An excellent new blog about public transport issues in Auckland has been started up by Suresh Patel. One of the most fascinating elements of the new blog is that it allows us a bit of an insight into some of the inner workings of Auckland’s public transport system, because Suresh is undertaking a Teacher Fellowship scheme, looking into the effectiveness of new technologies used by Auckland’s public transport systems. Suresh has some fascinating insights into how our current public transport systems utilise various forms of technology, in particular how buses are tracked around Auckland.

In a recent post, we are provided with a really interesting look at the RAPID system, which is used to provide bus drivers with an idea about where their bus is compared to where it’s scheduled to be. Not only are bus drivers aware of this, but the offices of the various bus companies are also able to, at a glance, see whether their buses on the road are running ahead, on or behind schedule. This is encapsulated in the images below, at a zoomed out and more zoomed in level: Suresh explains the pictures above:

The colours denote how the vehicle time is running according to schedule. Yellow means the bus is on time, green indicates the bus is ahead of time and a red triangle signifies a vehicle running behind schedule by more than a predetermined number of minutes.

You’ll notice there are a lot more red and green shapes. That’s because the window for a bus to be considered ‘on time’ is very small. Riding around on buses it is very easy to see why it’s difficult for drivers to stick to the schedule. All routes have a built in buffer to allow for slight delays. Therefore if all is going well and there are no hold ups or few passengers a driver can easily get ahead of time.

However, during peak times (when this screen shot was taken), it is common to see a number of buses held up.

Interestingly, as will be fairly obvious by looking at the geographic location of the triangles, this is for a bus company not yet using the HOP system, yet we’re still able to get all this information. Clicking on an individual bus also provides even more detail:

 Suresh explains this screen in a bit more detail too:

For privacy reasons I’ve blocked out the Passenger count and Route number. The Passenger count tells how many people have boarded the bus for this trip. This information could be useful to decide whether a service requires additional buses or may need to be modified in some way.

At the bottom of the screen you can see the ‘Late time’. In this case the bus is running 8 minutes and 6 seconds behind schedule. The time is highlighted red because the delay is outside the acceptable limit.

Overall I must say I’m pretty pleasantly surprised by the level of sophistication that we see behind the scenes in the tracking of our buses. This is certainly a vast contrast to the “self reported” reliability statistics for bus operation that we see showing up in all of Auckland Transport’s monthly reports.

One wonders whether we might be able to see, report in the future, some indication of the percentage of bus services that arrive at their destination within 5 minutes of what was scheduled. It would also be good to have contract payments (after all the vast majority of bus services are publicly subsidised) linked to on-time performance statistics too. We might then see the bus companies pushing really strongly for better bus priority measures I would imagine!

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  1. Therefore if all is going well and there are no hold ups or few passengers a driver can easily get ahead of time.

    Driving a bus is hard, and most do it well. Most also do a good job of avoiding being late. However, there are still too many who drive like maniacs and then are well ahead of their times. Better that they slow a little. What this will do is allow the companies to identify routes and drivers that are consistently problematic, and then work to resolve those issues.

    As you say, this is likely to be a good thing – giving the information that is needed to fix routes. It’s also likely to play into the success of the new Link services.

  2. my regular bus is normally 5-10 mins late in the mornings, mostly when driven by a particular driver. then, when we get a different driver, sometimes they are even on time (or in the case today which is VERY unusual, even a few mins early). That means that the regular passengers fall into the trap of coming a few mins late since usually the bus won’t turn up for a while, and they get caught out (like today) when it actually comes on time!

    1. We have something similar with a driver on a 243 Express we regularly use. Friendly driver but he has this knack of making his GPS not work.

      Usually he shows up on time with the GPS saying he’s still 3 minutes away.

      Sometimes we get a different driver, and when that happens, the bus still shows up on time … but the GPS is correct.

  3. So when will this information be available for use on smartphones/tablets as an app? To know how far away your bus is in real time would be very useful, and that way anyone with an appropriate device will have real time information at any stop rather than just those that they install signs for.

    1. Hi Penfold, some useful links… – GPS times displayed for a given bus stop. – just like the above, but in plain text. – a more advanced board that auto-refreshes, more suitable for smartphones.

      If you have an iPhone, “Auckland Bus Arrival Board” is an app that shows the same info. Also has a map-based bus stop finder if you don’t know the stop number.

      There’s apps like that for Android too, but I don’t know its name off-hand sorry.

  4. I was shown a very similar system to this in the small city of Nancy in north east France…in 1992. Even back then, the controller could see where all the buses were, and drivers were given instructions to speed up or slow down, depending where they were in relation to the timetable. But interestingly, the traffic signals were also part of the system, and were used to help a bus speed up or slow down. They would change as the bus approached.
    Here we are in Auckland, almost 20 years later, with a system not much more advanced.

    1. Coming from Europe I understood Kiwis like to do everything their way, like reinventing the wheel and then renaming it Kiwi wheel.
      Sometimes it works out better, sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
      I wonder when Nancy got integrated ticketing…

      1. What makes you guys think this isn’t the exact same software and that Nancy aren’t still running the same thing. At the end of the day it appears to do what it’s supposed to, show the buses on a map and whether they’re late.

        Also, the apalling lack of PT in NZ has a slightly more complicated history than NZ wanted to do it differently, in fact I’d say it was exactly the opposite of this, doing exactly what the US was doing at the time, building motorways, starving PT and generally doing everything to please the almighty car.

  5. Would be great to see the timetable delivery results each month like the trains i.e 95% of trips running within 5 mins of schedule. If this tool is available shouldn’t it be publicly available like the train statistics poster they pop up each month in the trains?

    1. And now it’s been completely taken down (or is by invite only). A real shame, it was some fascincating information.

      What possible rationale would they have for shutting down that blog? I never saw anything that could have been commercially sensitive in it?

      1. Apparently the images (which are still in this post amusingly) are commercially sensitive and he was asked to take down the blog or not continue to be able to participate in his transport project.

        I have a blog post on the matter (and how it’s symptomatic of many of our problems in transport circles) in the works.

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