India is currently making plans for and implementing vast growth in public transport provision in its major cities. The Delhi and Kolkata Metro systems are currently being expanded, while metros are planned for Hyderabad, and construction of the Chennai and Mumbai Metros are underway. Ahmedabad, Pune and Delhi all have Bus Rapid Transit Systems and further systems are planned in other cities within India.
All these systems require public transport interchanges ? places where passengers change vehicles: that may mean a change of mode as well, e.g. from metro to bus, or from bicycle to metro ? not all modes will be powered.
Interchanges are important for public transport networks because they allow these networks to be designed efficiently, making possible an easy split of the public transport network into trunk routes and connecting minor routes. For urban networks, the trunk routes will have high-frequency services, with high passenger volumes and large vehicles. For long-distance networks, the trunk routes may not be high frequency but they will also have high passenger volumes and will need interchanges to cope with the large numbers of travellers. In both cases, connecting minor routes will have smaller vehicles and probably a less comfortable passenger interior as the distances travelled by passengers will be shorter.
In the UK, policy makers and implementers have long grappled with the problem of public transport interchange, as it is generally believed that passengers would much rather avoid it ? including the potential it gives for passengers to get lost or go to the wrong stand or platform, and the waiting around that interchange can often entail. Indeed, the fact that the use of private cars usually means not having to use an interchange as they can go door-to-door and this is one of the private car?s chief attractions.
UK ?Best-Practice? Guides
A flurry of research activity began in the late 1990s with a number of best practice guides being published in the UK around that time. The DETR (Department of the Environment and Transport) and the UK arm of CILT (Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport) both produced best practice handbooks in 1998, as did the European GUIDE research project in 1999. The CILT report described passenger interchanges as ?A practical way of achieving passenger transport integration?, and all these reports recognised the need for the interchange to be appropriately sited, with good facilities, image, information, signage and personal security.
More recently, there have been three developments which have led to a renewed interest in the concept of interchange in the UK, particularly intermodal interchange. Firstly, there is the continued growth in UK rail travel, and secondly the growth of more powerful partnerships in cities, with TfL (Transport for London) particularly having a much more pivotal role in local rail developments in the last few years. Alongside this, the Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs) in the other big conurbations also made a pitch in 2011 to take over control of rail stations in their areas, partly to give better information coherence and coverage. Thirdly, a key development has been the rapid advance of ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) and other technology. Two reflections of the renewed interest in interchange were the ?Better Rail Stations? report, produced in 2009 by respected rail executive Chris Green & the internationally-renowned urban planner Professor Peter Hall, and the TfL ?Interchange Best Practice Guidelines? produced the same year. The ?Better Rail Stations? report highlighted the need for clear customer standards for rail stations. Indeed, it had a robust six-tier hierarchy for categorizing stations, such as used in several other countries, with customer standards matched to the different categories.
Multi-functional interchanges in the UK
Accompanying this, the development of airports in the UK, paralleling the rise in low-cost air travel, has also led to some major public transport interchanges there. One particular example is London?s Stansted Airport, situated in a largely rural area some 30 miles outside London itself. There is a large express coach and bus terminal just outside the airport terminal building and there is a rail station inside the airport. Not only is this served by frequent express coach services connecting to the three other major London airports and to central London and other cities, but there is a large network of local bus services from surrounding towns and villages, which use the Stansted Airport interchange as a hub for connecting to onward express coach and rail travel. So the interchange is not only ideally located at a major travel attractor ? the airport ? but also has multiple functions, and it is this combination of attributes that preserves its viability and long-term success. A common lesson from other public transport interchanges in the UK is that the location of the interchange is absolutely critical ? there has to be a reason other than just travel to get passengers, and thereby, public transport services, to use it ? but that having multi-functionality at the interchange can also strongly support it.
Another example of multiplicity of use is the Park & Ride sites on the edge of the ancient university cities of Oxford and Cambridge. Both cities have narrow streets, so cars have to be restricted and there is heavy investment in several Park & Ride sites. Some of these Park & Ride locations also serve not just as car / bus interchanges but also as suburban interchanges for the express coach services from the city centre, which then run non-stop to London or to airports. This is especially the case at Oxford where the express coaches do the 50-mile journey to London on a 15-minute frequency right throughout the day.
Benefits of ITS in Public Transport Interchanges
Returning to the subject of ITS, this is something that can deliver a number of benefits for Interchanges. Firstly, it can deliver more passenger security, which is particularly important where the immediate surroundings could be regarded as threatening or where potential assailants could hide out of site of the traveller. The Park & Ride sites on the modern Nottingham Express Transit tramline (NET), for instance, are monitored by CCTV cameras and are patrolled by NET staff. NET emphasises that the sites have been designed ?to the latest security standards and include emergency help points with a direct link to the NET control room?.
ITS can also deliver better operational safety by delivering automatic control of passenger doors which guard the entrance from the waiting area to the kerb where the bus is boarded, synchronised with the actual presence of the waiting bus. To improve operational efficiency and potentially permit a greater flow of buses in a smaller space, ITS can provide ?dynamic bus stand allocation?. This is where passengers for a particular group of routes wait in a common area and are then directed through electronic media to the actual stand for their routes, which is determined by ITS control mechanisms according to stand-space availability. It is being considered for a number of new bus interchanges in the UK, although only a few are currently using it ? notably Chatham Bus Station, in the Medway region south-east of London. The technology has, however, been used successfully in Perth, Australia, and ? before the 2011 earthquake severely damaged it ? the Christchurch Bus Exchange in New Zealand.
The role that ITS can also play in delivering better information to passengers at interchanges is in fact a very key one. This can also make the act of interchange a more pleasant experience, and can help to reduce stress, and speed up the act of transfer, in some cases by adding value for customers at both large and small interchanges. For instance, ITS makes it easier to automate processes and can transfer them from physically happening at the interchange itself to instead happening on traveller?s smartphones (or remotely via a telecoms link). ITS can provide communication between the traveller at small interchanges and remote centres via Electronic Kiosks or Help Points, substituting for the physical presence of staff. It can also ?tool up? on-board staff or at-interchange staff via personalised and / or handheld devices. One particularly helpful service made possible by ITS is real-time information, which can be delivered at small interchanges through fixed electronic kiosks or the traveller?s mobile device, as well as by fixed digital signs at medium-size and larger interchanges.
As India plans & implements more public transport interchanges and as it rolls out its exciting programme of public transport investment, it will be fascinating to see how it builds on experience from the UK and from other places worldwide to design, build and operate 21st-century innovative travel hubs.
At large interchanges, ITS developments can also now enable a richer customer experience to be provided. Software standards have been developed to enable the increased power of computing to be exploited to provide location-specific information services, and one key standard is the IFOPT Specification (?Identification of Fixed Objects in Public Transport?) recently developed by CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation. This describes the detailed structure of a Stop Place, such as a light rail station or multi-modal interchange, including entrances, pathways, and accessibility limitations. With IFOPT, it therefore becomes possible to provide electronic information on the sort of interchange facilities such as cycle hubs, access for disabled people, car parking facilities, and bus stops in relation to the rail entrance. Journey planning can be provided in a much more detailed way, whilst on-the-go re-planning becomes possible when detailed digital spatial data enabled in IFOPT is combined with real-time information on incidents and delays.
One way in which interchange can become a pleasure rather than a pain, particularly at large interchanges, is by the customer using his mobile phone to be guided around the interchange. Work which I carried out a few years ago for the European Commission?s CODE project analysed passenger information-seeking as being five different activities. These are ?Journey Creation?, ?End Linkages? (i.e. the first section from the very beginning of the journey and the final section to the end of the journey), and, within the interchange, ?Verification?, ?Anticipation? and ?On-the-Spot Orientation?. For regular travellers much of that will not be necessary if the public transport system performance is reliable. But new or infrequent travellers, particularly, will check that things are going as planned, look out for possible service disruptions and check that they know where to go relative to where they are now. Larger interchanges need to have that information readily visible though physical signs and colour-coding, and through the presence of clear information boards and, dependant on interchange size, the physical presence of staff. But digitisation will also make it possible to provide this information through smartphones. With an interchange that has been described according to IFOPT, using a smartphone into which the traveller has put his personal travel itinerary, and with ?smart posters? that can feed information to his phone using contactless Near Field Communication (NFC) as he moves round the interchange, the traveller can be guided ?intelligently? around it and be provided with personalised alerts which make his journey easier.
The future of Interchange
Smart posters are only one ?mobile information? feature that some larger interchanges are likely to get in the future. The fully ?Intelligent Interchange? of the future will be characterised by a number of features; both ?hard? and ?soft?. Hardware is likely to include Barcode Readers, electronic kiosks and other types of NFC devices. It is also possible that at larger interchanges which feature connections with inter-urban or regional services, there might be publicly-accessible but security-controlled areas accessed by personal mobile devices. Software and services will include detailed route planning within the interchange, faster information access, payment systems and information retrieval, and could include features such as targeted personal advertising, passenger counting services and taxi-sharing services based on common destinations.
Another feature that is really important is the incorporation of retail features into the design, making the interchange an attractive place to wait for the bus, train or tram, and, to a certain extent, a destination in its own right. Abellio, Merseytravel?s contracted operating partner in the Merseyrail urban rail network in the northwest of England and the operator of the Netherlands? rail network, has introduced the ?M to Go? concept. This combines ?convenience-store? retail outlets with ticket offices at Merseyrail stations, and is based on Abellio?s experience in the Netherlands and the new combination has proved to be very successful with travellers.
Together, these innovations work to make public transport more attractive and therefore help to improve a city?s economy, making it more sustainable in every sense. The city then also becomes a more attractive place to live and work because people can move around it faster and with less frustration and delay.
John Austin is Vice-Chair of the UK?s National Association of Taxi Users, and is Chair of Transport Associates? Network, a group of independent consultants. He has worked in the public transport industry for over 25 years.