Traveller Information Systems. By Kevin S. Hutchby
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GOTIC

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Gothenburg's city centre dominated by the popular tram system Gothenburg Traffic Information Centre, or Gotic as it is more commonly known exists to improve the public transport systems of Gothenburg by implementing information technology solutions, but only after careful and in depth research. Operated by the Gothenburg Public Transport Office, Gotic works in close collaboration with the local Chalmers University of Technology as well as public transport operators, to provide the citizens of Gothenburg, and its huge number of annual visitors, with public transport systems and associated information systems.

Their aims are to make the public transport system as attractive as possible to entice travellers to make the switch from car use.

The City Centre itself is largely pedestrianised apart from the numerous tram and bus stops that provide travellers with easy access to all parts of the city. By providing travellers with timely and easy to use information systems, Gothenburg is aiming to improve both its environment and its road safety statistics. At certain times of the year the city is prone to a meteorological condition known as inversion when a layer of the atmosphere is formed where the temperature increases with altitude. These conditions can occur when calmer conditions combine with dry air. One of the results of this condition, for the city of Gothenburg, is exhaust fumes and other air pollutants having a tendency to hang over the city causing very poor air quality - one major incentive to reduce car use.

Gothenburg's commuter tram network. Click for a larger version (Approx. 500kb) Gothenburg's commuter bus network. Click for a larger version (Approx. 500kb)

Part of the Gotic project process is the production of numerous research and development documents and regular news bulletins. So far, about 15 research and development documents have been produced covering such subjects as recommendations for outdoor real time displays, portable passenger information and information received via the Internet. Newsletters are also regularly published at a rate of about 3 or 4 a year. These are all available from Gotic and chart the progress of various projects and highlight improvements already made to systems in use such as the variable message signs for bus and tram arrivals. News letters are also published on the Gotic Internet site that can be accessed at www.trafikkontoret.goteborg.se/gotic/eng/

The outdoor colour monitors provide useful information The outdoor colour monitors provide useful information

Anders Kåbjörn kindly arranged a visit to the Gotic offices at Slussplatsen 1, S-411 06, in the centre of the city. The visit would be partly discussion and debate, to find out more about the development projects that Gotic are/have been involved in, and partly sampling the real time transit information systems for myself by touring Gothenburg extensively.

Firstly we discussed the real time bus and tram arrival system and the belief that information provision is of paramount importance if any city is to achieve a significant amount of modal change, assuming that a decent level of public transport provision already exists. By far the majority of Gothenburg's public transport is provided by Västtrafik

This becomes slightly easier to achieve if there is a lower level of different public transport providers, a fact that also makes using public transport less confusing for its patrons. For the record, Gothenburg has just one key provider of transport across the city. Västtrafik operate the cities trams, buses and a series of boat services both along the River älv as well as servicing an archipelago off the coast.

Red LED style shelter sign - mounted signs exist at every stop on the network At present, real time vehicle arrival information is available at each and every stop across the network. These indicate, in detail, exactly how many minutes will elapse before the next vehicle arrival, and the destination of the vehicle. Up to four different expected arrival times for vehicles can be displayed at any one time on the red LED type displays and they also have the ability to scroll information whenever necessary. These displays are augmented with full colour computer monitors at a few key interchanges. These have the advantage of showing more information at any time, but the GOTIC research and development has highlighted the current LED signs as being ideal for their application.

The monitors are, however, bulky and difficult to install in bus and tram shelters. They also are prone to glare from reflected light, wherever they are situated. The destination information on display highlights which locations can be reached from a particular stop. This is particularly crucial at areas such as Centralstationen, Brunnsparken and Frölunda Torg, three of the largest interchanges in Gothenburg. Pertinent information is displayed on a combination of the computer monitors and striking, clear, and easy to read signs which reflect the colour coded design of the tram and bus routes.

In Nottinghamshire we had already had experience of the perception of improved public transport provision that came with the installation of accurate vehicle arrival prediction systems. In Gothenburg they have spread these facilities all across the city to enable all public transport users to know exactly when their vehicle will be arriving. Research into the system has gone as far as ensuring even the best typefaces are used for the electronic displays along with the ideal amount of information to show i.e. limiting the number of lines and characters. This fact really typifies what Gotic research is all about, not just providing solutions to problems but evaluating the best solutions to gain the best results i.e. the highest level of modal change possible.

Rush hour traffic often renders paper timetables redundant, but advanced vehicle detection and location systems, coupled with congestion monitoring and modern communications now allows passengers to receive the information they actually require. Developments in communications can further improve on this by providing the information to homes via the Internet and telephone systems, and en route via phone messages and wireless Internet. Such comprehensive information systems have already lead to an increase in public transport usage in Gothenburg. Yet more enhancements are already planned to continue this trend, including extensions to the network itself.

Improvements in the styling of the signs are clear to see at the Gotic research centre The signs currently installed around Gothenburg are of the second generation. As shown here significant improvements were made in the revised model. These improvements aren't just down to new technology, as already mentioned, but to a continuing programme of reviewing the hardware and applying the research. The old version takes up to three lines of mono-spaced text to display one arrival whereas the new design, in the middle of the picture shows two lines per event and is actually capable of showing just one event per line. Also on show here is a demonstration of an in vehicle sign showing destination & current location.

Incidents and important public transport information will also be displayed. In evidence on the lower sign is the loudspeaker to provide an audio signal to draw passengers attention to new information.

The Traffic and Public Transport Authority's KomFram communication system is at the heart of all of this information distribution. It requires data inputs indicating the location of every tram and bus which it receives using a combination of inductive vehicle detection loops and a Mobitex radio system. Messages are transmitted both to and from vehicles that are equipped with computer systems themselves to monitor the position of the vehicle against both route and timetable. KomFram takes data and generates the real time forecast information which it then outputs to a variety of destinations including the LED displays, Internet, telephones and pagers. Every time the bus or tram passes a vehicle sensor its expected arrival time is recalculated. In addition to this the system also has the capability to take into consideration current traffic conditions.

An in-vehicle display On board the trams you also find automatic audio information, for current and next stops, complementing the on board displays. These features are already permeating the bus services as well.

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