Digital Signage Takes A Ride

For passengers in the realm of bus, subway and light rail vehicle (LRV) commuting, waiting longer than necessary for your bus or train is always an exercise in frustration and anticipation. In the 21st century public transit, that anticipation has been addressed by digital signage and sophisticated predictive software.

In modernizing arrival and destination alert systems, transit’s bag of tools include LCD and LED displays, the Internet, fiber optics, wireless, GPS triangulation and predictive arrival software, all designed to put your passengers commuting minds at ease.

Digital signage has evolved from a commuter luxury to a definitive necessity, and it is estimated that within the United States up to 95 percent of transit agencies now incorporate some kind of electronic sign system on their bus/rail fleets.

Every transit operator’s concern is finding the quickest and easiest ways of communicating with passengers to keep them informed of their vehicle’s real-time status. Agencies are resolving these concerns with elaborate electronic displays found in ticket booths, on and inside buses, on passenger waiting areas within bus shelters, overhead at rail platforms, and on board trains. And with computing connectivity, on home computers and smart phones, as well.

In reviewing current passenger transit communication systems,several companies involved in providing these systems discussed solutions and service integration with client agencies.

Twinvision

TwinVision manufacturers what it refers to as “electronic information display systems” for transit agencies. Its use of LED transit displays for vehicle passenger information has significantly improved bus and rail signage operational efficiencies, maintainability and passenger communications.

In 2000, it introduced the all-LED sign display as a bus sign product. Color has always been an important component of TwinVision digital signage, used early on as a display indicator to expand transit route identification. “In 2003, we transferred from a monochromatic (amber) display to using full-color displays as vehicle route identifiers,” Chief Technology Officer Larry Hagemann states. “We’ve also increased the sign size to allow for a multi-line display on the front of the bus to give better and more specific information about the bus’s destination.

“As a digital bus sign supplier, we are constantly seeking out areas of digital sign development/enhancement and sustainability,” says Hagemann. “In the last 24 months, we’ve seen continual LED improvements both in its technological efficiencies and as a customer service offering for improving the passenger’s transit experience.”

As for passenger information content, TwinVision’s sister company Digital Recorders Inc. offers a host of transit information services, including a bus automatic vehicle tracking (AVL) system and a real-time vehicle arrival prediction information system. Passenger information is presented as signage alerts, as voice announcements and is also accessible through home computers and smart phone connectivity. “Ultimately it’s about how much information we can practically give the passengers that helps make their travels easier and more efficient, and provides them with an excellent riding experience,” Hagemann states.

TransitVUE Transit Communications Systems

In another effort to improve transit passenger commuting experiences, TransitVUE Communications Systems has created several passenger information communication formats. It has designed the TransitVUE Passenger Information System (TPIS) as an overhead platform and mezzanine-level digital display media system. “This system has the ability to display rail and bus real-time transit vehicle scheduling information,” says TransitVUE President Ken Rivera, “and integrate that data onto TransitVUE displays throughout a transit client’s bus/rail network.

“Currently, the TPIS combines data, text and graphics and uses scheduled and real-time GPS data to track a train’s location and be able to distribute that within the TPIS network and also show it on a Google map,” Rivera notes.

TPIS communications is represented by its Vantage Server Software (VSS), which operates in a client-server configuration. Here the content server is composed of various intelligent system displays, redundant database servers and networking equipment all configured into the transit agency’s rail or bus routes. The server software is platform independent and runs on virtually any operating system from Windows to Linux. Similarly, VSS can function with a variety of relational databases including Microsoft SQL, MySQL and Oracle. Each TPIS set up is interconnected depending on station locales with fiber optic, wireless, LAN, WAN or cellular networks.

As passengers pass through a typical transit station, there are two major locales for TPIS installations; the mezzanine where the platform entrance is located and the station platform. The mezzanine-based is represented by TPIS monitors which present general information, such as the location of the ticket booths and ticket prices.

A further extension of TPIS is TransitVUE’s Interactive Passenger Information Kiosk. The IPIK is essentially a touch-screen display attached next to a ticket vending machine that provides passengers background information on transit ticket costs, how to purchase those tickets and vehicle transfer info, as well. The kiosk is also able to recommend travel routes if a passenger types in both their start point and their end point.

TransitVUE has also extended TPIS as an on-board LRV display setup as well. This component is composed of an LCD display presenting passengers with on-board information on station location, arrival/departure, safety messages and places of interest for each station. Updates are added while the train is at the station and passed along from platform infrastructure to the train.

LA Metro Gains Digital Information System

The first TPIS network was installed in 2007 within the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in which 350 LCD ruggedized (with the 46-inch displays) indoor screens were placed throughout Metro’s Red Line in all of its 14 stations. Overall TPIS is agnostic as to where it is installed and it works equally well on bus routes as Rivera notes. “On the Purple line, two rail stations are connecting points for buses and our passenger alerts at both stations provide appropriate bus arrival/departure alerts as needed.” In 2011, TransitVUE installed 64 LCD monitors and 24 single line LED message boards on the 21 stations of the Gold Line.

NextBus

NextBus is a real-time passenger information system and its RTPIS program is owned and operated by NextBus Inc. and utilized by diverse transit agencies, including San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and LA Metro.

The RTPIS program is a predictive analysis software package that presents via electronic signage when the next bus or train will arrive at a given passenger waiting spot. The system was explained by Russell Chun, a NextBus project manager. “It starts with a bus or LRV in motion, which is physically tracked through its transit route. Each bus connected to our RTPIS network has a GPS transmitter whose signal is collected by a NextBus GPS receiver which then merges the bus’s real-time location with its per-stop vehicle arrival prediction. Then the RTPIS program compares the vehicle’s location to its next intended stop and then estimates the vehicle’s minutes to arrival at that stop.

“We know which transit vehicle is sending information, where it is on its route and what its next ‘official’ stop is. That becomes a triangulation that allows us to predict the vehicle’s intended time of arrival to its next stop. As to how effective RTPIS is,” Chun says, “it all depends on what’s happening in the real world as there are some variables we can’t account for such as traffic jams, accidents, bad weather, etc.

“The result is a series of ongoing displays or mini-reports that passengers are able to view and are updated every minute or so. These reports appear on LCD displays or LED electronic message boards,” says Chun.

Passengers who are trying to make travel plans before they leave their home can access NextBus transit alerts on their home computer to get a ‘next-up’ predicted arrival alert on their intended route.

San Francisco Muni

One NextBus client, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (Muni) employs more than 830 NextBus digital signs that are deployed throughout its system. All of Muni’s buses, LRV platforms and many of its bus shelters have an LED display that transmits route messages and the next two estimated vehicle arrival times for the stop. Also on the Muni LRV platforms are ruggedized large LCD ceiling displays which show off a complete San Francisco LRV track map with real-time indicators of where trains are in their approach to each platform stop as well as arrival predictions. Within the LRV train stations, as Muni passengers approach the ticket booth, there are RTPIS displays facing outwards that provide up-to-the-minute LRV updates even before they enter into the system.

Daktronics

Daktronics provides LED sign systems for a wide variety of applications and the company’s transit customers typically apply its message centers to inform people waiting on rail station platforms. In appropriate bus terminal locations, Daktronics can also deploy large arrival/departure scheduling displays. In bus transit, Daktronics offers passenger alert signage, as well as scheduling displays which play an important role in bus shelters and terminals.

For these applications, Daktronics recommends its Galaxy series message centers, which are offered in sizes that show single or multi-line text in an 8 or 12 mm pitches. These sizes facilitate ADA-required character sizes from 2 to 9.6 inches tall. Transit agencies have the choice of utilizing either amber-only or tri-color (red, green and amber) displays.

Recently, D.C.’s Union Station awarded a project to Daktronics in which the company replaced an antiquated scheduling display with a tri-color Daktronics Galaxy message center which serves as the centerpiece to the station’s grand hall.

Journeys and Destinations

Agencies are developing transit signage as elaborate way-finding systems to help passengers move from point A to point B in the best way possible. Given the arrival of digital signage and its transit content on route and destination information services, one could say that the journey to the destination will be as interesting as the destination itself. MT

Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech media communications.

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