Bus technology ‘world first’ in Oldbury

ImageElectronic ‘book-style’ technology showing bus timetable, ticket price and real time service information has gone on trial in the West Midlands in what is thought to be a world first. Transport authority, Centro, is trialling an information suite featuring eight e-paper screens, similar to those found in gadgets such as the Kindle, at a bus stop in Halesowen Street, Oldbury. If successful, the screens could eventually replace traditional paper timetables and electronic displays. It allows scheduling updates to be sent directly from a control centre to the device without the need to send someone to the stop to replace paper timetables. Passengers with NFC (Near Field Communications) enabled smartphones can ‘tap’ their phone on each of the displays for more detailed information on the services and the wider public transport network. It also provides ‘next bus’ information in the same unit. The £50,000 prototype is being claimed by Birmingham consultants IBI Group as a world first.

E-paper is designed to limit glare from sunlight and can be read from wider angles to make it easier for passengers to read even in bright conditions. The displays only require power when being updated and once refreshed, can retain information without needing any additional electricity. In the future, the technology could be used to provide key public messages, including updates on service disruptions and information on nearby tram and train services. The device’s low energy consumption means solar powered versions could be used at remote locations.

Intelligent Transport Systems consultant with IBI Group, Gareth Tyler, said, ‘This is the first implementation of e-paper technology of this kind in the public transport arena. It opens the door to enhanced information being readily available to public transport users at bus stops and public places as well as offering significant cost savings and operational benefits to transport authorities such as Centro.’

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£81m bus improvements for West Midlands

ImageWest Midlands transport authority (Centro) and National Express West Midlands have announced an £81m investment in improvements to buses, including new vehicles, smartcards and better information at bus stops. A new bus station in Merry Hill and improved infrastructure for Coventry and Wolverhampton city centres are other highlights of the Partnership Plus agreement. The deal sees £65m invested by National Express and £16m by Centro. They pledge to deliver 300 new buses, including 15 hybrids; ten new ‘gold’ bus corridors; more real time information at stops, extra on-bus cleaners, 350 new bus shelters and refurbishments to Dudley bus station. It will also see the introduction of the Swift smartcard on to the National Express West Midlands network, allowing all ticket deals to be loaded on to the card. Each ITA member is to adopt a key local route to ensure that investment delivers the improvements passengers want. The two year agreement is expected to build on the improvements delivered by previous partnerships.

According to the operator, the previous Transforming Bus Travel 2 partnership achieved 100% of its objectives, including the introduction of a smartphone app, delivering the region’s first green hybrid buses and increasing the number of ticket inspectors on the network. National Express Chief Executive, Dean Finch and Centro Chairman, Cllr John McNicholas, signed the agreement at the new Wolverhampton Bus Station.

Chief Eecutive of Passenger Focus, Anthony Smith, said, ‘Passengers in the West Midlands will welcome this further investment in buses and, crucially, work to allow buses to move around faster. Our Bus Passenger Survey (BPS) showed that the bus journey time was a key factor in passenger satisfaction in the West Midlands, so passengers will be pleased to see that this is to be tackled. This demonstrates what we always say – that passengers need to be at the heart of all decision making and spending plans. Centro has worked closely with us to boost the coverage of BPS in their area and these investments should improve satisfaction as they are closely tied to passenger priorities. For example, passengers tell us that they want accurate, up to date information about their bus – so the announcement of more real-time displays at stops is a positive step. Only half of passengers are satisfied with value for money, meaning that new vehicles and easier ways to pay for the daily journey will be good news.’

Pic: (LtoR) Cllr John McNicholas; Centro Chief Executive, Geoff Inskip; Dean Finch and National Express West Midlands MD, Peter Coates.

Babs is ‘Rising Star’

ImageWest Midlands transport authority’s (Centro) Black Country Area Manager, Babs Coombes, has won the Rising Star Award at the 2013 Shine Awards. Babs joined Centro as a Media Officer in 2003 before being selected for its two year talent programme. She is currently overseeing the £10m Better Bus Area Fund, which is being used in the Brierley Hill area to provide improved bus routes and facilities. The awards ceremony took place at the London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square, London and was presented by England rugby star, Matt Dawson. They were organised by Women 1st, an organisation that aims to promote and support women in managerial roles in the passenger transport, hospitality, travel and tourism sector. The event also saw Arriva’s Director of Human Resources, Alison O’Connor, inducted into the Top 100 Club, a network of the most influential women in the sector.

Babs said, ‘I am so pleased and proud to have won this award. It is amazing to have been recognised in this way by women in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry across the UK for doing a job which I love. I am really passionate about making public transport better for people living in the West Midlands, and enjoy working and meeting with so many different people across the area. No two days are ever the same and I feel very lucky just to have the opportunity to do my job so winning the Women 1st Shine Rising Star award really is the icing on the cake.’