise large capacity public transport.

Simultaneously, for DRT to offer a genuinely environmentally sustainable service, vehicles must come equipped with low emissions technology. While some cities have made this a key component of their on-demand bus service, that’s not necessarily the case for private ride-sharing services.

Reducing congestion through demand-responsive bus services

Potential pitfalls

It’s not all rosy in the world of DRT, however. Experts have warned that demand-responsive services shouldn’t be used as a replacement for traditional services. In 2016, Transport Focus produced a review of demand responsive transport that said: “Introduction of DRT tends to result in even less frequent services, shorter time at destination and restricted destinations. This limits social and leisure activities of passengers.”

Simultaneously, arrival times for DRT tend to be less concrete because they depend largely on the level of demand at that moment. Subsequently, routes are less optimised as the on-demand bus must alter its journey according to who needs to be picked up and from where. In the same vein, limited vehicle numbers can restrict passengers who try to book a journey during peak hours.

There’s also a danger that the ‘smartphone-first’ approach could leave less tech-savvy commuters out in the cold. This is a particular issue for elderly passengers, who make up a significant portion of public transport passengers.

Using mobile ticketing service on public transport

While they offer a valuable alternative for elderly and disabled people, DRT services can only succeed when they are fully integrated with local public transport networks. When integrated with other sustainable transport, they can increase accessibility, reduce congestion and improve air quality in urban areas.

Two coaches on coach tour holiday driving along empty road

The biggest travel trends of 2019 for the coach tour industry

By | Coach Tour, Feature, Holiday, Travel | No Comments

As we near the end of the decade, travel is shifting to offer a more personalised experience. Fuelled by the rise of social media and a new appreciation for unique cultural experiences, today’s traveller expects to be able to create their own adventure. 2018 was the year for TV tourism (think Game of Thrones tours in Northern Ireland) and eco-tourism. 2019 will see more of the same, but new developments in technology and changes in traveller attitudes will inspire new trends. So what should tour companies expect this year, and, more importantly, how can they deliver the best experience to their customers?

Wellness holidays go mainstream

‘Self-development stays’ have existed in some form for decades, but they’ve become increasingly popular in the past few years. Wellness tourism worldwide was worth £500bn in 2017, and last year grew at more than twice the pace of tourism overall. An emphasis on better emotional self-care, driven in part by the rise in Instagram-inspired wellbeing retreats, has brought the wellness trip into the mainstream.

In January, VisitScotland published its annual review of travel trends. The review noted an increase in demand for holidays centred around improving oneself, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. The UK coach tour industry, then, is well placed to respond to this trend. 2019 is the year to start offering trips that cater to this new client base, whether through curated retreats, ethically-minded hideaways or traditional local events.

Wellness travel becomes the next travel trend

Eco-conscious excursions evolve

Just like the wellness travel trend, 2019 will be a big year for “green getaways” – trips focused on getting back to nature and respecting the environment. Sure, eco-friendly travel has been a hot topic for a few years now, but it’s only in the past year that travel companies have begun to grasp the potential value of them. Not only do they help conserve the environment for future visitors, but a travel company’s eco-credentials can also entice a new generation of environmentally aware travellers.

A recent study by found that 86% of global travellers would be willing to spend some time on activities that offset the environmental impact of their stay. That’s why coach tour companies should use 2019 to begin integrating more eco-friendly features on your tours. If you can adapt your vehicles to reduce the environmental impact, do it. Adding tree-planting, wildlife conservation or wild camping to your tour itineraries could open up a whole new world and simultaneously conserve our own planet. What’s not to love?

Travelling on an eco-friendly coach tour is the new travel trend

Authenticity beats package

Just as eco-holidays grew from an increased awareness of the impact of travel on our environment, the demand for authenticity in travel has been fuelled by an increased focus on the impact on local cultures. Travellers in 2019 don’t want to be a spectator, they want to be an active participant, and, just as importantly, they want to learn. In fact, over half (56%) of global travellers claim they learned invaluable life skills while travelling.

This push for authenticity was apparent in the rise in domestic tourism last year. Travellers want to be immersed in a culture, even if it’s the culture of a neighbouring town or city. For coach tour companies, that means pushing activities over sight-seeing. Partner with local businesses to allow travellers to develop new skills based on local knowledge and practices. The more visual the activity (think pottery-making or gin-distilling) the better. After all, behind the push for authenticity is the ever-present desire for social-friendly photo opportunities.

Personalisation is the travel trend

The one-size-fits-all model of holidays will no longer cut it. Travel companies have responded by shifting to curated experiences that deliver hyper-relevant individualised content direct to the customer. Coach tour companies might want to study the following statistics found in the study:

  • 34% of travellers now expect travel recommendations for them
  • 41% want travel brands to use technologies such as AI to make travel suggestions based on past travel experience.
  • 52% would be excited about tech travel innovations such as a digital tour guide

New technologies are at the heart of helping travellers create their own adventures. For coach companies, this means identifying a customer’s interests and catering subsequent offers to them. A customer who books a hiking tour in the Scottish Highlands, for instance, would be more receptive to additional offers for hiking gear than someone who’s booked a city break.

Personalisation as an essential travel trend of 2019

Social media is still essential

That means try to get your coach tour company included in the post, either by a direct @ of your company or through a hashtag (for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Of course, you can offer incentives to passengers, such as being entered into a prize draw, if they include your custom hashtag in their posts.

Social media will also continue to be an invaluable marketing tool. The only real difference will be a bigger focus on targeted content. Even the smallest of tour companies now have access to tools that allow them to optimise their message for different audiences. Customer personas and social analytics software allow you to narrow down your branding to laser precision. After all, it’s not just about getting your content in front of as many people as possible; it’s about targeting the right people at the right time.

Smartphone in travel

Micro-trips become more common

2019 will see a rise in the number of travellers looking for short-breaks. And when we say short, we’re talking as little as one to two days. This is in part due to financial constraints – paying for two weeks in the sun is not an option for everyone, after all. But it’s also due in part to travellers opting for a genuine ‘travel’ experience over a ‘holiday’. Travelling to multiple locations requires more planning and is usually more expensive than staying in a single setting. That’s why modern travellers will often opt for several short-stay trips spread across the year.

The popularity of the micro-vacation can also be attributed to the rise in ‘bleisure’ trips, where the traveller combines a business trip with a few days of leisure. It makes sense, after all, to take advantage of time in a new country that you might not otherwise visit. But these ‘bleisure’ trips offer coach tour operators a unique opportunity too. Single day round-trips and even half-day packages could be just the ticket for time-strapped passengers. Be warned, however, as one- day round-trips can entail a significant amount of time on the road, so make sure to stock up on onboard entertainment features.

Retrofitting your public transport

To find out more about the top travel trends of 2019, get in touch with Sygnal today.

Using onboard analytics to improve services in coach hire

Onboard analytics: The secret to enhancing your transport services

By | Analytics, Feature, Passenger Wifi, Technology | No Comments

As industry leaders call for mobile phone location data to be used to plan out new bus and rail routes, we look at why it’s not just governmental transport bodies that can benefit from onboard analytics.

In passenger transport, data comes from every stage of the customer engagement process – from booking to boarding and every touch-point in between. The advent of web analytics services has given business owners untold access to data behind their website. Armed with these metrics, companies can begin to streamline the customer purchase process. The real problems arise when operators try to quantify what’s taking place on their vehicles.

That’s because many transport companies lack the time, staff, or tools to tap into these ‘data warehouses’. Large operators, meanwhile, can afford to pay data analysts to study these metrics and draw up strategies to optimise sales and improve the passenger experience.

But with the Sygnal Dashboard, any coach company can tap into the onboard analytics gathered from a whole host of in-vehicle processes. It’s only with this data that operators can begin to develop a flexible service that meets the changing needs of today’s commuter.

Identify peak times

Transport operators across the world still struggle to adequately cater to fluctuations in passenger numbers. Until recently, vehicle allocation and route provisions were largely based on feedback from drivers and, to a lesser extent, passengers. But with the advent of accessible data, companies can pinpoint how many passengers board their vehicles at specific times.

This data can then be used to direct vehicles to specific routes at key times. Likewise, operators can allocate different capacity vehicles to different routes based on the number of passengers. Onboard analytics also enables operators to map out travel patterns and add new services to underserved areas.

Using onboard analytics to identify peak times

Personalise services

We all use technology to help us navigate the world, but the most regularly used technology is actually one of the least utilised for its data value. The smartphone isn’t just a handy tool for travellers, it’s also a valuable access point for transport operators looking to better understand their customer.

In fact, onboard analytics give operators the power to decipher a lot more than just the number of people on their vehicles. These metrics can reveal, among other things, how many passengers logged on to the WiFi, the most popular sites to browse and what ads passengers are most likely to click on.

Additionally, a company app allows operators to gather valuable data on how many people are boarding their vehicles, and the type of journeys they are making (i.e. daily commute, one-off return journey, day ticket, etc.) With an app, operators can also use real-time data to give users reliable updates on the progress of their bus. That’s handy for passengers waiting on their bus and passengers already onboard who need to know when to disembark.

Of course, there are restrictions on the kind of data you can collect. All information gathered from interactions with your onboard WiFi must be completely anonymised in line with GDPR. Even with these restrictions, however, you can gain real insights to optimise your services.

Study environmental factors

As every transport operator knows, services can be disrupted by factors beyond their control. Of the most significant external influences is the weather. Rain, snow, storms and heatwaves can all have a major impact on vehicle performance and passenger numbers. Incorporating data on weather patterns can help operators direct vehicles more effectively.

An increase in passenger numbers on rainy days, for instance, suggests you may need to provide larger vehicles for busy routes. Likewise, knowing in advance that commuters are willing to walk on particularly sunny days would allow you to redirect services to other routes.

Likewise, weather patterns can affect journey times, so it’s important you take the data behind these when redirecting vehicles and developing new routes.

Using onboard analytics to track impact of weather patterns

Respond to major events

Whether it’s a local festival or a major sporting event, there are some dates every operator marks down in their calendar. After all, coaches are the best means of transporting large groups to a single location beyond the reach of rail. Not only does travelling by coach reduce congestion on already crowded roads, but it also enables passengers to relax before arrival. This is particularly important for passengers travelling a long distance, where exhaustion and a lack of knowledge of the roads can increase the risk of accidents.

That’s why many coach companies now offer express travel to and from events. National Express, for instance, offers transport packages to attendees for several UK festivals. For smaller coach companies, local festivals and sporting events offer a great opportunity to establish a recurring relationship with passengers.

In turn, coach companies with onboard WiFi can use the analytics gained from passenger interactions to offer additional services. For instance, if there’s a spike in searches for camping supplies on the way to a festival, you could partner with a local outdoor retailer to offer supplies en-route.

Simultaneously, data allows you to anticipate busy times in advance and capitalise on potential bookings with unique offers. Including an email sign-in to your onboard WiFi gives you the option to follow-up with offers for the next year’s event.

Improve journey times

Passengers are your main source of data, but they’re not the only one. Operators are increasingly turning to data to understand how their vehicles perform, and how they could be optimised to increase efficiency.

Data gathered from your onboard GPS can provide invaluable insights into your journeys. For instance, if you notice a particular service is regularly delayed, data from the journey history can identify where the interruptions occur. As in-vehicle technologies like GPS become more commonplace, transport operators will also be able to incorporate data from external sources too. Traffic lights, motorways and even other vehicles will be able to communicate with each other to alert drivers to changes in traffic and potential road hazards.

Similarly, engine tracking data can identify where your vehicles have idled. When studied together with dashcam and CCTV footage, operators can identify bottlenecks and reduce fuel consumption.

Woman using onboard technologies to browse bus WiFi

For something that’s become such an integral part of our society, data is still an impenetrable reality for many operators. As a result, of the millions of services run every day across the world, only a small percentage of the potential data is actually captured and analysed. This isn’t just a loss for the company, it’s a loss for passengers too. The insights hidden in this sea of data can go on to shape new services and streamline operations. With onboard analytics, operators finally have the power to optimise the travel experience with quantifiable insights.

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Women using secure public WiFi on a bus

Cost or connection? Modern bus passengers shouldn’t have to choose

By | Coach operator, Feature, Passenger Wifi | No Comments

At the risk of stating the obvious, we live quite the connected existence in 2018. These days, connectivity is deemed as essential an amenity as electricity, running water and gluten-free alternatives at breakfast. Our craving for internet access is intensified when we’re required to remain in the same place with no other means of distraction. Companies unwilling or unable to provide this access are finding more and more that customers will look elsewhere.

For transport companies, this should come as no surprise. Passengers expect onboard WiFi as a standard feature on their journeys. Local bus and coach operators, however, often feel that to provide WiFi will mean an increase in fares. Every onboard amenity, after all, costs money. But there is another way – providing companies have the tools to optimise their connectivity. Thankfully, Sygnal provides more than just onboard WiFi; it also gives operators the means to reduce operational costs and improve overall service.

Enriching the passenger journey

What’s the most important element of a transport service to passengers? It used to be that you could sum up the passenger’s expectation for a transport service in three words: Convenience, comfort and cost. But in the past few years, a new word has crept into the passenger lexicon; connection.

That’s why onboard WiFi is such an essential amenity. Not only do passengers expect it, but they will also actively criticise those companies that don’t provide it. Perhaps even worse than not providing any kind of connectivity, however, is providing subpar WiFi. The fear of providing an intermittent or slow connection (and being pilloried in subsequent reviews) keeps many operators from committing to an onboard WiFi subscription. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sygnal’s onboard WiFi is designed to maintain constant connection wherever your vehicles are. On the rare occasions when there really is no means of connection, Sygnal WiFi caches key web pages to ensure passengers still have the power to browse.

Woman using onboard technologies to browse bus WiFi

Optimising the travel experience

Onboard WiFi can increase convenience for passengers by shortening journey times through intelligent route optimisation. Simultaneously, part of developing a reliable service lies in keeping passengers up-to-date on the latest information about their journey. With onboard WiFi, passengers can track their journey through location apps like Google Maps. Alternatively, you can integrate an in-journey information system to keep passengers completely up-to-date through on-board screens.

With additional options for mobile ticketing, operators and passengers can enjoy a raft of benefits. As an operator, a move to ticketing through digital channels frees you from the cost and inconvenience of paper tickets. Of course, onboard technologies aren’t always about saving money – they’re also vital to improving the travel experience. For passengers, M-ticketing can expedite the boarding process, making journeys shorter and more efficient. This might not save your coach company money, but it will increase passenger loyalty, which means more return custom.

Using onboard WiFi as a passenger

Cutting costs with connection

Of course, onboard integrations like passenger WiFi, GPS and CCTV incur some additional costs. But connection comes with a range of additional features to reduce company overheads.

Coach companies have a variety of outgoing costs. As a major monthly expenditure, fuel consumption is a major concern for every operator. Engine monitoring captures the raw data behind the behaviour of a vehicle and provides solutions to how this behaviour could be optimised. By studying when and where an engine sits idle, operators can develop procedures to reduce vehicle inertia and optimise journeys.

Likewise, using GPS to monitor the progress of your vehicles on specific routes enables you to better comprehend where coaches are experiencing delays. The data gathered from your GPS can then shape new routes and save your coach company on fuel consumption.

Using onboard WiFi to improve accessibility on transport

WiFi = Additional revenue streams

Onboard WiFi isn’t simply a tool for passengers to pass the time. It’s a direct line through which you can engage with passengers on a deeper personal level (within the bounds of GDPR, of course). Just as social media channels offer personalised promotions through their platforms, you can promote relevant businesses direct to your passengers.

That’s right, your onboard WiFi can also provide an additional revenue source through personalised advertising. The Sygnal Portal allows you to upload multiple ad-types from local businesses. With options to customise ads according to journey, time and transport companies can deliver personalised, locally relevant promotions at the push of a button.

The analytics gained through your Sygnal Portal can also inform ad-pricing and give you additional leverage when sourcing new advertisers. Through these advertising deals, you can offset costs while providing a valuable platform to businesses on a local and national level.

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Retrofitting your public transport

Making public transport ‘smarter’ through retrofitting

By | Feature, Retrofitting, Technology, Transport | No Comments

The modern road vehicle, be it a car, motorbike, lorry or bus, is a vastly different animal to one even just twenty years ago. As advances in transport technology gain pace, transport companies are spending thousands just to keep their fleet up to date.

Many transport companies delay updates to their fleet for fear of disrupting service, but refurbs don’t necessarily have to be disruptive. Through intelligent planning and integration, transport companies can bring their fleet into the 21st century without replacing legacy vehicles.

The benefits of vehicle retrofitting

In modern public transport tenders, transport companies with ‘smart vehicles’ are significantly better placed than those with an outdated fleet. Obviously, the type of retrofitting on your vehicles will influence your eligibility for any tenders. Features like Fire Suppression Systems and NOx reduction filters promote your company as responsible and energy-conscious, both of which are prime considerations in any tender bid.

Of course, every transport company has a unique set of requirements that should inform their retrofit process. Simultaneously, features like CCTV and GPS are now seen as a standard requirement on most forms of public and private transport. Their presence can lead to lower insurance premiums and reassure passengers that their safety is a real priority.

Retrofitting your public transport

Retrofitting for the future


Global positioning technology has come a long way in the past twenty years. Once reserved for exploratory vessels and the aviation industry, road vehicles are integrating GPS to track their journeys.

GPS now plays a vital role in managing performance and maintaining fleets. With a data-led approach to mileage tracking and maintenance schedules, transport companies can reduce the number of breakdowns and increase efficiency.

GPS is also an essential element of route planning and analysis. The data provided by GPS enables transport companies to study new and established routes. Companies can now track journey times, fuel consumption and several other vehicle metrics. These metrics can then be compared to weather patterns and local events to better understand how they impact journey times.

With Sygnal’s onboard WiFi, transport companies can track individual vehicles wherever they go.


Onboard video capture technology is fast becoming an essential element for transport companies. Both technologies are relatively cheap to retrofit to most transport types, while digital technology makes recording and managing video data simple.

Video footage can play a decisive role in providing evidence for incidents onboard. CCTV can help resolve thefts, cases of harassment and even physical altercations, as well as acting as a deterrent.

Meanwhile, dash cams can record footage in the event of a crash, a major factor in insurance claims. Not only does this make your fleet less liable to false insurance claims, but it also enables companies to capture and report dangerous driving.

CCTV on bus and coach hire


It can also be difficult to retrofit new technologies when a vehicle has been rented rather than bought, but more and more technologies have been developed that can be fitted on a non-permanent basis. Chief among these is the introduction of mTicketing.

Switching to a mobile ticketing platform eliminates the need for paper tickets, reducing the company’s environmental impact. Simultaneously, mTicketing can streamline the boarding process. This increased reliability can lead to increased passenger numbers and, just as importantly, build brand loyalty for future route bids.

As a technology, mTicketing is more challenging than CCTV or GPS to manage, but the rewards can be substantial. mTicketing limits paper consumption but also provides a direct link between operator and passenger.


Onboard sensors can turn any mode of transport into a ‘smart vehicle’. These onboard data connectors align your transport with a network of sensors installed across cities, roads, traffic lights and other vehicles. Connecting your vehicles with such a huge network has a myriad of benefits. By collecting real-time data about congestion and roadworks, your fleet can better navigate cities and develop a clearer understanding of where delays are most likely to develop.

This data can work with AI to inform drivers about changing weather patterns and suggest new routes to prevent delays, while data gained from onboard sensors can identify faster, more efficient routes on regular journeys.

Intelligent infrastructure is developing at a rapid rate; by fitting your vehicles with IoT technology, you can ensure your fleet develops in tandem with it.

Using your smartphone on a bus with onboard streaming server

Retrofitting an eco-update

The transport sector is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector (nearly 28.5% of total emissions in 2016). Over 80% of people living in urban areas are regularly exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits. This is an issue that affects everybody. Transport companies large and small have a responsibility to take steps to limit their impact on the environment. When they do, everybody wins.

Government bodies in several countries now offer financial incentives for transport companies willing to take steps to reduce their NOx output. Many public and private tenders now include provisions for more economically friendly vehicles. Not only is it cheaper and more environmentally friendly, but it’s also in the interest of companies to integrate onboard eco-technologies.

More public transport networks are choosing to retrofit Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) units to their vehicles to reduce NOx emissions. The SCRs react with ammonia over a catalyst to emit harmless emissions of nitrogen and water. Meanwhile, Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) can reduce particulate matter (PM) from exhaust emissions to improve air quality.

Avoiding disruption in retrofitting

So how do transport companies retrofit their fleet without majorly disrupting their daily services?

Most choose to institute a staggered install approach, retrofitting vehicles across several months after service ends.

Installing numerous technologies in one go can be tempting, but it’s also fraught with potential problems. Not only does it require a lot of time, but it also makes identifying a new issue more difficult. By retrofitting your vehicles one technology at a time, you can trace track their impact on service and trace subsequent complications back to source.

Retrofitting your public transport

Potential pitfalls

Of course, it’s worth considering how much to invest in ailing vehicles that will probably need replacing within the next few years. If your vehicles are due to be replaced within the next two-three years, retrofitting may not be the best immediate course of action.

Despite this, the growth of non-permanent onboard technology means installation and de-installation can take little to no time. Likewise, even after initial costs, retrofitting can reduce running costs and improve the performance of your vehicles.

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Using Hong Kong Octopus card for multimodal transport

Where does coach travel fit in to the multimodal transport model?

By | Feature, Infrastructure, Multimodal transport, Technology | No Comments

Although still in its infancy, multimodal transport ticketing – the integration of multiple modes of transport into one centralised platform – is already finding purchase in the UK transport market. Composite networks bridge the gaps between various, disparate transport types, different towns, cities and even regions.

Of course, multimodal transport has existed in some form for generations – just look at your local park and ride. It’s only the past decade, however, that transport networks have begun to explore the real potential of a truly connected, cross-vehicle approach to transport.

Why go multimodal?

The value of multimodal transport is clear: no one transport can cover every area (at least without incurring extortionate costs). Enabling passengers to change between different means of transport streamlines the journey for everyone and reduces strain on the dwindling resources of urban areas.

Every mode of transport comes with its own distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. Accessibility, space consumption, speed and efficiency vary according to the means of travel. The multimodal model aims to utilise the distinct strengths of specific forms of transportation to provide an integrated travel experience for every passenger. By integrating infrastructure and operational data along with information on routes, schedules, and fares, companies from a range of transport types can develop a seamless network that encourages mass transport and delivers complete connectivity from the first to the final mile.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

The modern traveller

This need for a composite of transport networks is particularly felt in built-up urban areas, where people may have to commute from outside the city on a daily basis. The passenger could still be dropped many miles from their destination, however, and that’s when additional means of transport are needed. According to the study Millennials and Mobility, nearly 70% of people 18 aged to 34 use multiple travel options several times or more per week.

The study, released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), found that while transport types like car-sharing, bike-sharing and walking play a part in the multi-modal network, public transportation is ranked highest – at 54% of respondents – as the best mode to connect to all other modes. Of course, this is largely due to it being one of the most affordable means of transport, another reason multimodal transport will only work if it retains a modest pricing strategy.

The primary reason for this uptick in demand is simple; price. It’s cheaper to utilise a range of transports across the day than rely on one means of transport, even if it’s less convenient.

Another reason for increased use of multiple means of mobility, industry figures argue, is that public transport enables the new generation of tech-first socialisers to utilise onboard technology such as WiFi for socialising, entertainment and even work – whereas transport via private car and taxi are less likely to offer these amenities.

Double decker bus public transport in the UK

Creating a multimodal transport network

Creating a multimodal transport system is a complex, multi-department task that requires the integration of different institutions, networks, stations, user information, and fare payment systems.

For bus and coach companies looking to establish a multimodal transport model, the challenge lies in developing a cohesive service between multiple companies within designated parameters. These could include studying the different zone configurations around a city, then combining these with data on the current road and rail network configurations, as well as the average speeds, passenger numbers and frequencies of these services. From this information, a detailed, flexible mobility model can be drawn up.

For private coach companies, where journeys can be to locations around the world, the solution can be as simple as developing coordinated partnerships with local ride-sharing companies – linking the apps & offering unique deals from drop-off points to take passengers direct to their doors. Integrating the cost of pickup by ride-hailing apps into the overall ticket price can be complex, but that consummate service can lead to increased bookings and better overall passenger satisfaction.

The smartphone generation

Passengers want flexible services that can be customised to suit their needs, and they want it all in one place – on their smartphone. The modern traveller expects service capable of providing the same level of flexibility as the car. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world – and with good reason. This means more reliable networks, capable of providing real-time updates and additional services upon request. Multimodal transport, when designed around a mobile-first approach, can do just this.

Apps that connect together the myriad means of transport will become an indispensable feature to travellers, while mobile technologies that unify ticketing systems under one platform will become even more popular. Millennials now expect onboard WiFi or 3G/4G wherever they go.  When transport companies leverage technology through real-time transit applications, mTicketing and the provision of WiFi and 3G/4G, passengers have the freedom to create their own journeys. In turn, these passengers are more likely to give positive reviews, recommend to a friend and, most importantly, use the service again.

Using your mobile smartphone device on public transport

Environmental impact

75% of traffic congestion is caused by excess traffic. Poor air quality causes 40,000 to 50,000 early deaths in the UK at a cost of roughly £20 billion to the UK economy every year. Simultaneously, traffic congestion in the UK’s largest cities is now 14% worse than it was five years ago. The proliferation of multimodal transport programmes provides a real opportunity to improve air quality in urban areas and enable cities to attain targets in CO2 reduction.

More people using public transport means fewer cars on the road, which results in less congestion and cleaner air in urban areas. Not only this but as more people turn to a multimodal means of travel, the more money can be invested in improving infrastructure and investing in green technologies.

For coach companies, multimodal travel provides an opportunity to develop their eco-credentials. As if reducing your company’s carbon footprint wasn’t enough, these measures can open doors to tax relief schemes that could lower outgoing costs.

In London, the introduction of the Oyster Smart Card (and the subsequent Oyster App) enabled seamless integration across various modes, including metro, buses, light rail, and taxis. The multimodal institutional framework saw 32 million fewer paper tickets distributed within the first two years.

Driving revenues with shared profit

Because multimodal transport requires the coordination of multiple companies, there is a general assumption that overall takings will be lower for each company. However, public tenders can lead to lucrative contracts. Government initiatives for cleaner urban transport can offset initial costs to transport companies and lead to opportunities in other regions.

Of course, all coach companies must first consider how a new contract will affect their bottom line. Thankfully, initial expenditure to develop a centralised, coordinated platform, informed by data and intermodal terminals will pay dividends in the long run.  

The path to improved sales for every transport network involved in a multimodal system lies in developing and enhancing cooperation between the different stakeholders.

In Hong Kong, the introduction of the ‘Octopus Card’ integrated the two primary transport methods – metro and bus – to great success. In fact, the Octopus scheme was so successful, it was extended beyond initial use in public transportation to include payments at car parks, vending machines, convenience stores, pay phones, supermarkets, and schools. Because the Octopus initiative was developed as a joint venture with Hong Kong’s major public transport operators, the operators and infrastructure that support it had real incentive to install the Octopus system.

Using Hong Kong Octopus card for multimodal transport
Image courtesy of Ka890 CC-BY-SA-3.0

New visitors

Perhaps one of the most significant benefactors of a multimodal transport model is the traveller or tourist. Navigating a new city can be a daunting task, particularly when there are various, disparate means of transport, each with their own particular set of routes, pricing and regulations. Combining several key means of transport enables visitors to explore an area using just one ticket. If that ticket can be paid for and downloaded direct to a mobile phone, then it’s even more convenient.

Multimodal networks don’t have to be confined to one particular city, however. Coach companies that operate on a regional, national or even international basis can procure partnerships with local bus companies, taxi firms and bike-sharing initiatives. Through these partnerships, visitors can explore a city using a single ticket, then use the same ticket system to travel to another city entirely. Not only does this increase the likelihood visitors will opt for your coach network over another – it raises the profile of your company and increases the likelihood of developing similar partnerships elsewhere.

In China, over 60% of cities now have some kind of multimodal system in place. The bike-sharing scheme in Hangzhou has allowed locals and visitors alike to travel around the city, reducing congestion and encouraging a healthier last- or first-mile approach to travel.

Legal issues

Anywhere that a service is spread across numerous different companies/regions/municipalities, issues of liability will inevitably arise. The challenge in multimodal transport comes in apportioning blame in the event a customer is not satisfied with the service. After all, should a full refund be forthcoming when only one transport company was to blame?

Public transport networks have, at present, sought to sidestep these issues by instituting a specific network liability rule, whereby any issues with a service are dealt with by the particular transport mode in question. This is just a short-term solution, however. If companies are to provide a truly unified service, they must begin to look at means to tackle these issues. In Latin America, for instance, the elaborately titled Latin American Association for Integrated Transport Systems and Bus Rapid Transit was set up to discuss the challenges of implementing new transit systems. In addition to this, national companies discussed regional strategies to help modernise urban transport through standardised, pan-enterprise coordination.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

As our understanding of the interconnected nature of our modern world develops, we will undoubtedly begin to explore the potential of multimodal transport in more detail. But if multimodal transport networks are to become a common feature in cities, and a solution that includes all modes of transport, both public and private companies need to begin integrating greater data-sharing technologies now. It’s only through a willingness to adapt and include new technologies that transport networks, including coach companies, can hope to confront the growing challenges of our increasingly urbanised world.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

What does smart road technology mean for the future of transport?

By | Feature, Infrastructure, Smart transport, Technology | No Comments

The past decade has seen a huge number of advances in vehicle technology, while technologies for our roads have taken somewhat of a backseat. Congestion in London alone costs £4bn a year in lost productivity; we need technologies now that are capable of streamlining transport and increasing the resilience of our roads.

Thankfully, transport networks, as well as public and private groups, are waking up to the importance of smart road technology in creating a new age of cleaner, faster and more efficient transport.

The smart road technology of today

Smart road technology isn’t exactly a new concept. While the definition of ‘smart technology’ has taken on a new meaning in the past five years, we’ve been integrating different forms of road technology ever since the dawn of the motorcar.

Traffic control measures like speed cameras, automated diversion signals and warning signs for hazardous conditions are standard features on British roads, but even these are evolving as transport authorities gain access to more advanced technologies. With the integration of data from weather reports, vehicles and peak traffic times, roads are becoming more manageable, vehicles reduce their carbon footprint and, most importantly, journeys become safer.

In India, transport authorities have been experimenting with Smartlife poles in areas with high numbers of road accidents. These poles use radar sensors and electromagnetic waves to determine the speed of oncoming traffic. The poles then alert drivers to cars coming from the other direction by ‘honking’. In its initial trial, the technology significantly reduced the number of accidents, and there’s talk of extending the technology to other roads.

By integrating Smartlife poles with the next generation of ‘smart vehicles’, drivers could receive alerts direct to their vehicles and optimise their journeys with minimal disruption.

Smart road technology on long exposure shot highway

Traffic optimisation

Modern urban areas face significant challenges. Congestion, air pollution, inefficient energy consumption and outdated transportation infrastructure all play their part in preventing cities from achieving optimum mobility and sustainability.

Traffic management has been a key feature of urban infrastructure for years, but a new wave of technologies led by the IoT and increased data sharing is breathing new life into city centres.

The aim is ambitious; to create ‘smart cities’ where traffic can be optimised to increase vehicle efficiency and reduce congestion. These networks combine data from vehicles, CCTV and other sources to do everything from changing traffic lights to alerting commuters to bottlenecks and jams so they can choose alternative routes.

Traffic Management as a Service, a project based in the City of Ghent, Belgium, seeks to transform urban traffic control into virtual traffic management services that are smarter and more accessible to the public. The project aims to develop a centralised, cloud-based Traffic Control Centre (TCC). The TCC platform integrates local and global information sources to monitor real-time traffic data for anomalies.

Not only does this enable authorities to access the platform and manage traffic instantly, it allows citizens to register with the system and, by providing their commuting routes and times, receive updates regarding potential obstacles.

Of course, features like updates to suggest alternative routes present an issue for public transport, where vehicles often have to follow a designated journey. That being said, this same technology can be used to free up key urban areas and create more favourable conditions for public transport. Through intelligently prioritising transport options, major transport hubs can look to decrease congestion and improve public transport services.

Using smart road technology to manage traffic jams London
Taxi Traffic – Image courtesy of Garry Knight CC-2.0

Solar powered and wireless charging roads

Of all the futuristic developments in the world of smart road technology, the solar-powered wireless charging road probably sounds the most far-fetched, but it’s also one of the closest to becoming a reality.

Solar Roadways has dedicated the past decade to develop a fully fledged smart highway. Made up of photovoltaic cells and recycled materials, the roads can store huge amounts of solar energy. This energy can then be redistributed to surrounding street lights, used to highlight specific vehicle lanes and even used to melt snow to improve driving conditions.

Although the prohibitive cost of replacing current paved roads means it’s unlikely we’ll be travelling on solar-powered roads any time soon, the technology is already within reach and the savings to countries could be vast.

For the daily commuter, driving along a solar-powered road would be largely similar to the current driving experience, with added safety features like highlighted sections of the road to alert drivers to lane changes and potential hazards ahead. This means safer journeys for everyone and a massive reduction in fuel consumption. What’s not to like?

In the same vein as Solar Roadways, research by the South Korean based R&D university KAIST led to the development of roads capable of wirelessly charging electric vehicles as they travel. The road transfers power directly to a specially designed ‘Online Electric Vehicle’ (OLEV) using electromagnetic induction. While the ‘wireless charging road’ suffers from many of the same issues as the solar road, a model has already been successfully introduced in South Korea to great success. Meanwhile, trials conducted in the UK in 2015 with the aim to increase the variety of electric vehicles taking to the roads were considered a success, so they could become a common sight on motorways as EV’s become more widespread.

The OLEV designed for smart road transport South Korea

Smart infrastructure: A two-way street

Of course, smart infrastructure isn’t just about creating myriad forms of technology, it’s about designing these technologies to work together to create a cohesive, interconnected network. For smart roads to truly work, they must be developed with smart vehicles in mind.

With almost 40 million miles of roadway around the globe, replacing traditional tarmac with digital infrastructure will be a long and arduous task. Simultaneously, with automated transport still in its infancy, it makes sense to develop the two technologies in tandem. After all, for the technologies to truly cooperate, they must respond to each other’s specific requirements.

On the smart roads of the future, inbuilt sensors and feedback loops send updates on real-time conditions to vehicles. These conditions can cover anything from weather mapping to the physical state of the road, transmitted through infrastructure-to-vehicle wireless communication systems.

Additional dynamic features, such as removable magnetic lane markings that work with automated vehicle sensors and retroreflective signs with better readability for automated vehicles are already being introduced across American highways. When developed in conjunction with the new wave of autonomous vehicles, these transport innovations can improve safety and make transport more responsive to the overall needs of local infrastructure.

A Connected Car using smart road technology

The sticking point for smart tech

So, with all these transport innovations within our reach, why are so many figures in the industry so reluctant to embrace the technology? More importantly, what can be done to encourage a more widespread adoption of smart road tech?

It turns out, governments are already considering the answers to these questions. According to research by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), there will be at least 88 fully developed smart cities in the world in the next ten years.

In the UK, the government has committed to a £4 billion investment in smart road technology over the next decade. This will be no easy feat. Ageing infrastructure is a central issue to integrating new technologies into countries such as the UK. Roads and rail networks, some over 200 years old, simply weren’t built for the sheer volume of traffic they’re now witnessing. Installing smart road technology can be highly disruptive, but it’s also vital transport authorities take the opportunity to develop these systems now. Connected vehicles, still in their infancy, are inextricably linked to the smart road. In order to effectively scale both technologies, they must be developed as one.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

Perhaps the biggest issue for local transport authorities is in developing a cohesive but effective transport management strategy. Increased investment and more focus on managing this network in real-time could minimise disruption, but governments shouldn’t shy away from investigating the power of AI.

The sheer manpower required to effectively manage the myriad transport networks of a city like London is staggering, but machine learning and AI could enable the development of a robust, data-informed traffic management strategy.

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Public transport vs. ride-sharing in London

How can public transport survive in the ride-sharing generation?

By | Feature, Public Transport, Ride-sharing, Transport | No Comments

After a recent study found ride-hailing apps are leading to increased in congestion in our cities, public transport networks have begun to examine how to get passengers back onboard. The problem is, nobody knows exactly how to respond to the changing needs of the ride-hailing generation.

First, the obvious truth; as people inject more cash into ride-hailing businesses, less money goes into public transport. In turn, transport fares increase, services are weakened and more people are tempted to move over to ride-sharing. Add in the increased congestion resulting from more cars on the road and public transport becomes slower, more expensive and less reliable. It’s a vicious cycle that has already seen 70 million fewer bus journeys in England in 2017 as compared with the previous year and a 45% increase in private-hire cars on the road in the US.

So what can be done to support mobility in our cities while encouraging a return to public transport? There’s no silver bullet solution, but there are measures that could help redress the balance, providing councils and transport authorities are ready to change.

Using smart road technology to manage traffic jams London

Embrace technology

In this hyper-connected, mobile-first world, travellers no longer want to rely on timetables, frequent stops and space-sharing. The growth of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have fed an appetite for ultimate transport convenience, where you decide the time, location and your passengers.

The past decade has seen a tidal wave of new technologies sweep the transport sector. Of course, this includes ride-hailing apps, but there’s also a vast array of innovations that, when properly harnessed, could revitalise public transport networks for a new generation.

Principal among these new technologies is data. Transport networks are beginning to move toward integrating data into their daily operations, but progress has been slow and sporadic.

“By embracing a more quantified approach to route management, scheduling and fleet-tracking, public transport networks can streamline services, better regulate fuel consumption and enhance the overall passenger experience.”

It’s not only onboard technology that needs a boost, however. Smart traffic signalization – where the timing of traffic lights change based on traffic patterns – has already been trialled in several cities, with Pittsburgh reporting a 30% reduction in congestion as a result. The result? A more reliable service, less fuel wasted and happier passengers all-round.

Calling an Uber over public transport

Integrate and update city transport networks

For many commuters, public transport falls short of their daily travel requirements simply because their journey isn’t adequately covered by one service. That’s why the proliferation of inter-linked services, where one ticket covers multiple forms of transport, is so important.

Three years after the introduction of the Oyster Card in London, for instance, the capital saw a 38% reduction in traffic. In fact, every city that has introduced some kind of ‘Smart Card’ option, has seen an increase in the number of people using public transport, but it still struggles to match the convenience of ride-sharing, with its home-to-destination service and flexible pick-up times.

So what can public transport systems do to stem the flow of commuters to the ride-hailing corporations? Some cities have already made moves to block ride-sharing, such as in the case of Uber in London – although this was due to questions around their corporate practice – while others are looking at means to integrate the two disparate transport technologies together.

“The truth is, private and public transport can complement each other providing public transport can catch up in terms of technology.”

Cities across the UK and US have begun to partner with ride-sharing companies to create ‘on-demand public transport’ in a bid to remain relevant. In Atlanta, GA, for example, the local transport app is linked with the Uber app to allow commuters to hail a ride direct from their end public transit destinations. In Nashville, Tenn., meanwhile, the civic transit agency is working with TransLoc Inc on their own on-demand van service that takes riders crosstown.

The daily commuter needs convenience. Ride-sharing companies tapped into this with their simple, mobile-first approach. For public transport to truly compete, they need to be ready to shift to a similar model. By introducing a mobile app, with timetables, routes and real-time updates, commercial transit networks can position themselves as a relevant, viable means of transport for the masses.

Double decker bus public transport in the UK

Invest more in sustainable transport

Just last month, fifteen of the world’s leading transport and technology companies met to discuss their response to the findings by researchers from the Institute of Transportation at the University of California, Davis. The researchers published a paper late last year arguing the use of transportation modes that would reduce air pollution have declined in cities with heavy usage of the ride-sharing apps.

The transportation companies, which included representatives from Uber, Lyft, Didi and Zipcar, signed a list of ‘Shared Mobility Principles’ to “Prioritize people over vehicles, promote equity, transition to a zero-emission future and encourage data sharing.” While these are admirable aspirations, they ignore the role their companies have had in depleting revenues from public transport.

“The only suitable response from the public transport networks is to move to invest in even more sustainable technology for their own vehicles.”

Developing more sustainable means of public transport improves the air quality of a city and simultaneously saves transport operators money, which can be invested in improving services. The issue is, however, that sustainable transport initiatives are relatively new and, as a result, costly – an expense few public transport networks outside of London can afford right now.

Instead, companies need to look at ways to integrate eco-technologies that don’t require expensive vehicle overhauls. Managing routes through data to lower fuel consumption and switching to paperless ticketing can reduce expenditure while limiting the environmental impact of the service.

Using your mobile smartphone device on public transport

Beat them at their own game

When they first came on the scene, ride-hailing companies like Uber were touted as a means of reducing congestion in urban areas by reducing the need for personal vehicles. People assumed, as a cheaper and more effective means of mass transit, public transport was in no danger of being dethroned by the likes of Uber and Lyft. We’re now seeing the evidence for how incorrect this assumption was. The economist Justin Wolfers argued that “Uber is wildly unprofitable, [which] suggests that prices will rise once they’ve succeeded at monopolising the industry.”

Others have pointed to partnerships between public transport and TNCs [transportation network companies] as being a one-sided pairing in which the TNC opts only to provide services on the most profitable routes. This is detrimental to public transport because it drains resources that would otherwise be directed to less connected, and less economically advanced areas. Greg Lindsay, Senior Fellow for mobility at the NewCities think tank, argued: “Uber and other TNCs… have always been about disrupting public transport, about privatising the pieces of public transport that they found profitable and leaving the rest to wither.”

“Public transport is still usually the cheapest option, but they also tend to be less accessible.”

So it seems clear – if public transport can’t outdo this new wave of rideshare convenience, it needs to focus on shifting towards a “mobility-as-a-service” model. This could take the form of a monthly transport subscription to gain access to multiple transport modes simultaneously. If cities can offer car-sharing, bike-sharing and public transport as one, they just might be able to build a truly connected network for the masses and tempt commuters back to public transport.

Otherwise, local transport networks and the big ride-sharing companies will have to learn to coordinate their services to work alongside each other, providing there are conditions in place to ensure the TNCs don’t simply cover the same routes as public transport, at the same time. Developing a connected service, where commuters can use both public and private commercial transport according to need, may sound like a pipe dream, but with proper coordination and regulation, it could 

Passengers onboard public transport

Even with all the potential updates and new routes, the majority of public transport networks around the world are chronically underfunded, and if transport authorities want to see fewer cars on our roads, investment must precede anything else. Features like bus lanes can cut down on delays for public transport, but they’re just a stopgap solution to the real problem. Only through integration, diversification and, most importantly, innovation, can public transport hope to ensure its relevance in an ever-more connected world.

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Smartphone in travel

How has the smartphone changed the way we travel?

By | Feature, Mobile, Technology, Travel | No Comments

The advent of the smartphone has given the world any number of new innovations. Constant connectivity, new networking opportunities and endless avenues of distraction – the smartphone has changed almost every aspect of our lives, and nowhere is this more apparent than in how we travel.

The world is growing smaller. Cultures can be shared at the click of a button and the smartphone has played a key role, but how else has this window to the world changed the way we explore?

Book as you go

Say goodbye to booking your accommodation and transport months in advance – this is the smartphone era, a time of flexible travel plans, a time of booking on impulse. Unlike just two decades ago, today a change in schedule doesn’t mean losing a deposit or trawling a new city in a desperate bid for rooms.

The advent of high-speed transit Wi-Fi has also given travellers more freedom to choose accommodation and book activities as they travel, rather than months beforehand. In fact, 38% of bookings in 2017 happened the same day or up to two days before the activity, many of them “in-destination”, while consumers are already travelling. As a result, travel plans become more flexible and travellers don’t have to be tied into a rigid schedule.

Perhaps the most notable change to travelling is the freedom our pocket companions provide us with. We now have the power to adapt and improvise on the go – fuelled by access to information that just thirty years ago would have seemed unthinkable.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

Sharing becomes instant

No more phoning your mum on an international calling card from some bus station pay phone, no more sending postcards home only to see them arrive a week after you’ve returned.

The smartphone has empowered everyone to share unique experiences on a global platform. No longer do amateur photographers have to wait for their film to develop, or for access to a computer to upload their new pics. Instead, images can be captured, uploaded and shared in a matter of seconds.

Likewise, emails, social messages and even texts can be sent on the move. Friends can stay up to date on your latest excursions and the anxious parents of first-time travellers can be reassured that their precious progeny is still alive and kicking.

 Using a smartphone to capture sunset while travelling

Information breeds autonomy

In the age of Airbnb and Instagram nomads, there’s a new golden rule to travel: make your own adventure. Travellers no longer want carefully curated tours and hermetically sealed hotel rooms. They want authenticity. They want to be immersed in new cultures, without the ‘safety net’ of local guides or bubble-wrapped tourist-traps. In short, the modern traveller wants a genuine experience. The smartphone has brought this dream to life, giving travellers a means to navigate, explore, translate and engage with locals like never before. The growth of the sharing economy is a testament to this.

The smartphone has put the power back in the hands of the traveller. Connectivity provides a lifeline for those looking to break from the beaten path, paving the way for more adventures and, eventually, a better understanding of different cultures beyond the usual guidebook tropes.

Using a smartphone while travelling on rail network

Navigation made easy

Of course, one of the essential aspects of travel is knowing where you’re going. Navigation is never easy, but the introduction of the smartphone has made finding your way from A to B significantly easier.

With any number of cool apps to help you get around, finding your way through a new city isn’t just easy, it’s actually fun. Citymapper helps you to navigate public transport in a new city, while BackCountry Navigator gives you beautiful offline topographical maps. Still, the crown jewel has to be Google Maps, which comes with just about every feature you could ever need for navigation, including turn-by-turn directions, live traffic updates, info about public transport schedules and options for temporary offline maps.

One of the counterpoints to this endless connectivity is that, with people less likely to get lost, they’re also less likely to stumble upon hidden gems in a new city. While it’s true that the smartphone has made navigation infinitely easier, there’s nothing to stop you from logging off and exploring the old-fashioned way.

Navigating a new city using 4G mobile data

Reviews = informed decisions

With the advent of the internet came the online review. No longer were restaurants subject to scrutiny by just recognised critics; now anyone could have their say on an establishment, for better or worse. With online review websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, travellers can get a taste of a restaurant, hotel or activity before divesting their hard-earned cash.

This is great news for travellers keen to avoid souring their trip with a questionable entree or dubious dessert, but, there are some that argue our reliance on review sites may actually hinder exploration. After all, can you really say you’ve got to the heart of a city until you’ve tried a dodgy dish in a less than salubrious setting?

So while they’re great for getting a sense of a venue, travellers would do well to remember that sometimes it’s better to dive in than test the waters.

Using a mobile device outside to explore a new city

Business becomes universal

The business traveller of thirty years ago faced different challenges than the business traveller of today. For one, liaising with clients or colleagues back home thirty years ago required meeting face-to-face or calling from your hotel.

Today there is a myriad of different solutions to keep in touch, organise and even host meetings with prospective clients and colleagues alike.

There’s no doubt business travel has benefited from the smartphone, particularly when trying to coordinate multiple meetings with different people. The convenience mobile tech brings – of being in contact with people, of being able to access every piece of information in the world at a click – gives the modern business traveller an advantage that could mean the difference between a missed opportunity and a successful negotiation.

Conducting a business meeting through a smartphone

Socialisation takes a backseat

Smartphones don’t come without their share of downsides. With a direct line to friends and family, travellers now have less inclination to engage with strangers and the environment around them – both of which are essential to a true travel experience.

In fact, studies have shown that when placed in a new or daunting social situation, people will reach for their phones as a kind of defence mechanism. It’s understandable behaviour. After all, it provides a distraction from the situation, but it also acts as a kind of social validation – “I’m talking with friends right now on my phone, so it doesn’t matter if I’m engaging with the people around me” – but this is the antithesis of travel. Of course, there will be times when you feel uncomfortable or out of your depth, but these are the times when it’s most important to take the leap and start a real-world conversation. You never know what it could lead to; a new kind of confidence, a new friend, a new perspective.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

So while the smartphone has had an immeasurable impact on how we travel, it’s important to remember that it’s just a tool to complement your own experiences. As long as you don’t begin to see it as a replacement for genuine interaction, the smartphone can enhance travel and enable you to take more from the world around you.

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