Building a Smart Bus Stop

What is a Smart Bus Stop?

You could say that a bus stop is, well, just a bus stop. Or is it?

Transport for London recently debuted a new Bus Stop display at Waterloo Bride in London. Now, this bus stop displays arrivals and departures. A regular timetable you could say.

Waterloo Bridge - South Bank bus stop P where Transport for London (TfL) are trialling e-ink displays showing bus route information and live arrival information.
Waterloo Bridge – South Bank bus stop P where Transport for London (TfL) are trialling e-ink displays showing bus route information and live arrival information. Image copyright Chris McKenna, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

My first experience with similar installations in India was in Bangalore at the Shanthinagar TTMC. There was a LED display with a wireless reception unit. It displayed the arrivals of Vayu Vajra buses towards the Airport in Kannada and English. This was followed by one in Mumbai along the Western Express Highway which displayed the ETAs of all buses in Marathi, and was pretty accurate. This was pretty much explained, in a previous post. In our transport-obsessed group, we have several discussions relating to buses and bus stops. During one of our conversations, we discussed a similar set-up at several bus stops along Mettupalayam Road in Coimbatore by the Corporation of Coimbatore for TNSTC buses.

A bus stop with a scrolling LED display in Coimbatore.
A bus stop with a scrolling LED display in Coimbatore. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This display, in Tamil shows the time, on the left, 05:37, which from the image metadata, I can gather is 05.37 in the evening, and the temperature 24°C. In between the two is the bus stop name: Vadakovai. The second line, which is scrolling, currently displays “Do not smoke here”. I’ve been told that it showed ETAs when it picked up an ETA. How this happened, however is a mystery. These displays appeared in 2012 and mysteriously vanished a year later.

Now, let us go deeper, and try and come up with an ideal ‘Smart Bus Stop’ shall we?

ACCESSIBILITY

An accessible bus stop in Paris.
An accessible bus stop in Paris. Image copyright jean-louis Zimmermann, CC 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The most crucial aspect of a bus stop is accessibility. Even if the bus stop is just a unipole like the BEST bus stops in Mumbai, the area around the bus stop must be marked, tiled, and leveled for people who are differently-abled. Ramps must be provided for both wheelchair-bound passengers as well as those with motor disabilities.

LEVEL BOARDING

An example Level Boarding.
An example Level Boarding. Image copyright ByteOfKnowledge, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Level boarding refers to the level of the floor of the bus being at the same level as the platform, similar to Metro Rail and BRT systems.

The advantages of level boarding is simple: It allows people to board and disembark faster, therefore reducing crowds at the exits. In the case of a BRTS bus, the platform can be raised as the doors are on the right-hand side and thus there are no steps. However, to achieve this on regular buses and bus stops, which are normally at a foot’s height from the road level, a low-floor bus would be required.

DYNAMIC INFORMATION DISPLAY

A Bus Stop with a Display Unit at Christchurch.
A Bus Stop with a Display Unit at Christchurch. Image copyright Chris Downer, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on Geograph/Wikimedia Commons.

All bus stops need to be able to display details of buses, their arrival, route, in a dynamic manner. Digital signage similar to what Transport for London or the Corporation of Coimbatore did. When this is possible for trains, why not buses? Why do people who are waiting at a bus stop have to rely on their instinct to know when the next bus is due? Why can’t they just look up at a board and see where the bus is going? It would be cheaper to set up Display Units to show when the next bus is expected, rather than asking users to lookup an app or send a text message.

EASE OF USE

A bus stop with a box for Visually-Impaired people to hear details of incoming buses at Sealife Centre.
A bus stop with a box for Visually-Impaired people to hear details of incoming buses at Sealife Centre. Image copyright Paul Gillet, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons/Geograph.

While this deals with the same as Accessibility as discussed above, this deals with how a commuter uses the bus stop rather than gets to it. The bus stop should have a tactile path around it, as well as a device to announce the bus routes stopping there. It can have a panel with the route details embossed in Braille as well. If the system picks up a bus less than 100 metres away, it can automatically announce the number.

The Bottom Line

So here are what a smart bus-stop needs, assuming that the buses on the service are low-floor buses with a GPS-based tracking unit to broadcast their location.

  1. Accessible for people with motor disabilities, differently-abled passengers, with a tactile path for the visually impaired.
  2. Have an information display unit connected to a central network to show the arrivals of buses and their routes.
  3. Announce route information, either based on availability [from GPS], or on request [by pressing a button].
  4. Incorporate level boarding for buses to speed up the process of getting on or getting off a bus, as well as reduce the effort taken in doing so.

 

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Stop and Go

So, how do Bus Conductors tell the bus driver to start the bus, and stop the bus at a bus stop?

There are various ways. In this article, I’m going to explore the different ways they are done, as well as delve a bit into the operations of buses of two non Indian cities, where a conductor doesn’t ask for a bus to be stopped, but the passenger does.

So let me start with our Desi transcos.

Starting, in no particular order:

BEST, NMMT, PMPML

The BEST Model also applies to NMMT, TMT, MBMT, PMPML, and partly to MSRTC.

A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus.
A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here, there is a bell next to the driver, with a bell-pull that goes upto the back of the bus. The rope of the bell pull is looped through several hoops, enabling the conductor to pull it from wherever he is standing. He pulls the rope and the bell rings. A single ring signifies stop, and a double ring signifies go. In MSRTC buses, especially at night, a double ring while the bus is in motion is to inform the driver to switch off or switch on the lights. Since BEST AC buses have only a front door functional, the driver knows when to stop or move the bus, while in the case of NMMT and TMT, the rear doors rarely open.

MSRTC

This is very prevalent in the Hirakani [Asiad] buses. It is similar to the bell-pull, but with a twist. Instead of a bell, an electric bell is installed near the Driver. A wire casing runs along the roof of length the bus, with bell switches after every three seats. The conductor presses the switch once for stop, twice for go, and twice in motion for the lights.

BMTC and KSRTC

One of the most interesting methods, no bus of BMTC has ever had a bell pull for the last decade. The conductor here, tells the driver to stop or move. He or she yells, that’s right, yells! The phrases used are Hold for stop and Right for go. Of course, Hold often sounds like Hold It, or Whole Day, and Right sounds like a Britisher saying the word, with stress on the ‘r’ and the ‘ight’ sounding like ‘oit’. This happens in the Vajra as well. Few conductors carry a whistle with them, blow it once for stop and twice for go, but most of them prefer shouting it out.

MTC and TNSTC

Older MTC and TNSTC buses had a bell pull in them, with the same ringing order as BEST. However, newer buses, especially the semi-low floor buses that came with the advent of JnNURM buses didn’t have these. In these buses, the conductor officially carries a whistle, and blows it; once for stop and twice to go.

DTC

DTC is a unique case. The conductor doesn’t tell the driver to stop or go. The driver stops, and looks at the mirror and leaves. However, this does get a bit confusing, given that nobody in Delhi seems to follow the enter from the rear, exit from the front rule. I wonder how the driver manages.

 

And now, for something completely different …

MTA

Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA] buses in New York have a system where the passenger tells the driver that he or she wants to disembark at the next stop, since there is no conductor. How I wish, the BMTC was a bit smarter in this regard.

If you are a fan of the 1990s Nickelodeon animated TV show Hey Arnold!, you would notice that in the very first episode, Downtown as Fruits, you’d notice that Gerald refrains from pulling the bell-pull to indicate the stop.

MTA buses used to have a bell-pull along the length of the bus, next to the window, which a passenger could pull to indicate that they wanted to disembark at the next stop. These were subsequently phased out in 1980, with a yellow touch-sensitive tape on the walls that passengers would use instead. Once considered a relic of the bygone era, they made a comeback in 2009. Many a passengers were surprised, especially the old-timers, who were overjoyed on seeing something from their generation return, followed by the youngsters, who had never seen them before.

TfL

Transport for London [TfL], which operates the red London bus, which is what BEST buses were originally modelled on, have a bell-switch on the support poles within a bus. Indian buses, most notably Tata Marcopolo buses also have these, but they are not in use.

Of course, knowing the British, it is not surprising when I heard of a driver who left a note saying BELLS NOT WORKING, If you want Bus to stop, Yell Ding Ding.

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