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Beacons in buses: Tailored Public Transportation

Posted by Doru Supeala / Tuesday September 8th, 2015 / Categories: iBeacon / 3 Comments

Public transport will no longer be a service provided to an undefined crowd, and has now the chance to become a customized benefit delivered to each individual traveler. The companies in this sector can take advantage of digital capabilities based on iBeacon technology and deliver tailored services and a customized comfortable experience for each client.

We started by placing 500 iBeacons in buses in Bucharest, providing routing, guidance and assistance for 12000 visually impaired users, through a acompletely integrated mobile solution (June-September 2015). Our project has aroused the attention of transportation companies and, based on their suggestions and technical requests, we are now ready to deliver the Extended Version of our Smart Public Transport solution, which will serve all categories of passengers and will offer the chance for transportation companies to address each customer individually.

The solution is using micro-location, contextual communication and presence detection based on iBeacons and will be able to provide 16 new functionalities (accessible out of the box or easily customizable), such as:

  • tailored pricing,
  • individual route (re)calculation,
  • fleet + traffic + comfort optimization,
  • groups + individuals monitoring,
  • safety & security,
  • class validation,
  • cross & up-selling
  • contextual advertising
[Tweet “Tailored Public Transportation: custom-made trips, prices and services based on iBeacons”]
Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Bus arrival notification received on iPod

Bus arrival notification received on iPod

Public transportation companies and local authorities interested to implement solutions for smart cities could seriously improve their services quality and efficiency, the customers and citizens satisfaction, but also their operational costs and general income by integrating technology which brings the capabilities and advantages of micro-location and contextual communication.

Onyx Beacon has developed and already implemented at large scale an integrated iBeacon-based solution for Smart Public Transport services, which includes all three fundamental components: iBeacons as hardware, a dedicated mobile application free for all users available for iOS and Android and a cloud platform which controls the entire interaction and communication process and gathers an accurate and solid set of analytics about users behavior and needs. Today, our solution, publicly available at global level, provides routing and guidance for disabled using buses, but is functioning also for trains, tramways or subway, is able to cover supplementary needs in public transport and to provide various services for passengers, drivers, transport companies or local authorities.

First use case: routing and guidance for visually impaired

The first stage of the Smart Public Transport solution is especially built to guide visually impaired people, assisting them to independently travel using the surface public transport system in big cities. The beacons are placed, individually, on buses and the mobile app installed on user’s smartphone, available for IOS and Android, notifies the user when the bus approaches at 50-60 meters from the station.

When the bus reaches the station and the solution identifies an interested user at the location, the buzzer of the beacon broadcasts a specific loud sound, indicating the precise location of the wanted bus. The entire system is controlled by a very adaptive cloud platform, which administrates the beacons fleet, the vehicles’ allocation by lines and the customized interaction with the users. This solution is already installed in Bucharest, where 12000 potential beneficiaries have free access to a network of 500 buses and trolleys with Enterprise Beacons installed on.

New capabilities, using the current infrastructure

After installing, testing, developing, calibrating and fine tuning this solution and its components, and after a positive, enthusiastic and creative input received from clients, partners and other interested players in the transportation industry, Onyx Beacon is ready to seriously expand  the capabilities of the solution and to offer an important number of new services, based on exactly the same Bluetooth Low Energy concept and infrastructure, or by just adding to the existing infrastructure supplementary iBeacons in bus stations or introducing personal „keychain beacons” for passengers in special cases.

Some features can already be used out of the box, for others it is necessary to connect the existing Customer Relationship Management of the transportation company to our cloud platform , using API calls. Let’s see, one by one, these new capabilities, with a short description and technical details for each of them:

1. Dynamic and customized pricing

The transportation company could apply different cost levels for its services and tickets, depending on hourly intervals, rush-hours, crowded periods, vehicles’ loading capacity, passengers’ destinations, routes complexity etc.

The passenger uses the mobile application and sets up his route on the smartphone, the cloud-based platform calculates the transportation costs, communicates the financial details to the user and, if this one agrees, the amount of money accepted by the user is charged to his account. This feature is immediately available for transportation companies having a CRM platform, by connecting it with our Smart Public Transport cloud solution, via REST API.

2. Metered and time-based pricing

The cloud-based platform can record, for each passenger, the time and the distance of each bus trip. The transportation services can be charged to each client in a customized manner, by number of kilometers, by trip time duration or by an aggregate formula, even by applying variable prices, depending on the day, the hour, the occupancy degree of vehicles or by the total consumption per user, in a specific time interval.

This feature is immediately available for transportation companies having a CRM platform, by connecting it with our Smart Public Transport cloud solution, via REST API.

Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Pricing notification received on iPod

Pricing notification received on iPod

3. Individual route calculation

The passenger arrives in station, opens the mobile application, and sets up his desired destination. The iBeacon infrastructure in the bus station and the mobile app communicates with the cloud platform, delivering his actual location and offers immediately the best route for the passenger and the available alternative routes.

Where the transportation company’s platform is capable to monitor and optimize traffic and to administrate payments, the passenger will receive, via SPT mobile app, the costs for each potential route and the exact timing for each of these alternatives.

[Tweet “Customized routes, prices and services in public transportation, based on iBeacon technology”]

4. Passenger route optimisation

The cloud platform is continuously gathering detailed information about customers’ behavior and can define individual patterns regarding the most frequented stations, the points of start and destination and preferred routes.

Based on internal statistics and analytics and on precise data gathered by its own monitoring platform, the transportation company could provide customized route optimisations for each user, suggesting changes of start or final station, changes of timing or preferred bus lines. All these suggestions will be transmitted via ibeacon infrastructure when the passenger arrives in station and sets up his destination.

Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Route configuration notification

Route configuration notification, received when arriving in station

5. Emergency re-routing

In cases of accidents, emergencies, crowded routes or stations, temporary unavailable lines or services, passengers could receive customized re-routing indications, helping them to avoid  traffic jams, vehicles overloading or temporary routes changes for some bus lines.

When an emergency situation of this type is confirmed by the company’s traffic monitoring system, the cloud platforms will easily identify passengers that could be affected by the situation, will recalculate their routes and will inform the users, via mobile app and iBeacon infrastructures in buses and in stations, what paths to choose in order to arrive safe&sound and in-time at their destination.

Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Re-routing notification

Re-routing notification, caused by an emergency situation

6. Real-time data about fleet loading

By adding iBeacon infrastructures in buses and stations and using the Smart Public Transport extended solution, companies will be able to seriously expand the accurate information they have about the number of passengers in each bus at every moment and the number of passengers waiting in stations, minute by minute, but also how many of these are waiting for each bus line. Data can be accessible not only for the dispatchers, but also for bus drivers, in their cabins.

The real-time data flow is able to provide an alternative traffic report, precisely identifying the arrival and departure time of each bus in each station and many other statistics related to the vehicles fleet.

[Tweet “Real-time data about fleet loading and passengers waiting in stations, based on iBeacons”]

7. Fleet and comfort optimisation

Situations of vehicles overloading can be anticipated, based on real-time data regarding passengers situated in buses and those waiting in stations for the same bus lines. In this case, traffic dispatchers can react in an efficient manner, sending supplementary buses to the crowded stations and informing passengers situated in these stations about the arrival of this supplementary resource. Bus drivers can be notified, in their cabins, in real-time conditions, so they will know when to reduce loading by opening only the doors for getting off the bus, not those for boarding the vehicle.

When supplementary vehicles are not available, passengers could be redistributed to travel on other bus lines for a few stations, in order to avoid crowded route segments. All data gathered by the cloud platform can be converted to extremely useful analytics describing trends, dynamics, customers behavior, rentability and strategic info about resources allocation.

Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Out of service notification.JPG

Out of service notification and re-routing information

8. Group management: Kids safety

The owner of a  transportation company in Abu Dhabi was sentenced to pay an 136.000USD fine and three employees were sentenced to prison for a few years each, after the school bus driver forgot to drop off at school a girl which was sleeping in the vehicle. The kid died closed into the bus, in October 2014.

The Smart Public Transport solution can prevent similar situations and can seriously  improve the existing security and safety procedures and systems. The mobile application can have a dedicated module for group management, which will precisely control the route and the presence of each user, according to pre-defined data. The individual monitoring could be based on individual mobile devices or, even better, on individual keychain beacons, linked to a mobile device operated by the bus driver and supervised by a dispatcher, by the school managers and, why not, by the parents.

9. Individual monitoring and trip reporting

The iBeacon infrastructure and the mobile application can provide real-time presence detection – in buses and in stations. For the users which will opt-in for the service of individual monitoring and reporting, this capability will be activated.

Best examples for the utility of this type of service are kids, employees with specific roles or functions and aged or disabled people using the public transportation system. Their routes can be pre-defined and monitored and, in case of suspect deviations from the expected path an alarm can be delivered to a tutor and, simultaneously, to the dispatchers, drivers and emergency personnel of the transportation company. Many difficult situations can be avoided by using this feature, which can function based on a mobile app installed on individual smartphones or, better, using individual keychain beacons monitored by the ibeacon network and simple mobile devices placed on every vehicle and station.

10. Service class validation

By using ibeacons in stations and in transport vehicles, passengers can be oriented to access the wagons, waiting areas or compartments of the vehicles corresponding to the class of service for which they purchased tickets.

Passengers travelling in a wagon not corresponding to their purchased plan will be directly notified about the mistake and will be oriented to find their allocated seats. This will be possible by placing beacons in each area of the vehicle and identifying customers through their mobile application account.

Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Enterprise Beacon placed in a bus 01

Enterprise Beacon placed in a bus to guide passengers and tourists

11. Accessibility for passengers with special needs

When arriving in stations, passengers with special requirements (aged, visually impaired, people with different disabilities or using wheelchairs could use the mobile application to select the bus line of their interest and to mention that they will need special conditions for boarding.

The bus driver will be instantly notified about this special situation and will know how to act when arriving in the station where the passenger is situated. At his turn, the passenger can be oriented in which area of the station to wait for boarding, in order to save time at the bus arrival.

12. Up-selling, cross-selling, new revenue generation

By gathering important volumes of information about customers interests, destinations and behavior, the transport company could take advantage of the commercial relationship and expand his portfolio of paid services, to connect its clients with other business partners, to sell tickets for other transportation companies or for museums, cinemas or other public services.

By using in an intelligent manner the analytical data gathered by the cloud platform and the individual information about the customer behavior, the company can define and sell customized services packages and extend his income sources, by creating new services or by selling others’ products.

Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Contextual advertising based on micro-location2

Contextual advertising based on micro-location

13. Passengers guidance in train, subway or huge bus stations

Being connected to the ibeacon network placed in train or subway stations or in the or in the most congested bus traffic nodes, the passengers can receive directional information, regarding their precise position in the station. The dispatchers can use and deliver the traffic monitoring data and the reports regarding the loading degree of each vehicle to anticipate in which specific area of the waiting platform should the passenger be placed in order to have access to the less crowded area of the train, wagon or bus. After boarding, passengers could be guided to change wagons, in order to find free seats or more comfortable compartments.

14. City sightseeing  – SPT for tourists

The public transport mobile application can include a special module dedicated to tourists which will add city guidance and sightseeing capabilities to the usual transport services delivered for ordinary customers.

By activating this option, which can be separately monetized, users will receive contextual information about the city points of interest situated in the immediate neighbourhood, the visiting hours and tariffs, historical and other educational multimedia content, links to the official websites of the museums and other points of interest for visitors, special offers from local or regional entertainment providers etc.

15. Proximity marketing and profile-based advertising

Transportation companies could become advertising broadcasters or can team up with specialized companies, in order to smartly and efficiently use their micro-location and proximity communication capacities, in order to generate supplementary income, avoiding at the same time the danger of spamming the passengers.

Our cloud platform is already able to connect, via mobile app, to the demographic profile declared by the user within social networks. More valuable data can be collected, starting from the customer’s routes, hourly intervals of use, origin and destination stations, and interests declared by the passenger.

By creating smart interactions, using gamification techniques and developing engaging marketing and communications programs, the passengers can receive valuable commercial information and can take advantage from interesting commercial opportunities. For example, they can use their mobile app account to purchase products from the automatic sales machines placed into the stations.

16. Community development and social interaction

Last, but not least, the mobile application could become a very important and efficient medium of communication between the company and its clients. Polls, focus groups, consumer behavior studies, other types of interactions can be activated in relevant contextual conditions,  in order to receive real-time and accurate feedback from the active clients.

The passengers can be informed about new services, temporary or definitive changes, improvements, expansion plans, can be motivated to bring-in new customers, can receive job offers or other types of information, and can participate as active members of the company’s community of clients.

Supplementary modules can be added to the basic mobile application, providing specific services like: finding friends and relatives traveling near user’s current location, dating and matrimonial, classifieds, special interests groups (sports fans, civic activists, voluntaries etc).

Smart Public Transport by Onyx Beacon - Enterprise Beacon placed in a bus 04

Enterprise Beacon placed in a bus

3 comments
  • Mario Gaete says:

    It is possible with this system to prevent or avoid the passenger payment in public transportation? Regards Mario Gaete

  • Anders Borg says:

    No doubt an interesting area to pursue, where both beacons and geofencing/geotargeting are applicable.

    Would you say that the opportunities for moving beacons (as in installed in the buses) dominate?

    • Doru Supeala says:

      Hello Anders, thanks for your visit and comment. We would say that everything depends on the type of experience you want to deliver to customers, and beacons should be installed according to that only major criteria. So, even if they are mobile or fixed, beacons should cover perfectly the areas where customers are situated and help the mobile application to deliver the appropriate content and experience.

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