Science and Technology

Digitalisation of Australian buses: What does that look like?

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Ever wondered what the digitalisation of our buses looks like? In Victoria alone, bus travel accounts for 20% (117m trips) of total public transport use, yet most talk about digitalisation in public transport falls in the lap of rail and the rail network.

Digitalisation applied to all modes of public transport will bring many opportunities for Australian public transport providers, operators, technology suppliers and passengers.

Today, digitalisation of buses is being done with the replacement of specific technologies, the refurbishment of whole systems within fleets (e.g. ticketing), and in the design of new buses.

New buses are being engineered with an open integrated architecture, so they can easily accommodate the fitment of emerging technology. Technology that is focused on safety and operational improvements and enhancing the overall passenger experience.

ITxPT: what is it, what does it offer?

Information Technology for Public Transport (ITxPT) was formed in 2013 by IT suppliers, vehicle manufacturers, Public Transport Operators (PTOs) and Public TYransport Authorities (PTAs), in order to develop an IT architecture based on agreed standards for digital communication on-board, over-the-air and to back-office/cloud services.

ITxPT enables the integration of systems from multiple suppliers, reduces the need for redundant on-board equipment, lowers investment and installation costs and simplifies the maintenance and upgrading of systems. The benefits are being seen all over Europe by IT suppliers, authorities, operators as well as asset suppliers.

Autonomous vehicles, electrification and charging infrastructures, multi-modal transportation, and mobility-as-a-service concepts are all areas where ITxPT is a key player – establishing an agreed platform for connectivity and enabling data exchange in traffic systems.

It is not a service, a system or piece of software you can purchase, it’s a set of rules on the architecture of existing and future systems, the hardware they live within and how they communicate and exchange data.

Real solutions

For the IT Systems industry, it means an opportunity to sell ‘real solutions’, not more boxes. It is a transition which ultimately opens more doors than it may seem to initially close.

The principle behind ITxPT is that one central on-board server combines and operates multiple onboard modules and systems manufactured by different suppliers. There is less space dedicated to hardware and cabling, enabling easier installation, access and maintenance. It has proven to deliver reduced costs both in terms of hardware, installation and ongoing maintenance.

Once implemented, a common language with agreements on data formats, defines which data should be available and which protocols should be used to convey the data.

The Europeans have embraced these principles and vehicle procurement is gradually starting to be governed by it. We have even seen glimpses of it in Australia.

Building innovation

As the latest round of bus and light rail operator contracts go to market, operators bidding for these contracts are looking at how they can deliver a competitive tender response while also delivering innovation and ultimately an improved passenger experience.

As our PTAs review and agree to invest in the various initiatives, we have an opportunity to move away from simply installing more equipment onto a vehicle. Our buses are already filled with multiple on-board systems complimented with rooftop antennas fighting for the best location.

The opportunity is to move away from this:

Image credit: ITxPT

Image credit: ITxPT

And move towards something like this:

Image credit: ITxPT

Image credit: ITxPT

This architecture will enable gradual extension of system functionalities and a single gateway managing connectivity of all on-board systems to the host network.

It brings along new features such as Wi-Fi access, integrated passenger infotainment, live streaming of CCTV, and new-age ticketing systems. Feeds into MAAS-focused mobile applications can be easily accommodated.

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