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London's iBus system

Controllers at London's CentreCom are responsible for keeping the city moving, watching over the entire fleet of the city's buses. They use the iBus system, which includes satellite technology, to track every bus.

LONDON: When Singapore moves to a government contracting model for the public bus industry, there will be open competition in the market.

It's a model which has worked in cities like London, one of the most congested cities in Europe.

It has a population of more than eight million, most of them using the bus for transport.

To improve service reliability, London introduced the contracting regime in the mid-1980s.

And, bus operators in the city are graded using a system called "excess waiting time" (EWT).

This is the average time passengers wait over and above what would have been expected if the service was running exactly as scheduled.

Our reporter was in London to look at the city's iBus system, which controllers at London's CentreCom use to track every bus.

Alex Moffat, manager (performance development) at Transport for London, said: "They can see if the bus is late, the bus is early, or there are long gaps between the buses, or bunching up, and then they can take actions to improve that performance, such as separating the gaps, splitting up bunches. We get much better performance, because the operators know where the buses are, and they can intervene."

Controllers can intervene by putting more buses on the route or pull them out out of service so they can stay on schedule.

Curtailing the buses means that passengers will be asked to get off, and take the next bus which comes along.

There are also iBus control centres at individual depots where controllers work with CentreCom and communicate with drivers, who alert them of incidents on the roads.

Jorge Andres Perea, Go-Ahead London controller, said: "The drivers are my eyes on the road, and if I maintain good communications with them, they will never hesitate in calling me just to give me the information. If the road closure is ahead, I will be able to actually tell the driver to divert."

Information from the bus control centre is also shared with commuters so they can plan their journeys better.

Countdown is a real time display information that predicts the arrival time of buses. It is available at 2,500 selected bus stops, and the information can also be found via apps on the mobile phone.

The arrival times displayed here are generally reliable, and accurate.

Since iBus was introduced, excess wait time has been reduced to one minute - down from the earlier 1.2 minutes.

The improvements also mean operators have to meet higher standards.

Go-Ahead London managing director John Trayner said: "As we improve performance, that new performance becomes your new target. When the contract is re-tendered, it becomes ever more difficult to continue to achieve, and improve that performance. Across the whole London bus network now, the EWT of one minute is difficult to improve on, but we are now looking at ways we can do that, where we can squeeze every last bit out."

This has translated to better commuter experience.

The latest Transport for London report showed passenger satisfaction at a record 83 per cent.

London TravelWatch's director for policy and investigation, Tim Bellenger, said: "The contracting regime has been here for quite some time, and it has worked very well. We see a wide range of people using the bus network right across different aspects of society. So, passenger confidence in the bus network has been built on that strong experience of having, knowing what exactly they are going to get from the bus network."

"Buses in the morning (are) very fast, they are quite on time generally. Obviously, there are a lot of people using the public transport, so you have to wait maybe one or two buses, but overall the consistency is pretty good," said bus commuter Umesh Kumar.

"It would be nice if we can clear the roads a little bit more, so you don't get stuck in traffic jams all the time," said bus commuter Jo Tinning-Clowes.

Clearing the roads is a big challenge in a city which is constantly growing.

Bus operators hope London authorities can alleviate congestion and give buses more priority on the roads.

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