Running efficient public transport in Pilsen

Posted: 16 December 2013 | Michal Kraus, General Manager, PMDP | No comments yet

Pilsen is the fourth-largest city in the Czech Republic. A strong industrial, commercial, cultural and administrative centre, the city holds a dominant position in western Bohemia…

Traffic control

The municipal public transportation operator serving the city of Pilsen and the suburban area is Plzeňské městské dopravní podniky, a.s. – PMDP – a company solely owned by the City of Pilsen. The company’s history dates as far back as 1899 when electric trams first operated in the streets of Pilsen. Public transportation in Pilsen is notable for its high quality – the city’s 171,000 residents are served by a dense network of 42 transportation routes operating at short intervals, with 15.1 million vehicle kilometres travelled per year. A major feature of Pilsen’s public transportation is its low environmental impact. Two-thirds of all kilometres travelled are carried out by trams and trolleybuses, and buses mainly serve the outskirts of the city.

Traffic control system

In 2006, PMDP formulated a vision to fundamentally modernise traffic control and information technology in Pilsen’s public transportation network by applying the latest ITS technology. This vision was reflected in a list of projects titled ‘Comprehensive control of public transportation vehicles in Pilsen’, with the implementation of the ‘PMDP dynamic traffic control’ project forming the cornerstone of this concept.

The project, which was completed in 2010, helped to spur an increase in the speed of communication within the company and towards the public with regards to day-to-day operations, emergencies and short-term changes in transportation. Traffic controllers monitor traffic on a large screen which can display over 200 vehicles during rush hours. At the core of every vehicle’s equipment is an on-board computer that serves as a computer, peripheral controller and communications controller for radio, Wi-Fi, passenger announc – ements and other communications. Detailed operating information about the vehicle is updated every 10 seconds and transmitted over the TAIT radio network. Traffic control auto – matically evaluates the vehicle status and notifies of any departures from set parameters, especially with regard to on-time service. Fully-automated updates and downloads of vehicle data and software in the on-board computer and peripherals (signs, tachographs, and points controllers) is an important part of the traffic control design. These processes take place in the depot while the vehicles are parked for the night or when the vehicle is turned off and members of staff are not present. Equally important functions include the traffic controller’s ability to remotely program additional announcements and text information for passengers and set detailed rules for when and where these announcements should be made and more.

When the system was launched in 2010, data communications between vehicles and traffic light control units were tested at crossroads. The same radio system, TAIT, is used for trans – missions. The on-board computer evaluates its location on the route between stops, assesses the set parameters and using GPS it evaluates passage through entry and exit points at the crossroads. This system has proven to be successful and is being phased-in at individual crossroads.

Since 2012, Pilsen has also operated electronic information panels at stops that are connected by radio to the Dynamic Traffic Control system which inform passengers about the estimated departure times, depending on the vehicle’s location along the route. If there are traffic problems, traffic controllers can use the panels to send messages to passengers and inform them of detours or expected delays. Image sequences, various combinations of text announcements and information about the next available connections can be prepared in advance for various traffic scenarios.

Connecting the vehicle information system with the VETRA points control system (in trolleybuses) represented another important expansion in the system. This made it possible to fully automate point controls. The design is again based on assessments of the vehicle’s position along the route made by the on-board computer, which became the main source of intelligence for point controls. The transition to the new system was made over a very short period and no problems arose. Interesting features in the new system include an option for the driver to retain semi-automated or manual control of the points in a multi-level hierarchy. For example, the driver may select pre-set route codes on the point control that are also entered in the points. This is used for historical vehicle rides, when new Škoda trolleybuses are tested or in case of unexpected traffic scenarios.

The latest innovation in the Dynamic Traffic Control system is an expanded module that controls Pilsen’s integrated transportation system. This project will be completed in 2014 and will allow connections between individual transportation subsystems in an agglomeration (over 600 vehicles) to be controlled from a single site. Traffic control will also handle ‘on call’ bus services and provide current traffic information to the travelling public.

The link between Dynamic Traffic Control and online applications and social networks is very popular with the public. The PMDP website has featured a transportation connection search engine1 since 2011. The engine is able to include current connection and transfer delays in the results. A mobile version has been available since 2012, and the site can also be read using NFC tags and QR codes posted at transportation stops – a panel of departures is shown with current connections and delays travelling from the transportation stop in the appropriate direction. A mobile Android application will premiere by the end of 2013. Traffic controllers send short text messages about current traffic and emergencies through the PMDP website as well as via Twitter2 and Facebook3. The aim is to communicate messages to passengers directly, quickly and effectively. Growing popularity and visitor numbers confirm we are moving in the right direction.

Multi-functional municipal chip card – the Pilsen Card

The Pilsen Card is the most widespread transportation ticketing service in Pilsen. In 2004, the Pilsen Card started to operate as one of the first multi-functional municipal chip card systems in the Czech Republic. PMDP has distributed over 285,000 cards to date. Passengers use the card primarily as a prepaid ticket storage device or e-wallet to purchase single tickets on-board public transportation vehicles. Moreover, the Pilsen Card can be used to pay for parking, gain entrance to municipal organisations connected to the card or reserve entrance tickets to cultural and sports events via the Pilsen Ticket reservation system. The card also serves as a library card or can be used for a bonus programme at partner businesses and institutions.

PMDP customers have been able to top-up their Pilsen Cards at self-service zones. A total of 26 machines were set-up in and around Pilsen and offers services to top-up pre-paid tickets or e-wallets on the Pilsen Card.

As the integrated transportation system (Integrated Pilsen Transportation – IDP) has expanded to areas farther from Pilsen, a new self-service zone model was sought that would be available throughout the entire Pilsen Region. One option that was considered was the use of the ATM network, which has long provided not only cash withdrawals, but also an increasing array of other services.

PMDP held a tender and the winning bid came from České spořitelny, a. s. In addition to an exponential increase in the number of selfservice sites (as well as coverage throughout the region), this option proved to be far better for PMDP in terms of investment and operations.

It took less than a year for the ATM network to be adapted to provide Pilsen Card services, and in the end 84 ATMs (38 in Pilsen, 14 within the IDP network outside Pilsen and 32 outside the IDP network) offer full Pilsen Card services. Cardholders can use the ATMs to load prepaid tickets and electronic money onto the card and complete top-up operations started online (ticket validation). The ATMs can also work with electronic school enrolment confirmations. In practice this means that students who take advantage of the student ticket discount do not have to go to a PMDP contact centre in person, as the entire system receives information about the cardholder’s enrolment directly from the school they attend.

The self-service zone system is being slowly dismantled and will be completely halted by the end of 2013. This change is connected with the planned transition of the Pilsen Card system to a more secure chip. Whereas the self-service zones would have needed to be equipped with completely new electronics, the ATMs had already foreseen the transition to a newer card and the entire system is ready to use them.

There is a growing trend of ATM use among customers. Regardless of which bank the customer uses for their account, no additional fee is applied when cardholders use their bank cards to top-up their Pilsen Cards at a Česká spořitelna ATM.

The ATM topping-up service is yet another innovative project initiated by the Pilsen Card team and may serve as an inspiration presented by the Pilsen Card for other transportation companies’ and integrated transportation systems’ multi-functional card systems.

Investments into the vehicle fleet

In 2009, an Investment Planning Strategy was compiled to plan vehicle purchases and upgrades for a 13-year period. Each year the strategy is updated and expanded to include another year. The following are the key para – meters in processing and updating the strategy: number of vehicles for each type of traction; required average age (for buses pursuant to Government Decree No. 63/2011 Coll.); vehicle service life; the ratio of short to long vehicles; and for trolleybuses, the ratio of vehicles with auxiliary engines to those without.

In 2011-2013 a total of CZK 771.87 million (approximately €31 million) was invested into vehicle purchases and upgrades (forecast for 2013).

In this period, 13 SOR buses under 12m, eight large-capacity Solaris buses, eight trolleybuses under 12ms without auxiliary engines, nine largecapacity trolleybuses without auxiliary engines and one large-capacity trolleybus with an auxiliary engine were purchased. Among trams, four unidirectional VarioLFplusPL trams and two bidirectional Vario LF 2/2 IN trams were purchased and 21 T3 trams were upgraded to Vario LFR.S.

In 2010, PMDP took part in developing and manufacturing a new prototype of the VarioLFplus tram in cooperation with Pragoimex, a.s. In 2011, another tram of this model was manufactured, once again in joint production. Both vehicles are a part of the PMDP fleet.

In 2009, PMDP had the opportunity to apply for a grant from the EU through the Regional Operational Programme ROP NUTS II Southwest. A total of CZK 117 million (€4.7 million) in grant-money was provided to PMDP towards large-capacity trolleybus purchases and tram upgrades in 2010-2012.


Pilsen has 52km of tramways. Points with common crossings and points are an integral part of the tram tracks. Maintenance on these tracks is carried out by PMDP’s Railway Track Department (Railway Track Centre). Major repairs and reconstruction work is comm – issioned by the owner of the tram tracks – the City of Pilsen.

The tram and trolleybus network infra – structure is being systematically upgraded. In the past year, the tram depot in Pilsen’s Slovany district underwent extensive reconstruction. All of the electric and trailing points were replaced throughout the facility and a track with VETRA traffic control was built. The halls were also reconstructed – the power supply was upgraded, zero voltage signalling systems were installed and a hinged overhead line was built for pantograph testing. For the past several years the VETRA system was gradually added to the municipal rail network. The points are equipped with the VETRA communications system and the TSC electro-hydraulic point machine. Electro-hydraulic point machines move flexible tramline points into the required direction. The on-board computer automatically controls the command based on the route that has been selected. In special cases, points can be controlled using manual buttons on the rail point terminal in the vehicle or, in an emergency, using the manual lever. The VETRA rail comm – unication system is a modern system for local, two-way transmission of data between the vehicle and the rail track equipment. Not only does it control the points, it also reads data – such as the passage of vehicles, checking points at certain times, etc. This system is now installed in 80% of points, replacing the older VSP1K model and its electromagnetic point machine.

When a 2,360m section of the busiest tram tracks in Pilsen were reconstructed in 2011, the BKV system was used in a part of the section. BKV tracks are composed of a concrete base and asphalt strip onto which a concrete panel is mounted. Each panel has two steel grooves lined with foundation rubber and B1 rails. Side rubber inserts keep the gauge at 1,435mm. Rubber also helps reduce noise pollution when a tram travels on the rails. A fixed carriageway construction featuring NT1 rails was used in the second section of the reconstruction project, between the tram stops U Družby and Severka. Concrete sleepers cast in a single concrete panel form the base of the fixed carriageway. The rails are attached to the concrete sleepers using flexible clamps and a rail screw. They were also mounted with covering panels.

The rail crossings at a transfer junction in the centre of Pilsen, which is where all of Pilsen’s tram lines intersect, were replaced in 2011. A single-block crossing was produced and due to the heavy wear that is expected at the curve, welds were added to the bottom and the side grooves. Hard CrNi welds were used on the side grooves and CrMn welds with a CrNi interlayer were used on the bottom of the grooves. The gauge and wear are measured at these crossings every year.

International conference directed by PMDP

Since 2010, PMDP has held an international professional conference titled ‘Smart and Healthy Municipal Public Transport’. The 2013 conference4 was attended by over 300 partici – pants from 10 countries in Europe and beyond. Pilsen welcomed speakers from Canada, the United States and other countries. The conference focused on four areas: intelligent transportation systems for a smart city; sustainable municipal transportation for the 21st century; technology inside vehicles and on municipal public transport lines; and municipal public transport marketing and finance. Each year the conference also includes an ex – tens ive side programme. The third conference is scheduled for 21-22 April 2015.



2. @PMDPnews





Michal Kraus has been the General Manager of PMDP since 2004. Before this, Michal held positions as Vice-President for Human Resources Management for Czech Airlines, and HR Manager and Member of the Managing Board for ŠKODA Holding, a.s.