Smartphone app aims to end Scottish travel trouble

IT WILL be a commuter’s guardian angel: technology that assists travellers with every stage of their journey from buying tickets to handling disruption is being developed in Scotland.

The app is envisaged as an aid for commuters to help them avoid bottlenecks and disruption. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The app is envisaged as an aid for commuters to help them avoid bottlenecks and disruption. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The app is envisaged as an aid for commuters to help them avoid bottlenecks and disruption. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The personalised electronic service could alert a passenger if their train is delayed en route to a meeting, suggest they get off at the next station and offer to order them a taxi to their destination.

The smartphone-based “mobility manager” is one potential initiative in a Scottish Enterprise scheme to make the country the world leader in such “smart mobility” technology to create seamless travel.

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It could lead to the creation of an “Amazon of travel” – offering a one-stop shop covering every aspect of a journey, whether by road, rail, air or water.

The device would take care of everything from paying for coffees, snacks and newspapers en route to offering discounted parking in return for loyalty points.

When a journey is disrupted, it would offer alternative options to complete the trip, such as suggesting the traveller switches to a taxi, bus or car/cycle club.

The equipment could even identify whether there were other people on the train or bus who could share a taxi.

Scottish Enterprise said transport was the number one issue in making a city more attractive than its rivals.

It said there was a huge market for new technology which makes travel smoother for both people and goods – worth an estimated £13 trillion globally by 2020.

A total of 57 bids have been received from companies for demonstration projects to prove technology such as a mobility manager works, which could then be sold across the world.

The winners will receive advice and training from Scottish Enterprise. They will be chosen by a panel headed by Dr George Hazel, a former Edinburgh City Council transport chief who pioneered innovative measures such as the Greenways bus lanes and a car-sharing club with transport convener David Begg in the 1990s.

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Hazel said: “We want to make Scotland the place to go for ‘smart mobility’. Life is getting ever more complex, and people want their mobility to meet their needs – not the other way round.”

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) said it had pioneered seamless travel with the Glasgow Subway Smartcard last October.

SPT wants the pay-as-you-go ticket, which can be topped up like a mobile phone, to be also used for buses, trains and ferries, and even potentially combined with Celtic and Rangers season tickets.

A spokeswoman said: “SPT is working with partners on a number of ways to introduce smart technology for both travel and play across our region.

“We’re already well on our way to bringing to life the vision for a ‘Smart Scotland’.

“Our Smartcard is already being used by over 22,000 Subway passengers and the technology behind that will allow us to better understand our customers’ needs and enable us to be more reactive to them in future.”

This is understood to include personalised travel offers based on a passenger’s journey patterns.

Rail watchdog body Passenger Focus said any new technology must be easy to use.

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Acting chief executive David Sidebottom said: “The prospect of smart travel in the future is certainly exciting.

“Passengers recently told us they believe smart tickets will make travelling easier and cheaper.

“However, the success of smart travel will depend on how well systems are designed and implemented.

“It will also be crucial to properly inform and educate passengers prior to the widespread launch of smart travel and ticketing systems.”

A spokeswoman for Scottish Enterprise said: “We and our partners have helped form a smart mobility cluster in Scotland of more than 130 companies that will co-create the most advanced, integrated mobility capability in the world.”

• SCOTTISH Enterprise has devised a day in the life of “Val” to illustrate how a “mobility manager” might work.

7am Val gets up for work, consulting her mobility manager (MM) via an app on her smartphone for any messages about transport delays.

8am She arrives at her local railway station, placing her phone on the ticket machine to register her presence on the system. She buys a drink and a snack, using the MM account on her phone, which earns her loyalty points.

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8:10am Val boards her train, with the system recording her presence, deducting her fare, and adding carbon credits to her account for using public transport.

8:30am Val’s MM alerts her to significant delays on the line ahead and suggests she get off at the next station. She asks it what options she has to get to the office on time for her first meeting, including the next bus, taking a taxi or using a car or cycle-sharing club.

She opts for a taxi, which the MM books, trading in some loyalty points to ensure priority for her request.

12:30pm Val uses offers sent earlier for a lunch deal with a friend.

2:30pm Val needs to get to another meeting, using a car club, which is booked through her MM. It confirms the bay in which the car is parked.

2:45pm En route, the MM informs her the public section of the car park she normally uses is full, but a space in the MM members’ section can be booked for an extra fee. She confirms this and is sent the space number.

2:50pm Val’s MM warns her of congestion ahead and suggests an alternative route.

3pm As she drives into the car park, Val’s MM records her arrival time, with the charge based on how long she stays.

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6pm After work, Val walks to the gym, using a discount for a spa session from an offer sent by her MM.

7pm Val takes the train home, looking forward to using her new bike for the first time at the weekend, which she bought using carbon credits on her MM account.