Implementation is imminent of a pilot project aimed at minimising waiting times for passengers making public transport interconnections. New satellite-based positioning technology will soon go live on 200 buses operated by the Greater Copenhagen Authority (HUR) in the Danish capital, using TETRA communications.

The pilot follows on from a now-complete feasibility study carried out by HUR with international management and infrastructure consultancy Hyder Consulting, through its recently established Public Transport ITS Centre of Excellence. Hyder had identified what it believes to be a problem in the thinking of many public transport and traffic professionals.

These, it believes, have tended to focus on the theory that, if there are a number of travel modes in a given area, and especially if these modes meet each other (as they commonly do) at stations and terminals, then the automatic result is multimodality. If, on top of that, there are high service frequencies and a common ticketing system, the general opinion among professionals seems to be that “we have delivered multimodality, and it is up to the passenger to prove that we have seamless travel”.

An incorrect assumption among transport planners is that merely having different modes of transport coincide will encourage mulitmodability. Hyder acknowledges that it is completely necessary to build up the service backbone.

But it is equally important to superimpose a passenger convenience-oriented interface for the benefit of those that are willing and able to take advantage of the opportunity to use public transport.

This interface acts as the glue that gives the passenger the necessary confidence that the complete journey will go as planned.

As things are, the need to make journeys involving changes between different routes or services can be a major deterrent for travellers who might otherwise be willing to leave their cars at home and use public transport. Lack of information on times and timekeeping of connecting links, and the period needed for interchange, simply highlights the convenience of continuing to use their cars. The result is to blunt the effectiveness of initiatives aimed at persuading drivers to change their mode of travel.

The situation in Copenhagen indicated the need for a demonstration project to test the feasibility of providing effective co-ordination between different modes as the means of providing genuinely seamless travel for public transport users. In the process, operators would also be able to organise their schedules so as to minimise waiting times at interchanges, so increasing the attractiveness of their services and gaining ridership.

Copenhagen was interested in the development of better service integration at interchanges as the result of recent organisational changes. The city’s commuter area is served partly by buses and partly by six local railways.

The latter were, until recently, owned by the Danish Government and run by small individual companies. Throughout the 1990s, they were starved of investment and adequate infrastructural maintenance.

In 2001 they became the responsibility of the HUR, which had only been formed the previous year with the coordination, development and management of public transport within the region as the first of its six areas of responsibility (ahead of regional planning and coordinated traffic planning). It was already in charge of bus operations.

HUR executive director Claes Nilas describes what he found: “When we took over the local railways, there was absolutely no integration between the trains and our buses. We needed to develop the railways to provide a superior level of service and – at the same time – to work on the area of service integration and the installation of real-time multimodal passenger information.

“Our railways operate in areas where service frequencies are low at certain times, especially for buses. A failed connection can lead to hours of waiting time, which can be a very bad experience for passengers, not least in terms of safety.”

In 2003, the Greater Copenhagen Authority implemented a new Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and passenger information system for its A-buses, introduced to provide a superior quality of service. Over 210 million passengers a year currently use the city’s bus network (including a harbour bus service) compared with only six million who use the railway system.

The feasibility study did not take into consideration the new Copenhagen metro but this could be covered by an extension of its scope. The solution developed is based around open architecture principles, to allow for the fact that, in a number of European cities, computers running distinct modes operate differently.

A key issue was the cost of the study and Hyder proposed joint financing the proof of concept with other interested parties, who would share their know-how to achieve greater value. As a result, Hertfordshire County Council in the UK agreed to come in as co-funder, in the interests of its Abbey Line project. This involves the intensification (with better bus interchange) of a 10.5 km electrified rail link between two London commuter towns, and is one of a number of such projects in the UK.

The study reflects the fact that GPS-based AVL and real-time passenger information systems are becoming increasingly common on both buses and trains. The technology is now third or fourth generation, compared to the complicated, maintenance-intensive, cumbersome and often not fully functioning systems that were around during the 1990s.

ITS International – 29 September 2005