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From manual to intelligent: a new dawn for public transportation

Opinion piece: Thomas Snyman, Huawei Enterprise ITS Solution Director, and Chairman of the Intelligent Transport Society of South Africa

Businesses across a range of industries are being impacted by advances in technology, and the transportation sector is no different. The roadmap for digital transformation here has seen the sector place considerable focus on moving from basic manual ticketing to a digital system.

With the old system, the transaction to exchange money in return for a ticket takes place at the ticketing office. While there was no electronic validation of the commuter travelling, the ticket office could manually keep record of how many tickets are being sold per route, and determine the revenue collected.

This was the first revenue collection principle that was introduced in public transport.  The paper ticket was then replaced by a paper coupon, for instance on public bus services. Recording of all transactions still depended on the human factor and reliability of the conductor to ensure any commuter has a valid ticket that allows them to travel between point A and B.

Over the past 10 years, public transport operators have engaged with fare collection service providers and use Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) enabled cards. RFID fare cards and readers in the bus and depots assisted in establishing some sort of electronic ticketing system with limited features which allowed employees and management to get an accurate idea of how much revenue has been collected at any day for services provided to the commuters.

However, due to limited infrastructure – the lack of the correct technology and cash handling on the buses – extensive fare evasion was and still remains one of the major headaches for transport authorities, operators, and subsequently, the passengers.

From just digital to intelligent

The introduction of advanced technology and changes in the standard operating procedures will assist both private and public transport operators to enhance their fare collection capabilities and get more accurate data on fare collected, ridership, origin and destination information and fleet utilisation information that will contribute to a more effective transport system.

But can we say that we have reached our destination with technology?  No, we have to take the next journey to Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), which not only consist of an Automated or Integrated Fare Management (AFC/IFM) system, but also an Advanced Public Transport Management System (APTMS), which will ensure that operators move toward an intelligent transport environment.

The introduction of the bank-issued far media system – as defined in the National Land Transport Act, and being implemented across public transport systems – provides commuters with the benefit of being able to use one card across all public transport operators. In addition, the card can be used as a Low Value Payment (LVP) device.

Considerable effort has presently been put into the rolling out and driving adoption of the integrated fare system in the province, not only to assist transport operators and authorities, but also to provide a seamless journey for the commuter.

While using bank-issued fare media does result in the commuters incurring a small cost when topping up their cards, the actual transit costs from using this method of payment provides a more cost-effective alternative to the ‘pay as you go’ option.

The other component of the Intelligent Transport System, the APTMS, is the “Management Tool” that will allow authorities to collect the correct bus operation information and assist them with the contract management part that exist between a Transport Authority and Bus Operator.

What will the future of transportation look like? By improving coordination and sharing between different departments or functions within the organisation, and breaking down information silos, transport operators and authorities are able to use the technology at their disposal to mine the huge volumes of data they collect.

Taking this data and converting it into actionable intelligence will mean that operators can improve efficiency, route planning and fleet management, while end-users can make an informed decision about their daily commute.

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