Without ICT, the buses and trams of De Lijn would be unable to run. ICT supports the public transport company’s major operational processes: route planning, ticket sales, travel time information for travelers on variable message signs … De Lijn is increasingly using mobile data communication to expand and support its service.
A good five years ago, De Lijn decided to consolidate its ICT infrastructure at the head office in Mechelen. Virtualization of the server fleet and the storage environment was followed by a project for application and desktop virtualization. Now that the internal infrastructure has been thoroughly overhauled, De Lijn wants to further improve its service to travelers – on the basis of this infrastructure. This involves the launch of the ReTiBo project. The goal is to get a better overview of the use of the bus and tram lines by automating traveler transactions. “The primary area of impact for ICT is that all vehicles are now equipped with onboard computers,” explains Bert Van Hemelen, Infrastructure Manager at De Lijn. “Via mobile data communication, we can connect directly to the company network (intranet).”
Currently the route planning for De Lijn still functions offline, with a cassette that the drivers need to pick up in the morning at the off-hours car park and take along onboard the bus. Van Hemelen: “Via the onboard computer, we will be able to adjust the schedule in real time. That should make the route planning considerably more efficient.” At the same time, De Lijn will use the onboard computer to gain valuable insight into the behavior of the travelers. The computer will record where and how frequently season-ticket holders board, and will manage the payment transactions, etc. In fact, this is hardly the only application for which De Lijn uses mobile data communication. “Some 1,000 of our 5,000 vehicles are already equipped with a camera security system. If the driver presses the emergency button, the solution will stream the footage mobilely to the central office. In this way it is possible to view what is happening on the bus in real time and – if necessary – to notify the emergency services or the police.”
From dial-a-bus to fraud prevention
The scheduling for the on-request ‘dial-a-bus’ is already communicated to the driver via mobile data communication. “The ‘dial-a-bus’ service allows us to provide public transport in the most efficient way possible for thinly populated areas,” Van Hemelen noted. “Travelers need to call the central service a minimum of two hours ahead of time. That’s where the schedules for the routes are drawn up. A half hour before the service begins the driver – on the bus – receives a schedule via a printer with a GPRS modem.” Even more mobile machine-tomachine communication is found at the refueling installations at the off-hours parking bays of De Lijn. “We use a control system there to prevent fraud. The refueling unit is generally located at the far end of the parking bay. Instead of investing in permanent cabling, it proved more economical to run the solution via mobile data communication.” Onboard the buses themselves, De Lijn has installed ecodrive devices. They collect data on the driver’s driving behavior and transmit it mobilely. Based on this data, De Lijn can offer drivers useful tips on a more fuel-efficient driving style.
Mobile is the new platform
“We also use mobile data communication to inform travelers,” Van Hemelen continued. “The large information panels – like those found in train stations – are directly connected to our WAN. In addition, we have so far installed some 350 bus stop display columns where we can provide real-time information on the arrival times of the buses.” These bus stop display columns – which stand out on account of their large-format display – are already in use in Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven. Here again, GPRS proved to be the most efficient way to connect with the company network. “There is a clear shift underway,” Van Hemelen concluded. “Ultimately, mobile data communication will grow into the basic platform for the new operational model for De Lijn.”
De Lijn carries over 550 million passengers each year. In the process, the public transport company drives 210 kilometers by bus and 15 million kilometers by tram. De Lijn has a workforce of over 8,000 employees and a turnover of nearly 1 billion euros.
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