7 Questions Bus Operators Should ask Potential RTPI suppliers

The Trapeze Team | April 21, 2015

Real-Time Passenger Information (RTPI) systems are inherently complex, often involving multiple stakeholders and requiring delivery expertise across multiple departments. The questions below should help you find a supplier that can meet your specific requirements.

1. Who is delivering my project?

It’s an old and well-known business mantra, yet knowing exactly who you’re doing business with remains prudent advice. It is particularly true when it comes to the installation of complex systems, as it is vital you know exactly who your supplier is and who you are working with.

Part of the inherent complexity of real-time projects is due to the requirements of linking with on-street, on-bus and traffic light pre-emption hardware; as well as with neighbouring authorities’ RTPI and ticketing systems and suppliers. For this reason, our experience suggests that when it comes to planning an RTPI implementation, the team that delivers the project is just as important as the plan and the supplier organisation’s corporate experience.

It is therefore critical that the people delivering the project have extensive experience in project management, dealing with multiple stakeholders, as well as with complex data sets and sophisticated software. Furthermore, you should look to see evidence that your supplier’s team shows signs of innovation and ingenuity, so that they can respond to any challenges that arise during the installation of the system creatively.

We urge you to always insist on seeing a full and detailed breakdown of everyone involved in your RTPI delivery project.

2. What are your Cloud credentials?

We are increasingly moving toward a cloud-based world. For many operators, often the most significant costs associated with technology arise not from the system itself, but the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) resource required to implement and maintain it. It therefore makes sense to adopt a cloud-based approach, where all ICT complications are removed from the equation.

With a cloud-based approach, backups are managed elsewhere and upgrades can be carried out remotely, with new versions live within a matter of hours. There’s no need to source internal ICT support as all that is required is a browser and Internet connection.

If you are looking to streamline ICT in this way then a cloud-based back office RTPI system is the obvious solution. However, signing over this level of technical ownership to a third party may appear daunting – so check your supplier has a proven delivery record in this area.

3. Do your schedule and real-time systems share a single database?

It is complex and difficult to maintain accurate data – which is why it is important to only ever enter it once if at all possible.

Ideally, real-time, journey planning and other passenger information systems should all exist on the same platform as any scheduling system – ensuring minimum data entry and maximising data quality.

Additionally, integrating these systems makes it easier to make changes on the fly; after all, it’s far simpler to make a change in one system than two or three. In this way you can be more responsive, with data changes flowing quickly and accurately into the real-time system.

4. How do we offer passengers specific and relevant information?

Pulling together real-time data from multiple sources enables operators to provide passengers with the information they need to confidently plan and use the bus. Being able to relay your information to passengers via on-street displays is of course important; however, for maximum effectiveness, this information must be wherever the passenger needs it: usually to websites (or optimised mobile webpages) or straight to users’ Smartphones via a mobile App.

What is more, it is important to make sure your RTPI system can communicate specific information to relevant users; so that your passengers are not bombarded with broad, generalised or – worse – irrelevant information they do not personally need. Being able to personalise information, therefore, is vital.

Part of this means using an RTPI system that can be used in conjunction with other information systems. To do so, your system must be built on standard interfaces, such as SIRI-SX.

This leads into another crucial part of this question, which is about ensuring you are able to provide data to third parties in the required format – for example, through SIRI interface to any Local Authority system for on-street displays, or else to downstream providers such as Traveline.  

5. Will this system still be great in five years’ time?

We live in a rapidly changing world, where the technological goalposts are continually being moved. RTPI systems must adapt quickly to avoid being left behind and becoming obsolete. It is therefore vital to work with a supplier who will not only maintain your system, but also help install updates and modifications that ensure the system remains at the cutting edge of industry technology.

A key part of this is asking whether your supplier will continue to develop the software you invest in. Suppliers who offer software upgrades as part of a maintenance package can ensure your technology remains effective and protect against costly upgrades.

Additionally, moving to a cloud-based system has clear advantages here, because your hosting supplier should be able to provide any upgrades you need – such as increased memory or processing power.

What is more, it is important to work with a supplier who plays an integral role in the industry, and knows the ins and outs of industry bodies, such as RTIG. This ensures that your supplier will not only respond to any upgrades your system needs, but also anticipate them.

If your supplier is plugged in with industry and market trends, they can bring this understanding to inform system upgrading decisions, and respond to any update needs swiftly and creatively: thereby futureproofing your system and protecting your investment.

6. Do you have a data expert?

These days, RTPI systems can be implemented quickly and affordably, but as with any transition from one mode or system to the next, it is important to ensure you have expertise available to resolve any issues that arise.

We believe it is extremely important to take a proactive and collaborative approach to data quality; that’s why we think all suppliers should employ data experts who understand the UK transport market and common issues that impact on bus operation around the country.

7. Is this system right for my business?

Bus Operators are no longer reliant on Local Authorities to deliver real-time information to the travelling public – which means you can choose the RTPI system that most suits your needs. Don’t waste the opportunity! Perhaps the most important question you can ask a supplier is the most obvious one in this list: why is this right for me?

Every business is different, with unique requirements and reasons for implementing an RTPI system. It is therefore essential to identify your organisational objectives and then have a frank discussion with all potential suppliers to ensure the installed system fits the requirements of your business.

In short: choose the system that works for you.

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About The Trapeze Team

The Trapeze Team are here to bring you news and information from Trapeze Group (UK) and the public transportation industry.