Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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Passenger Transport Operations

Author  John Austin (Austin Analytics, UK) 

ITS applications are designed to improve the efficiency, safety, cost-effectiveness and us (See Traveller Services) and fare calculation and electronic payment systems (See Electronic Payment) assist with journey planning. They also help customers to make decisions about the better use of existing resources – such as deferring new car purchases.

Passenger transport operations” by contrast are concerned with the planning, management and operation of passenger transport fleets. They focus on the whole system – at the heart of which are communications between the operators’ control centres and their fleets for:

  • fleet management – through the integration of ITS applications that monitor and control operations
  • safety and security of passengers and vehicles – by monitoring on-board and off-board systems
  • flexible management to respond efficiently to variable passenger demand at short notice (automated scheduling, demand responsive transport provisions, pre-booking and ride-sharing)

ITS applications, systems and services in all three areas help position public passenger transport within an integrated, smart, multimodal transport system for a town, city or region. This helps encourage people to rely less on cars – and delivers associated benefits such as reduced traffic congestion and pollution.

The scope of ITS applications in public passenger transport operations encompasses:

  • buses and coaches: full-size buses on fixed routes, express coaches – and informal shared transport operated by small vehicles (minibuses, dial a ride) that use ITS
  • taxis: part of the urban transport mix – which use ITS for bookings/vehicle location
  • other hired or shared passenger transport modes: car clubs, shared car journeys, shared use of publicly provided non-powered modes such as bicycles
  • integrated passenger transport network systems: which integrate road-based passenger services with other passenger transport modes (trams, light rail, heavy rail) in a co-ordinated system

Six application areas illustrate the part that ITS applications plays in passenger transport operations:


ITS in operations and fleet management support various management functions (and sometimes simultaneously) including:

  • tools to support planning & scheduling
  • depot management
  • road track management (specifically traffic signal priority)
  • driver management
  • vehicle management
  • passenger management


Communications for Passenger Transport Operations Management involves three elements:

  • between the vehicle and data stores
  • between the vehicle and the control centre
  • between vehicles themselves

The transmission of large quantities of data to vehicles, such as route schedules or software updates, is by short-distance communications. Often Wide Area Networks (WANs) at depots are used - or in some cases at specific strategic points on the network where the operator has control of the immediate environment. This may be done as and when network communications allow, with data being transferred in packets. A number of different methods of information transfer to and from vehicles may be used. These include laptop connection, infrared systems, wireless Local Area Networks (LANs) and portable data memory modules (including smartcards). Using physical connections for transfer of data has drawbacks since it is labour-intensive and requires vehicle downtime.

Long distance communications mainly relate to Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) information and voice communications - and take place during vehicle operations. A wide variety of different technologies can be used, including Private Mobile Radio (PMR) systems - both analogue and digital – and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). These operate over the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network. There is a trend towards replacing analogue PMR systems to with Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) – a digital PMR standard.

In AVL communications the general practice is for the in-vehicle radio system to be connected to an on-board computer - which is in turn connected to the vehicle’s Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system. The GPS receiver passes location information to the on-board computer which transfers it to the radio system. Location, speed and time information updates may be transferred approximately every 30 seconds to the control centre - or directly to information screens for passengers. (See Enabling Technologies)


Information dissemination takes place both within the passenger transport vehicle and externally to outside locations. In passenger transport operations the role of ITS is to support the processes for dissemination - rather than the information itself or its form. However data provided to passengers within the vehicle is not limited to traffic/travel information, it can also include in-car entertainment - which may or may not be related to the location of the vehicle. (See Traveller Services)


Management of demand can support more efficient and more sustainable use of resources. The concept of transport demand management came from mainstream transport planning in Europe – which was never based on assumptions that the private car was the best or only solution for urban mobility. The term, Transportation Demand Management (TDM), came into use in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s - in response to the economic impact of the sharp increase in oil prices during the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis.

Strategies for TDM include:

  • improved transport options
  • incentives to use alternative modes and reduce driving
  • parking and land use management
  • policy and institutional reforms
  • TDM programmes and programme support
  • TDM planning and evaluation

ITS applications support the three strategies on transport choices and accessibility - and ITS will sometimes feature in TDM policies and programmes - their planning and evaluation. (See Transport Demand Management)


ITS applications can improve the safety and security of passenger transport operations. CCTV and facilities such as ‘Help Points’ support security for users at busy locations such as bus stations – or at locations with peak use times such as taxi ranks or specific bus stops. ‘Help Points’ usually link directly to operatives in a control centre who can provide passenger assistance or alert security officials. In-vehicle CCTV provides reassurance for passengers and drivers and may provide data on incidents in a quality which is acceptable as evidence in court. Direct communication between drivers and a control centre or to a police station facilitates access to help.

Remote automatic tracking of vehicles can be highly useful to deter theft or to recover vehicles if they are stolen. Remote immobilisation of vehicles is also possible. (See ITS & Road Safety)


In order to manage incidents effectively and respond to problems that could potentially disrupt service delivery, continual monitoring of operational situations and the technical performance of vehicles is necessary. Management of incidents may require an operator to reschedule its vehicles in real-time – perhaps deploying reserve vehicles - and that these changes are communicated to drivers and passengers. ITS applications are the only practicable method of ensuring effective real-time incident management response - using automated vehicle location and communication technologies. However, there is a trade-off between the cost of the appropriate ITS application and the effect and likelihood that disruptions may occur. (See  Travel Information Systems)
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