Working to increase public transport’s popularity in Norway
Posted: 30 June 2015 | Audun M. Solheim, Head of Strategy and Development, Kolumbus
Kolumbus AS is an independent public transport authority fully owned by Rogaland County Municipality – the regional governing administration of Rogaland, Norway. Rogaland is inhabited by close to 500,000 people and covers around 10,000km2 in the south-western parts of Norway. Half the population lives in and around Stavanger, Rogaland’s main city, while most of the region is quite sparsely populated. Transporting approximately 65,000 bus passengers every day, Audun M. Solheim, Head of Strategy and Development at Kolumbus, gives an overview of Rogalund’s bus structure, including running a fleet on alternative fuels, mobile ticketing developments, the benefits of passenger counting, plus the usefulness of real-time information and travel planning apps.
In total, Kolumbus transports 65,000 bus passengers every day, adding up to around 23 million passengers a year. Approximately 75% of the bus passengers travel in and around Stavanger. A long coastline and several fjords characterise the county’s geography, and although public transport by bus is our main activity, we also transport almost a million passengers by boat every year. Stavanger is considered the oil capital of Norway, and the relatively wealthy population has had a tradition of choosing private cars over public transportation. However, with a growing population and increasing rush hour traffic, there is a growing awareness of the benefits of public transport, and efforts are being made on various levels to increase public transport’s popularity.
Until recently, there has been few bus lanes in Rogaland, hence the buses have been queuing together with private cars. The Busway 2020 project is radically changing the situation, establishing a busway going through the busiest parts of the Stavanger area, connecting some of the most important junctions. The project’s working title is Metro On Wheels as the buses run in separate lanes in the middle of the street with car lanes on each side, going straight through roundabouts. The busway will be 40km-long and the yearly production has been estimated at four million route-kilometres. Designated buses will operate the busway, and we assume no ticketing will take place on board. Busway 2020 will greatly improve the punctuality and frequency of Kolumbus’ services.
Most of the buses operating for Kolumbus will soon be eight years old, which is the maximum average age in our contracts. The next tender will not be settled until summer 2016, thus the technical details of our new buses are still not known. However, our long-term goal is to offer public transport services that run on fossil free fuel, which is reflected in ongoing and planned tenders.
We have a wide variety of bus types running in our services. The majority of the approximate 400 buses are between 13-15m-long with passenger seating capacity ranging from 45 to 55 seats with the same amount of standing room. We also have some 18m-long articulated buses and three double-deckers. Currently, diesel is our main fuel source, and most vehicles are in accordance with the EURO 3 to 5 standards. We also have 50 buses running on natural gas and one diesel-electric hybrid.
To increase our knowledge about various fuel alternatives, Kolumbus is currently taking part in a pilot project where two electric buses run in regular route traffic. To our knowledge, these are the only electric buses running in daily services in Norway. Unlike the rest of the buses operating on our routes, which belong to the bus companies we have contracts with, the electric buses will be Kolumbus’ property when the current tender ends. Three additional electric buses will start operating on our routes mid-summer 2016.
Since 2006, Kolumbus’ ticketing system has been based on Mifare electronic travel cards. Tickets are sold on-board, in customer service centres and via the online shop. Although we believe that ID-based ticketing and mobile technology, perhaps in combination with EMV technology, is the next main trend in public transport ticketing, electronic travel cards are still Kolumbus’ main ticketing channel, and we aim to develop it further through 2015.
Integrating the online shop for electronic travel cards with our own website, making the tickets as accessible for our customers as possible, is currently one of our main priorities. Providing our customers with a single sign-on for all our public services has been a long-term goal. We have also improved the transfer rate from the online shop to the ticketing machines from once a day to every two hours. An adaption of the national standard introduced in early-2015 also allowed customers with travel cards from other counties to use these as payment on Kolumbus’ buses.
Our first 10 ticket vending machines were distributed during the first half of 2015. Although we do not think that the ticket machines will function as major sales channels in the future, we see them as a natural supplement to our existing channels. The ticket machines integrate with our electronic ticketing system and provide both paper tickets and tickets for electronic travel cards. The ticket machines can also be considered a preparation for Busway 2020 and the planned fee for buying tickets on-board.
‘Kolumbus Billett’ – our mobile ticketing app – was launched in 2013. Initially, we only offered single tickets via the app, but the remaining tickets became available throughout the following year and the beginning of 2015. The mobile tickets contain a QR-code for ticket inspections, but Kolumbus relies on the bus drivers’ visual control of the ticket, as we have not installed QR-readers on-board. We are not likely to implement any NFC or iBeacon functionality for automatic validation of the tickets until we see a common standard across mobile operating systems.
The ticket app integrates with a national ticketing standard and interoperability service, and both the QR-code and the animation for visual inspection are generated according to the national standard. This means that other public transport companies can verify Kolumbus’ mobile tickets, regardless of the companies’ geographical locations and preferred app platforms and vendors.
The ticket app is one of our most effective means in reducing boarding time and minimising cash handling on-board, thus increasing security and reducing cost. Hence, we continue to develop our ticket app. In early-May 2015 we introduced a B2B functionality, enabling companies to offer their employees discounted tickets through the app. The company’s administrators can also send tickets directly to their employees’ mobile phones. The new solution is not only useful for companies that wish to offer their employees a discount; it also provides Kolumbus with the possibility to offer limited campaign tickets and different public authorities to send tickets directly to their clients.
Although the majority of our customers still use our electronic travel cards, we believe there will be a steady shift to mobile tickets over the coming years. The planned fee for buying tickets on-board is thought to accelerate the development.
Pricing and zone structure
Our customers increasingly make use of, and demand, self-service solutions. As we started introducing new technology to facilitate this demand, such as the mobile ticketing app, we uncovered several issues we needed to address. The most obvious issues were a complex ticket portfolio with a confusing amount of options and discounts and a vast and very detailed zone system.
Unfortunately, the development in customer demands and technology has been quicker than the development in our own business rules, which has resulted in user-friendly technology with a relatively complex content. Simplifying our pricing and zone structure is, however, on top of our list of priorities and an ongoing project together with our owner.
The shift to mobile ticketing creates a demand for automatic passenger counting (APC), as the validation of electronic travel cards no longer is a reliable source to passenger information. Kolumbus does not have APC installed on-board any buses at this point, but it will be a criterion for all new tenders starting as of summer 2016. It will be the bus companies’ job to provide Kolumbus with APC data, so the type of technology is yet to be decided.
Besides the mandatory APC, we are also starting another APC project this year. Installing 30 to 40 units as part of a research project, we will use Wi-Fi signals from our passengers’ mobile phones to count passengers. This method, using anonymised data, has a great advantage compared to regular APC in that we are able to track passengers transferring from one bus route to another, which is extremely valuable information, particularly to our route planners.
Real-time information and travel planning
Just like the ticketing app, our travel planner app and our real-time app are becoming increasingly popular among our passengers, leading to fewer enquiries to our customer service centres. The two apps are currently being merged into one app, adding real-time information to the travel planner and reducing the number of apps for the passengers to download.
We have also recently started the distribution of deviation alerts through our real-time and travel planner apps. Unfortunately, delays are unavoidable, but prompt and precise deviation alerts may increase the passengers’ tolerance and consequently increase customer satisfaction. Customers can also find real-time information and deviation alerts on monitors on-board all of our buses and on around 50 bus stop monitors located near our main junctions.
Audun M. Solheim has been Head of Strategy and Development at Kolumbus since 2014. With his background from the IT industry and extensive management experience, Audun thrives on working with the combination of people and technology. Audun has hands-on experience with developing user-friendly solutions for web and mobile, as well as UX experience. He joined Kolumbus from CGI Norway where he was Department Manager of the Portal and Mobile team. Audun believes that Kolumbus makes Rogaland a better place to live.