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Woman using motorhome WiFi outside

Motorhome WiFi: A guide to retrofitting your campervans

By | Campervans, Sygnal Bites, Technology | One Comment

To say transport has changed dramatically in the past decade would be an understatement. Onboard innovations like GPS, analytics, IoT and onboard WiFi (coupled with the ubiquity of the smartphone) have transformed how we explore the world.

In public transport, these innovations have been spurred on by investment from government bodies. Private hire transport operators, however, have been largely left to their own devices. One sector, in particular, has been consistently overlooked in the push for onboard technologies; the motorhome industry.

The modern motorhome industry

The touring caravan, motorhome and caravan holiday home industry contributes more than £6 billion to the UK economy every year. There are roughly 1.1 million leisure accommodation vehicles in use in the UK.

Despite this, margins in this industry can be razor-thin. Fluctuating seasonal demand and the continued popularity of overseas package holidays have been persistent challenges to the industry. As a result, most motorhome hire firms have tended to resist integrating new technologies. But that’s a huge loss for the industry and for motorhome enthusiasts. With affordable, robust and reliable motorhome WiFi, travellers can explore anywhere and stay connected at all times.

Motorhome with campervan WiFi fitted

How does motorhome WiFi work?

  • Unlike the WiFi in your home, motorhome WiFi must be powered by a data SIM. With no static broadband infrastructure, the WiFi found in road vehicles relies on sending and receiving data via signals transmitted from network towers.
  • The onboard wireless router jumps between different towers based on which has the strongest signal. The strength of a signal depends largely on how close the Server is to the tower, but other factors (such as the surrounding landscape or how many other people take their data from that tower) can also affect coverage.
  • Passengers connect to the onboard wireless router via a device with WiFi capabilities – usually a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
  • In areas with limited data coverage, vehicles can benefit from an additional aerial to increase the units reach.

Why do hire companies need WiFi?

Onboard WiFi is a valuable amenity for a range of reasons. Passengers on public transport expect WiFi as standard, but these same passengers usually have limited alternatives. In private hire transport, however, passengers have a choice about who they travel with. Free WiFi can be a deciding factor in who they choose. Likewise, travellers looking to book a campervan or motorhome will almost certainly include the presence (or lack) of onboard WiFi in their deliberations.

Not only can motorhome WiFi boost sales, but it can also seriously increase the odds of return bookings. In this connected age, travellers expect to be able to share the latest pictures, browse their socials and catch up on work, wherever they are. Campervan companies capable of providing this connectivity have a distinct advantage over their competitors.

Caravan parked on beach using motorhome WiFi

Installation

Installing WiFi in your motorhome should be as simple as adding GPS or a dashcam to your vehicle. Sygnal wireless routers are designed for non-invasive installation, meaning they can be plugged directly into the power on your campervans and moved between vehicles quickly and easily. Every router also comes with a base plate and screws to secure the unit in place; essential for campers looking to go off the beaten track.

With a range of over 30 metres, you can place the Sygnal wireless router anywhere on your campervan. Provided the unit is secure and has space for ventilation, you’ll be able to enjoy WiFi almost anywhere.

Sygnal offers several options for powering your onboard wireless router. Of course, how you choose to power the unit depends on your vehicle setup. Cigarette lighter adapter cables allow customers to power their unit through their vehicle dashboard. For those looking for a fixed powering solution, Sygnal provides power cables to hardwire units directly into the vehicle wiring harness.

Beyond motorhome WiFi

Onboard campervan WiFi is just one aspect of the retrofitting process. For campers and hire firms alike, there is a range of technologies to further enhance the campervan experience.

Campervans with a Sygnal unit can also be fitted out with GPS, allowing motorhome rental agencies to keep track of their vehicles wherever they are. This is particularly useful for locating vehicles that fail to return at their specified drop-off time.

With access to the Sygnal portal, rental agencies can also verify that passengers are adhering to local speed limits: vital information in the event of a crash. For individual campervan owners, studying GPS routes can also provide valuable insight into the different routes they take.

Every Sygnal wireless router also comes with options for dashcam integration. For rental agencies, this can be an essential resource in the event of a road accident. The in-built G-sensor stores footage in the aftermath of an incident. This footage can be incredibly valuable for campervan hire firms and individual campers alike. With incontestible video evidence, hire firms can avoid paying out for false claims. Dashcams don’t need to capture a crash on film to be useful, however. Even their presence on vehicles can be enough to reduce insurance premiums and deter drivers from exceeding the speed limit.

Sygnal’s onboard campervan WiFi also comes with in-built storage for streaming content. With options for anywhere from 16 to 128GB of internal storage, campers can choose from the latest movies, TV and music; a handy distraction when rain cancels your outdoor plans.

Accessing new revenue channels

For motorhome rental firms, onboard WiFi also represents a unique opportunity to gain additional revenue. That’s because Sygnal onboard WiFi includes options to integrate advertising content from relevant businesses.

Advertising can be particularly relevant to campers travelling in an unfamiliar area. For advertisers, the appeal is obvious; campers seeking a local restaurant, attraction or a place to park for the night might not find their business on Google. With ads pushed direct to campers via the WiFi, however, businesses can be assured that campers know where they are. But beware; even though hosting an advert might not be seen as an endorsement, campers will invariably associate any ads coming through with the WiFi with your campervan hire company. It’s vital you consider each advertising opportunity and the risk involved as it comes.

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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Providing festival coach hire

Finding the right onboard technologies for your coach fleet

By | Passenger Wifi, Sygnal Bites, Technology | No Comments

For any coach operator, identifying the right onboard technologies requires time and a careful appraisal of your requirements. That’s why operators tend to opt for an eclectic mix of solutions, purchased when and where they can afford to roll them out across the fleet. But this approach comes with its downsides. Technologies end up with wildly disparate capabilities, not just in their performance, but in their ability to communicate with each other.

That’s why Sygnal offers a range of packages, tailored to meet the specific needs of every transport operator and centralised through one system. So whether you’re a large, national operator or a small, local coach firm, there’s a Sygnal package to meet your needs.

But which Sygnal package is right for your coach company? That all depends on what you’re looking for…

Fleet size

Of course, the size of your fleet will be a key factor in the kind of technologies you require. Are you a small local coach hire company looking for a simple onboard WiFi system or a nationwide operator looking for an entire onboard overhaul? Each Sygnal package comes with onboard WiFi and access to the Sygnal Portal as standard, but for some operators, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Small coach companies with just a few vehicles, for instance, might be looking for a simple Sygnal WiFi and Portal package. Major operators with hundreds of vehicles, meanwhile, are more likely to require robust fleet-tracking technology than a small local service.

Of course, every operator has a different idea of what their company needs to grow. That’s why we encourage our customers to discuss their current requirements and future growth prospects before establishing which Sygnal package best suits their needs.

Bus coach with onboard passenger WiFi

Fleet functions

It’s not just the size of your fleet that determines the kind of technologies you require. The typical daily functions of your company will go some way to dictating the scale of your Sygnal package.

Some questions to consider:

  1. Do you operate school routes?

If so, onboard bus CCTV could be an essential technology. For safety purposes, many schools now require their coach operators to provide CCTV as a standard safety feature. Operators looking to expand their local bus contracts, then, will not get far without onboard cameras. Likewise, operators that choose to integrate CCTV will be better positioned in school transport tenders.

  1. Do you run coach tours?

Coach tours can cover a wide range of services. Whether it’s for international or domestic passengers, the unique requirements warrant a specialised service. Discerning these requirements before you purchase your Sygnal Package is integral to getting the most value for money. For instance, coach tour companies operating in remote areas of the country might require signal enhancement technology to ensure total connectivity. Meanwhile, operators running tours for overseas tourists may want to consider integrations for translation tools for their onboard content.

  1. Do you run tours abroad?

The same goes for operators who run coach tours abroad. Sygnal WiFi functions anywhere within the EU, so connectivity isn’t a problem. However, operators will require accurate GPS and fleet-tracking software, particularly if a vehicle is travelling a new or remote route.

Operators running tours to areas outside the EU will be required to purchase an international data package. Alternatively, invest in some offline content to keep passengers entertained when they enter non-EU territory.

  1. Do you run regular local services?

Operators running regular services, whether it be across local, regional or nationwide areas, have their own unique set of requirements. To begin with, operators who run services on scheduled routes, in which the bus stops at established points, may find they don’t require content for the passenger entertainment system. After all, if most passengers are only onboard for twenty minutes to half an hour, they’re unlikely to want to start watching a film.

Mobile ticketing, on the other hand, is an essential tool for operators running regular routes. For coach companies who run infrequent services between specific destinations, mobile ticketing can be a useful tool but is not necessarily essential.

Onboard technologies for your bus company

Geographical setting

The needs of your fleet are defined not just by the type of coach tours you run but also the typical locations in which you operate.

As we said before, if your routes tend to adhere to remote areas, you’re more likely to encounter issues in connectivity and maintaining visibility of your vehicles.

Rural

Rural commutes tend to involve longer journeys, so it’s a good idea to consider additional features that decrease pressure on the 4G data connection. Simultaneously, rural transport can experience significant delays as a result of closed roads or slow-moving vehicles. Sygnal’s GPS system enables operators to keep track of their vehicles and redirect them should they notice an obstruction somewhere on the route.

Urban

Similarly, in urban areas, your biggest concerns will be navigating traffic and security. The Sygnal Secure Package comes with CCTV, dashcams and GPS along with Sygnal’s robust WiFi. Through these technologies, drivers can monitor onboard events, use the dashcams to navigate narrow gaps on busy roads and receive real-time updates on local traffic disruptions.

Mixed

Many operators run services that cover both urban and rural routes. The Sygnal Fleet package comes with a suite of technologies designed to meet the diverse needs of every modern bus company.

Retrofitting your public transport

Customer base

Although likely to have the most significant impact on your technology needs, your customer base is usually the most difficult to qualify. Regardless of how diverse your customer base might be, it’s vital you establish your typical demographic and take steps to tailor your services to their needs.

Schoolchildren, although limited in their access to smartphones, are major consumers of WiFi. However, younger passengers must also be protected from harmful content. That’s why Sygnal comes with inbuilt options for parental locks and age verification. Operators can also block websites on specific servers to further protect children.

Any company that provides some kind of public WiFi will know that passengers between 18-30 years old are the highest consumers of data. Millennial travellers are also the most common users of public transport, excluding the elderly. Sygnal already blocks access to data-heavy websites (including video-streaming such as YouTube), so you can rest easy that they won’t drain your data. Simultaneously, every Sygnal server is designed to provide support for up to 60 concurrent onboard WiFi users, so there’s no need to worry about WiFi speeds even with a bus full of young travellers.

Worried about exceeding your data limit with a bus full of young travellers on a cross-country trip? No need to fear: Sygnal can place a cap on your servers, so you’re never charged for overages. In addition, the Sygnal Portal (available with all packages) allows you to track data usage on all of your Sygnal servers. If you notice a particular server is close to reaching its data limit, you can choose from a selection of add-ons. That way, your data-hungry passengers stay happy and your service gets the great rating it deserves.

Couple chatting enjoying the onboard technologies

Current onboard technologies

Most operators today have at least one onboard technology – whether it be passenger WiFi, GPS or CCTV. But, as we’ve discussed before, technologies are often compiled from a range of sources. Not only does this complicate the process of gathering data from these devices, but it also locks operators into multiple contracts with various companies.

Even if you’re currently signed up to a contract for another onboard technology, Sygnal can install new devices. However, it’s only with a Sygnal package that you can centralise your existing technologies under one easy to manage platform and consolidate your payments under one simple monthly contract.

Of course, any operator already using a mix of onboard technologies knows that requirements are defined by the resources you have at your disposal. Operators who dedicate a member of staff to managing onboard technologies might find it easy running multiple disparate systems. For smaller, independent coach companies, however, this is unlikely. Even large, nationwide operators with a dedicated team could benefit from streamlining all their technologies under one system.

integrating onboard technologies to your vehicles

If you’re still not sure which Sygnal Package is right for your company, get in touch and we’ll find the best option for you. After all, every modern coach company needs onboard technologies, it’s just about figuring out which best serve your purposes.

In-journey information screen as part of a centralised onboard technologies package

The power of centralised onboard technologies

By | Coach operator, Sygnal Bites, Technology | No Comments

These days, almost every transport network has some kind of onboard technology. Be it onboard WiFi, CCTV, dashcams or GPS. But the steady evolution of new innovations has led operators to collect a hodge-podge of technologies with little or no clear connection to each other. This means operators end up paying several different monthly bills to different companies. Not only does this mean more work for the operators, but it also denies companies access to a complete picture of their daily processes. With a suite of centralised onboard technologies, however, transport networks can remotely manage their onboard footage and monitor WiFi usage through one system.

Unify technologies to improve efficiency

Transport technologies are a rapidly developing industry, with more operators acknowledging that amenities like onboard WiFi are now an essential feature for journeys. With a huge range of companies and technologies from which to choose, new features are purchased and introduced as and when they can be. This, in turn, has resulted in vehicles packed with a collection of disparate technologies with little or no means of communicating with each other.

That’s bad news for passengers and operators alike. Operators miss out on the valuable insights gained from seeing every element of their service together in one place, while passengers lose out on an improved service. With a centralised platform for onboard services, operators gain a comprehensive overview of services. That’s why every Sygnal package offers a completely integrated system, where all your onboard technologies can be consolidated under one platform.

CCTV on bus and coach hire

Standardise to save time

Put simply, integrating your current onboard technologies into one platform saves you time and money. Many smaller coach and bus companies operate on thin margins. That’s not to mention the added headache that comes with managing multiple accounts to different companies. Paying separate companies for your CCTV, onboard WiFi, fleet tracking and any other technology you use is time-consuming and can lead to missed payments. By managing all of your onboard devices through one platform, you have the opportunity to focus on running your business and improving services.

Operators using Sygnal’s centralised onboard technologies can relax in the knowledge that their assortment of technologies is covered under one statement. With a range of packages available for companies of every size, Sygnal enables operators to focus on optimising their services and taking advantage of the data insights afforded through the Sygnal Portal.

Using Analytics to increase your domestic tourism marketing range

Say goodbye to data silos

Across every industry, data has become an invaluable tool to steer marketing campaigns and shape services. But, just as in every industry, transport operators often gather their data from a myriad of different sources. This presents a serious challenge when comparing analytics from the different areas of your company.

Data silos tend to develop naturally in any organisation. Of course, even in relatively small companies, different departments, services and even vehicles can serve a unique purpose. Between these roles, with their contrasting responsibilities, it’s inevitable that data blind-spots will develop.

By centralising onboard technologies through a dedicated platform, you can avoid data-gaps and draw more nuanced conclusions from your customer base. For instance, if you know your onboard WiFi is lagging on certain routes, you can compare these routes to the data from your onboard GPS. You can then consider installing WiFi-booster antenna to expand coverage on specific vehicles. Likewise, if the metrics reveal a significant increase in data consumption for a specific time of day, you can compare these high-traffic points with the number of passengers that boarded through your mobile-ticketing system and increase bandwidth for key times.

Laptop with centralised onboard technologies dashboard

If transport companies want to truly optimise their service, technologies must be configured to operate as a cohesive unit. The Sygnal Portal provides dedicated access to every element of your onboard technologies, enabling key staff members from every department to create a complete picture of where the business thrives, and more crucially, where it falls short.

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Passengers on their smartphones

A guide to protecting passenger data using onboard WiFi

By | Data protection, Passenger Wifi, Sygnal Bites, Technology | No Comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware that data laws in Europe are changing with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The past few years have seen stories surface from every industry about companies using user data for purposes other than originally specified, and that’s exactly what GDPR is designed to bring an end to.

GDPR requires companies across every sector update the way they process and share personal data. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. As the UK information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham explained: “The GDPR is a step change for data protection,” she says. “It’s still an evolution, not a revolution”.

So while the new laws don’t mark a drastic change in the way companies handle data, updating outdated personal data laws across the EU has been long overdue. The previous data protection laws, brought into place in the ‘90s, have struggled to maintain pace with the developments of the past decade. It’s worth noting that it’s not just companies based in the EU that are subject to the new data protection regulations. GDPR isn’t directed at European companies but at the data and information of EU citizens. 

Man using his smartphone on a coach hire service

Data protection in transport

Of course, any company that provides WiFi as a secondary service will already have a data protection plan in place. For transport companies with onboard WiFi services, protecting the data of its passengers is essential to maintaining trust. For companies operating across EU countries (and even for those operating in the UK, providing services to EU citizens post-Brexit), it’s vital they ensure all of their services align with the new regulations.

In the transport industry, it’s essential when seeking permissions from passengers to be transparent in what data is gathered and how it’s used. Transport networks can ensure this by updating their terms & conditions on the initial login page. These T&C’s must also provide clear instructions on how passengers can opt-out of providing this data at any time.

Providing they agree to some form of data gathering, it must not fall into the category of personal data, which includes:

  • Basic information such as name, address and ID numbers
  • Web data such as IP addresses and cookie data, Health, biometric and genetic data
  • Racial, ethnic and sexual orientation
  • Political opinions, religious beliefs, and union memberships

Prior to GDPR, companies still had to adhere to collecting only depersonalised information. Transport companies such as Transport for London (TfL) gather information like an encrypted version of the device MAC address, the date and time the device broadcast its MAC address, the access point it’s connected to, the device manufacturer and the device association type.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

Protecting passenger privacy

Of course, protecting passenger data should be an integral aim of any company. Numerous data scandals have weakened the public’s faith in corporations’ ability (or willingness) to use their data responsibly. In transport, where thousands of passengers can connect for a short period every day, the need to maintain an open and transparent data-collection process is just as vital. After all, when passengers can trust the company they are travelling with is using their data responsibly, they’ll be more likely to consent to provide it.

The anonymised data gathered through onboard WiFi use can be useful for both passengers and transport companies. Bus and coach networks can use it to better understand the passenger journey, which can then go on to inform schedules, routes and the size of vehicles. Meanwhile, passengers can benefit from the increased efficacy of routes and enjoy wider access to different services. With GDPR in effect, passengers will need to specify the kind of data you can gather, but this doesn’t necessarily mean transport networks will have access to less information.

One of the most significant aspects of the new data protection rules; if there is a data breach of one of your customers, all parties responsible must report the breach within 72 hours to relevant authorities. A breach is defined as any loss, alteration or unauthorised access of personal data.

Always seek permission

GDPR explicitly forbids restricting access to a wireless network on the basis of a customer providing personal data. That means wireless network services must be provided without the condition of providing personal data.

The central aim of GDPR is to prevent companies from providing the personal data of its users to third party marketing companies, without first seeking consent. Consent can only be given when the user is provided with specific, clear information on how this data will be used.

For passengers, the new GDPR rules will likely have little effect on the overall browsing experience. Users will be asked to decide the amount of data they wish to provide when they first connect. With their chosen settings, passengers can enjoy secure browsing without the need to worry about who has access to their personal data.

Transport companies have an array of tools to make their business data compliant. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website includes a section on understanding GDPR with a dedicated advice line. The ICO also includes a handy document on GDPR guidance and a ‘lawful basis’ tool that aims to give businesses tailored guidance on the legal basis’ for the different data processing protocols.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

What it means for your business

Of course, companies that previously relied on revenue gained from third-party marketing companies to offset the cost of providing WiFi will now no longer be able to do so. Whilst some wifi providers have a case for processing some user data, public transport networks rarely fall under this category.

On first glance, the options for transport networks looking to provide WiFi are extremely limited:

  • Provide WiFi on a pay-to-use basis
  • Continue to provide WiFi without the benefit of revenue from third-party marketing companies
  • Stop providing WiFi altogether

While none of these options is ideal, they aren’t the only choices available. The introduction of GDPR has seen an uptick in the use of Federated Identity Management (FIM) technology among public Wi-Fi providers. FIM relies on an independent common federated authority to manage the identity of a user. With no need to store any customer data, FIM offers a solution to WiFi providers looking for cost-effective GDPR compliance.

Using mobile ticketing service on public transport

Besides this, transport networks can still gain valuable insights from anonymised metrics. Providing passengers consent to non-personal data-gathering through your WiFi, you can use that data to better understand elements like:

  • The average number of users at key times
  • The average browsing time
  • Onboard data usage
  • Mobile ticketing uptake

The insights gained through these diverse datasets can go on to improve passenger experiences and ultimately develop a more streamlined, passenger-focused service; and that’s something everyone can agree to.

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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

GPS

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.

CCTV/Dashcams

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

mTicketing

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.

IoT

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.

Using your mobile smartphone device on public transport

Integrating mobile ticketing on your transport service

By | Passenger Wifi, Public Transport, Sygnal Bites, Technology | No Comments

Mobile tickets, otherwise known as mTickets, are fast becoming a popular onboard technology for transport networks. But what are the benefits of switching to mobile ticketing, and can they be integrated into your network without disrupting services?

What does it mean for payments?

Payment systems can be set up easily through online payment platforms like Stripe, Braintree or Paypal. The cost of payments to transport companies is minimal, and can actually reduce overall costs. Additionally,  companies can centralise their revenues and better track how variant factors like national holidays, sporting events and even weather conditions can affect takings.

Providing all revenues go through a secure platform, online payments can reduce the risk of passengers underpaying or providing outdated and obsolete currency.

Onboard WiFi for mobile ticketing

Of course, passengers won’t use WiFi to load their ticket before they board, largely because WiFi becomes available when they board and waiting for everyone to load their tickets would add too much time to the boarding process.

However, the mobile ticketing machine can connect to the Sygnal server, which in turn communicates with a database back at the bus HQ to ensure all passenger information is up-to-date.

That’s why more transport companies today opt for an app, in which new tickets can be activated and cached beforehand. In this way, passengers can download their latest ticket before leaving the house, ready to show to the driver or scan through an m-ticketing machine.

For passengers, downloading tickets in advance enables them to check times and avoid using data. The same app can be used onboard (using Sygnal onboard WiFi, of course) for anything from real-time journey information to the latest ticket deals.

Using mobile ticketing service on public transport

Using mobile ticketing to reduce costs and drive revenues

Of course, adding m-Ticketing can be a daunting prospect to bus and coach companies, but it doesn’t have to be a disruptive addition. Many transport companies have opted to retain the ‘ticket on sight’ system, whereby passengers simply show the driver their ticket. Providing tickets are purchased through an app system, this won’t prevent companies from gathering data on the type of tickets purchased, at what time and by whom.

When a company does integrate mTicketing into their business, the rewards can be significant. Companies use less paper without the need to print tickets onboard. Less fuel is wasted as people don’t have to look for cash, which also benefits the environment.

With the addition of a mobile app, transport networks can more easily keep track of who’s using their services and offer personalised deals. For instance, if a bus company sees that someone commutes every morning and night, they can target that customer directly through the app with a special weekly ticket offer.

Streamlining your coach service

Not only can mTicketing reduce overheads, it can also streamline other aspects of the service. Because mobile ticketing reduces waiting times, services become more punctual, encouraging more people to use the transport. Passengers can be updated on new developments, including delays to services, changes to routes and new offers.

As national transport networks shift to multimodal travel services, mobile ticketing will be an essential element of this cross-transport technology. Integrations with other forms of transport such as ride-sharing and metro services become simpler when all the required access tools are centralised. For a passenger arriving by train in a new city, a transport service that functions on the same platform as their train ticket will be infinitely more attractive than one that does not.

Passengers on public transport

Issues

Of course, with the introduction of any new technology, there will be challenges. It’s true that not everyone has a mobile, or access to the technology to regularly download tickets.

Some critics have suggested the introduction of mTicketing shuts out poorer people in society. However, mobile usage is roughly the same across all social groups, and the proliferation of WiFi in public spaces has made the connection required to download tickets more accessible than ever.

For those without a smartphone or whose smartphone breaks or runs out of battery, presenting a ticket can become more challenging. That’s why many companies retain some kind of paper or ‘flash pass’ ticketing system.

So while there may be some initial kinks to be ironed out introducing mobile ticketing, the long-term rewards make it worthwhile.

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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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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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