An app linked to 300 vehicles is set go live, says Russell Imrie
on 29 April, one of the biggest transportation innovations to take place in south-east Scotland in recent years goes live. The Bustracker/SEStran Real Time Passenger Information System (RTPI) is set to transform the travelling experience of bus passengers in the region.
BustrackerSEStran builds upon the success of the similar system in Edinburgh, with which it is fully compatible. It uses advanced computer technology to provide updated information on the buses passengers are waiting for; feeding information directly from the buses to the control system as they progress along their routes. This means that passengers are kept fully informed and always know exactly when the bus will arrive. The system, which is accessible via a dedicated website and a smartphone app, works throughout the region. For the first time, passengers living outside Edinburgh will have access to up-to-the-minute information on local services.
Initially, the system has been installed on 300 vehicles operating on selected First and Stagecoach services throughout East Lothian, Scottish Borders, Fife and West Lothian, and services between Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders. Additional services will be added to the system as appropriate. In the longer term, as funds become available, it will grow to include the most of the services throughout the south-east of Scotland and integrate with existing and future services in other parts of the country and south of the Border.
This is nothing less than a step change in the quality of service available to bus passengers in south-east Scotland – a practical innovation that meets a real need.
Imagine living in a rural area and waiting for the local bus. The service is perhaps only half-hourly – possibly less. You might have quite a wait on your hands. It’s cold and looks like rain.
Now imagine the same scenario with RTPI. It gives precise information on bus arrivals and regular updates, including any changes, delays or other alterations to the service. You know you have time to pop into the newsagent’s and buy a newspaper; or treat yourself to a cup of coffee. You can ring ahead and let people know you are on your way, or give the person you are meeting the bus’s exact arrival time. You are in control of your journey.
Working in co-operation with our local authority partners and bus companies First and Stagecoach, SEStran have committed almost £5 million to extend RTPI throughout the region. The Scottish Government has supplied substantial backing, including almost £1 million from the Bus Investment Fund. There has also been a 40 per cent contribution from the EU European Regional Development Fund, together with contributions from our local authority partners – not least West Lothian Council, which has invested £420,000 into the project.
Our sister organisation SWEStrans, the regional transport partnership for Dumfries & Galloway, has also contributed £100,000 to the project, to develop linking services.
SEStran exists to develop a sustainable transportation system for the region, based upon making public transport the mode of choice for most journeys. For that to be a realistic proposition, public transport must be of a quality that encourages passengers to use it as the convenient and hassle-free option. I believe that the extension of RTPI throughout the region is a substantial step in making it the natural choice.
This is no stand-alone project. BustrackerSEStran has evolved to build upon the success of the existing system in Edinburgh. It is flexible and can be extended and developed to mesh with future systems as they come online across the country, with the potential to eventually become part of a national system.
SEStran is a partnership area of eight local authorities, covering south-east Scotland, which has a population in excess of 1,500,000. It is also the only region of Scotland where the population is growing fast.
Many newcomers will choose to settle in communities across the region and commute to work. This presents major problems in terms of potential traffic congestion and pollution, both of which could have serious consequences for the economy. Offering people an alternative to driving that will get them from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible is, therefore, a key priority.
We believe that extending real-time passenger information about bus services throughout south-east Scotland is a major step towards achieving our goal of creating a sustainable transportation system for the region.
It builds upon existing technology to prove an improved quality of service to passengers, has the potential to be extended and developed to other regions as required, and offers immediate benefits for travellers.
It is not a total transport solution – no such thing exists – but it is a cost-effective, practical measure that will make a major contribution towards helping keep south-east Scotland running in the 21st century.
• Cllr Russell Imrie is chair of SEStran (South East of Scotland Transport Partnership) www.sestran.gov.uk