Location-based services (LBSes) will be a driving force in the public transport sector and are being used to drive efficiency in the industry, enthuses access network infrastructure provider Ruckus sub-Saharan Africa sales director Riaan Graham.
LBSes allow service providers and enterprises to improve the return on investment and monetisation of their wireless infrastructure their by interacting with customers based on precise location. Graham indicates that organisations can now actively engage with customers through value-added business services tailored for the user online experience. LBS solutions in a transport hub, for example, enable real-time monitoring of foot traffic to optimise schedules, improve staff services, reduce congestion and gridlock, and improve safety.
He explains that LBSes track movement patterns of commuters using WiFi hot spots at public transport hubs and while on public transport. These movements provide much more granular, accurate data for the market. For example, it can calculate and indicate elements such as the bus or railway stations frequented by commuters, the time commuters spend there, the demographics involved and the busiest routes.
Using the demographic information makes it possible for the transport industry to identify the age groups which frequent various transport areas, why and at which times they do so, and their reasons for doing so, Graham elaborates.
“This can then be used to deliver a more efficient service to customers by enhancing the reliability of schedules for transport systems. Subsequently, convenience is improved for customers, as they are aware of transport schedules in real time, and can plan proactively. For example, if a bus has been delayed, passengers will be notified and will not have to waste time at a bus stop because they were expecting it to arrive at the specific time.”
Graham assures that no private information is shared, as the services are done on a fully anonymous basis, with the WiFi systems only tracking movement and not the individual’s locations. Therefore, a good understanding of the flow of people within an area is achieved without compromising privacy. This allows for the optimisation of transport operations, improved network efficiency and scheduling, and increased passenger use through improved customer experience.
For buses, specifically, real-time data will inform when buses are leaving stations and moving to the next pick-up point, and this information can be communicated to the customer base, allowing commuters and drivers to plan better, thus contributing to efficiency in the public transport sector.
Graham affirms that the services are not a costly venture. Moreover, through the information gathered, a number of other “interesting” revenue streams can be generated – once commuter demographics are known, nearby malls and shops can advertise their services and offerings to patrons at high-density public transport areas.
LBSes are still fairly new in South Africa, says Graham, but the services are being more widely used. Internet access is not as prevalent locally as it is in many European countries, but Graham says use is increasing, with WiFi hot spots being deployed on a daily basis.
“We are now reaching density state, where it makes sense to start introducing LBSes as an overlay data layer that can be used to the benefit of passengers, as well as the companies that offer transport services.”
He points to the successful use of LBSes in shopping malls, where an understanding of foot traffic was innovatively used to structure marketing plans around areas frequented by patrons.
Ruckus has successfully used LBSes for several bus systems, with the company introducing WiFi hot spots along several bus routes, enabling passengers to access WiFi. This is subsidised with online advertisements. “The convenience of this, where passengers can access social media while travelling, makes for a much better, twenty-first-century mode of transport.”
Graham says the lack of understanding by the transport industry of LBSes is a challenge, because industry has been operating in a certain manner for such a long time.