Mass transit systems entail the movement of very large numbers of autonomous beings (passengers) within high structured systems and processes. The challenge for transport service providers is to marry passengers demand, and modal choices,with available transport system capacity.

Information services such as notifications, SMS alerts, emails or web services create the opportunity to inform passengers to enable them to make smarter choices as to how and when they travel, enabling transport service providers to more efficiently match demand with capacity, and hence provide a better transport experience and a mass better transport solution, within a given level of physical infrastructure capacity.

This kind of passenger behaviour influence more closely links the formerly autonomous passengers with the conditions of the transport system. It makes a more predictable, efficient system.

Information in action

In Melbourne, Australia, the city's tram system provides travellers with real-time updates on the location and timing of trams as they travel through the network. Travellers can use a location aware application on their smartphone to select the optimal route, stay informed about the location of trams and to find their nearest station.

Service users benefit by being better informed about their journey, while the operator can monitor usage of the smartphone application to identify changes in demand.

The user-facing elements of the system are only part of the overall solution though. The operators of the tram system track every one of the 91,000 different pieces of equipment that make up the tram network – from tram cars to power lines to tracks - using intelligent sensors and information from employee and passenger reports about service and equipment.

The power of data

For example, an automated wheel-measuring machine built into the track at the tram depot detects the condition of a tram's wheel when it rolls over it. All this rich data is analysed to create a coherent, massively detailed and powerful view of the city's tram system in real time.

Creating valuable information services for mobile devices also gives transport service providers a new set of channels to communicate with customers even when they are not travelling.

E-ticketing or timetable apps become marketing channels for first party or third party services when users are not travelling.

  • Gary Barnett is chief analyst of Ovum's software team. This whitepaper was produced in partnership with Samsung - follow these links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.