Public transport company NASA equips buses with intelligence

There are homes in Central Germany which are sometimes akin to timetable information points. Their residents have a monitor in the kitchen or hallway on which they can read all about their energy consumption. To offer them an additional benefit, in agreement with landlords and home owners, the Public Transport Service for Saxony-Anhalt (Nahverkehrsservice Sachsen-Anhalt GmbH (NASA) is also sending data to these monitors detailing the scheduled times of the next buses and trains. This service constitutes a by-product of the large-scale NASA project for real time information on public transport services (ÖPNV), explains Fritz Rössig, Departmental Manager Infrastructure and Support Programmes of NASA, which is based in Magdeburg, and which is a subsidiary organisation that is owned 100 per cent by the State of Saxony-Anhalt.

"Users of the railway, buses and other means of transport not only want attractive travel offers at attractive prises, they also want to be informed - before and during their journeys," says Rössig, highlighting the goal of the NASA project, which is worth several million Euros to the state. Data from the widest range of sources is also being gathered in the scope of the Regio-Info project, which is also being supported by the federal government. The passenger information system (INSA) is fed with state-wide passenger information as well as information from the Central Germany Transport Association, which also covers Saxony and Thuringia. The system incorporates the current timetables of over 50 transport companies, all the rail services in Germany and Germany-wide public transport services. INSA issues approximately 10,000 pieces of information per day. The information that is transferred from these sources, covering both the planned departure and arrival times as well as real time data, is stored on a 'data hub' which is how Rössig describes the central INSA server. From there, the information that is processed is sent via the internet or mobile phone to a wide range of different information media and it then reaches the traveller. These include the website as well as the web pages of the transport companies and associations, mobile phone apps (Android, iPhone), screen monitors, dynamic passenger information displays at bus stops and rail stations, as well as telephone information provided via the INSA call centre in Leipzig. The information which is sent to the data hubs does not come from the passenger information system (RIS) operated by the Deutsche Bahn, but from the computer supported control systems (RBL) of the different railway operators and bigger urban transport companies such as the LVB, HAVAG and MVB.

NASA GmbH also helps out regional transport operators that do not have control systems of this kind. "We equip buses from transport companies without RBL with intelligent systems" explains Rössig, who is also a qualified engineer. The devices also known as ticket printers which bus drivers have on board can do much more than just print out tickets. They are also configured as on-board computers. The corresponding location of the buses is recorded via the Global Positioning System GPS, and transmitted to the INSA system on a regular basis. The data is then compared with the timetable data and also the nominal data, and the real time data is determined. "This means all the movements of the buses and trains are gathered in the data hub, processed and sent to the travellers via the different media" explains the Departmental Manager Infrastructure of NASA. Describing another special advantage, the data specialist highlights that a high proportion of the transport companies are to be fitted with the same on board computers. This means large numbers of units can be ordered through NASA and rented out to companies. The uniform configuration and a framework contract with a mobile phone network operator facilitate  procurement. This not only means that the passengers can enjoy advantages, the companies can as well. "By 2015 all of the roughly 1,500 buses in the region will be equipped with this intelligent technology" says Rössig, looking to the future.

A further project that was developed from a research project and which is aimed at stops that are used less often also serves the purpose of making journeys easier for passengers. Since the middle of this year, specially developed, low cost dynamic passenger information systems, or 'Regio DFI' have been fitted at 150 bus stops in Saxony-Anhalt. These modern devices, that are powered with solar power, display the actual journey times of the different buses. Passengers can also make direct contact with the INSA call centre via a special voice radio button at each stop to get more information about local bus and rail services. These devices are also leased to the transport companies by NASA.

To further promote the sophisticated use of the data that is currently available, NASA has joined forces with Deutsche Telekom AG (link to press release). As part of a pilot project, at 26 different locations in Saxony-Anhalt, the telecoms company has set up grey-magenta coloured public phones adjacent to the stops. Passenger information can also be uploaded on their displays. "Since the phone booths were going to be built anyway, an additional benefit has been provided to the passengers" says Rössig, praising the community project. "The different NASA projects should make it possible to offer passenger information and real time text information in all locations where people are confronted with computerised monitors." This applies to shopping centres, public squares, train or tram carriages and even the home. It should eventually be possible to provide all public transport timetables on public display screens more and more often and at higher levels of quality. "The aim is to have a single screen system covering everything." Rössig is convinced that it will make travel connections and changing bus or train easier. "With the real time information in public transport project, we are one of the leading federal states in Germany in this area," explains Rössig. Yet he feels he is far from reaching his goal, which is to see the regional use going national and extending throughout Germany. The intermodal travel chain is gaining increasing amounts of attention. It should also include cars, cycling and the German S-Bahn rail system. Rössig explains that once the data is available, the options are manifold.

This is a view shared by US firm Google. The search engine operator is apparently interested in playing a role in the area of public transport timetable data.

Nahverkehrsservice Sachsen-Anhalt GmbH
Fritz Rössig
Am Alten Theater 6
30104 Magdeburg
ph: +49 391 5363125