A team of researchers from University of Aberdeen, UK, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, People’s Republic of China, and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai have looked at the effects of availability of a smartphone based real time passenger information system on a passenger’s willingness to use public transport. Their studies reveal that although there was an initial excitement for the app, there were insufficient users required to scale up.
Smartphones and data usage are becoming quite ubiquitous in India, with around 300 million smartphones users in the country in 2017. This number is projected to grow by 50% by the year 2022. However, of the 650 million mobile users, less than half own a smartphone, and only around 66% of the population have access to internet services, but these numbers too are on the rise. Today, smartphones have become a multipurpose tool helping us connect, work, shop and travel. Could these multipurpose tools also be used to improve our public transport systems?
To answer this, the researchers developed the GetThereBus app for smartphones –a real time passenger information system (RTPI). RTPI provide real time information about the status of a local bus, like whether they are running on time, the number of passengers. “RTPI systems have been identified as having benefits in terms of passenger willingness to travel by public transport and their satisfaction levels with services provided. The lack of this amenity in rural areas, however, may hamper public transport use, thus reinforcing patterns of over-reliance on personal vehicles” claim the authors of the study.
The GetThereBus app, according to the authors, “aimed to address questions related to the impact of the limited availability of rural digital infrastructure on the provision of RTPI, the potential for crowdsourced information to supplement published timetable information, and the potential impacts of such a system on the traveler experience”
During the course of the study, the authors found that, although it was possible to design such an application with the limited infrastructure available at rural areas, the project could not be scaled up to cover wider areas. Although, initially, the users reported a positive response to the system, difficult to recruiting and motivating sufficient users to provide the data needed to achieve area-wide coverage proved to be difficult, despite campaigning for user engagement.
Although the study failed to achieve its goal of introducing an RTPI app over a wide area, there are important lessons it could teach. It can tell us about various factors that led to its failure, like rural usage of smartphones, measures needed to spread the usage, etc., and could become a useful guide for future studies.