Passenger experience can be more ‘fluid’ with real-time travel data

Alstom is developing data collection and sharing systems to facilitate seamless door-to-door journey on public transport

Public transport, Passenger experience, Alstom, Travel, Data


Using public transport can sometimes be frustrating due to time lost in changing between transit modes on a journey, from metro, to bus, to tram, and so on. Passengers want frictionless, easy-to-use transport systems that take them where they want to go, efficiently and reliably. Public transport must work well with peoples’ daily lives, wasting no time and causing no frustration. There are many factors involved, from physical comfort to information systems and multi-modal connectivity.

Transport companies are increasingly asking themselves the question of what constitutes a positive passenger experience on public transport and how they can improve passenger convenience to ensure a seamless door-to-door journey.

According to Anne Bigand, passenger experience director, Alstom, all these factors are best summed up by the word ‘fluidity,’ which is the smoothness with which passengers move through the different parts of their journey.

“We constantly analyse how passengers interact with public transit, their experiences and expectations, and identifying the pain-points during the travel experience. This is how we develop targeted solutions. We also monitor best practices and the latest innovations, both within our own industry and in other fields, particularly other forms of mobility, to see what ideas we can usefully apply and adapt it. By viewing both current issues and emerging trends, we are able to improve services now, and also look ahead to anticipate the future needs of passengers,” says Bigand.

Anne Bigand, passenger experience director, Alstom

Alstom is developing new systems to improve modern transit systems and help passengers plan their journeys, starting with passenger information systems.

According to the Bigand, there are two big transformations happening in passenger information systems for public transit: one in terms of the passengers’ ability to collect information, and the other in terms of their ability to share information. For operators, Alstom supplies systems that collect different types of data in real-time, such as train movements, passenger flows through stations and onto platforms, and passenger volumes in particular trains or carriages.

“When we share this with passengers, we empower them in their journey. We help them understand which mix of routes or transit modes, metro, bus and tram, will get them to their destination fastest. We can alert them to delays and suggest alternative routes, if any are possible, and we can tell them which carriages will be least crowded or whether they might be more comfortable letting the next train pass and waiting for the less busy one just behind,” says Bigand.

The most important element in all these developments, according to Bigand, is providing access to accurate, real-time information. Passengers must know exactly what is happening along their journey at any time so that they can plan, or receive informed suggestions. If they don’t have the information, it takes away their power to make their own decisions.

“We give them the information they need to anticipate their journey by collecting information for traffic data and then sharing it in real time. This reinforces the importance of our work developing better passenger information systems, but the other element is enhanced connectivity. With the right data collection, transport operators can develop some very clever mobile apps that can offer passengers personalised real-time information, where you choose the information you want, then make choices based on it. Even when the information shows there is no better alternative, simply having that knowledge makes the situation less frustrating,” says Bigand.

Alstom aims to facilitate the transmission of large volume of real-time information through better mobile connectivity and incorporating technologies that can offer faster, and more reliable, higher-bandwidth WiFi connections on the train and the stations. One of the ways to achieve this is to have a laser-etched structure in the metal coating of windows to allowing mobile signals to pass through without affecting thermal insulation.

However, as real-time information increases and becomes more complex, it becomes difficult to share it usefully with passengers in a crowded carriage. To address such challenges, Alstom is finding new ways to display information, with more screens on trains and on platforms, on partitions within the train, incorporating screens into windows, turning windows into screens, and projector systems to display information on glazed surfaces, on the ceiling or the floor.

An application developed by Alstom that is generating interest from operators is a super-wide screen to be placed above doors, because it can offer additional information to passengers leaving the carriage. For example, it can tell passengers which direction to walk along the platform to either exit the station, and which direction to change to another line.

“It’s a small detail, but one that allows passengers to anticipate their next moves, significantly improving passenger movements within the station and fluidity overall. Other concepts are surprisingly simple. A system we are offering to show passengers waiting on the platform which carriage is least crowded is simply a series of coloured lights, illuminated based on information collected by sensors on-board. Less crowded carriages get a green light, busier ones get a red light. The technology behind the system is complex, but the display itself is simple and intuitive for indicating the level on comfort on board,” says Bigand.

Many of Alstom’s innovation plans revolve around collecting and sharing information. Some of these include video tracking technology to help operators monitor and analyse people’s movements, so they can better anticipate their needs and improve their security by detecting unsuitable behaviour. With regard to display technologies, the company is investing in technology that would see windows effectively replaced with transparent screens able to display interesting information about landmarks along the route through a kind of real-time augmented reality.

“One simple but clever technology will help put an end to scratchy, hard-to-understand loudspeaker announcements. It’s a resonator system that turns an entire interior surface, for instance the wall or ceiling into a loudspeaker. Instead of having the sound come from one place, the sound will seem to come from everywhere, with perfect clarity. It’s immersive for the passenger. Another way to inform passengers is the use of lighting that guides flows and animates interiors. While applying the latest technologies, we are also researching better use of light and understanding the way that light can change people’s moods or perception of the environment. One solution we have developed is based on the natural changes in the body’s rhythms during the day; for instance, brighter light in the morning and more soothing light in the morning. We can also change the brightness or colour of the light as the train arrives at a station, or alter the brightness in different parts of the carriage to encourage movement, such as subconsciously encouraging passengers to move into the carriage rather than stand close to the doors,” says Bigand.

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