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CitySwift 101: Introducing our bus data engine

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CitySwift 101: Introducing our bus data engine

At CitySwift, we have worked tirelessly to create a specialist data engine that can increase and enhance the performance and efficiency of public transport networks, while also boosting service reliability and passenger satisfaction. 

Its development has been driven by a team with more than 40 years’ in-depth experience of the bus industry – which gives us a unique understanding of the operational challenges bus operators face on a day-to-day basis.

However, we appreciate that concepts such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning might be a little daunting for bus operators that have yet to fully embrace new technologies, so we thought it would be a good idea to open the bonnet of our platform and demonstrate its usefulness and relevance to today’s bus industry.

But first, a little bit of background...

The bus data experts

CitySwift is not just yet another technology company that enters a market and claims to have all the answers. We actually have an in-depth understanding of the bus industry – as Andy Foster from National Express West Midlands - an early CitySwift client - attests.

"CitySwift have an underlying knowledge of the transport business,” he said recently. “They are not just another IT company saying, ‘Oh, we know how to use big data and we’re sure we know how it can apply to you.’ They actually know how it can be applied effectively."

"CitySwift have an underlying knowledge of the transport business. They are not just another IT company saying, ‘Oh, we know how to use big data and we’re sure we know how it can apply to you.’ They actually know how it can be applied effectively."

We are passionate believers in what the bus industry can achieve when given the right tools to do the job, and by combining our experience with very latest big data technology, we have created a suite of products that can revolutionise service delivery for operators. 

Our platform takes information from a variety of existing bus technology systems - helping to bring additional value to your previous investment - and combines it with a vast array of big data sources in order to create highly relevant datasets that are tailored to each network and location. 

And as we work with an increasing number of transport operators, we develop new products and solutions that help us to scale our technology faster.

The rapid pace of technological change

Technology moves fast – just look back a decade ago to 2010; Apple had only just launched the iPad and smartphones were still in their infancy. It was a time when the work phone was invariably a Blackberry – remember them?! 

The transport industry has made leaps and bounds in embracing new technologies since then too. Gone are the days when a bus operator would send out their fleet each morning and be largely left in the dark about matters such as operational performance or even vehicle location. Timetabling was largely left to guesswork or gut instinct.

But today's fleets are teeming with the very latest technology. It allows operators to probe and interrogate a whole suite of key performance indicators in seconds rather than days or even weeks that would traditionally be the case with the legacy paper-based systems of just a few years ago.

The CitySwift platform

In the coming months we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts to help you understand more about our suite of products, their relevance and how they can be used by public transport operators to increase operational efficiency, match vehicle supply with passenger demand and provide a deeper understanding of the factors affecting their network performance. We’ll also look at how our technology can be harnessed to improve passenger satisfaction.

But to kick off, we’d like to introduce you to our platforms – SwiftConnect, SwiftMetrics and SwiftSchedule.

SwiftConnect: Keeping passengers informed about the best time to travel

SwiftConnect

We originally developed SwiftConnect in partnership with the Go-Ahead Group in response to Covid-19. However, we believe this technology has some serious benefits for both operators and passengers alike in the post-pandemic world. 

As a result we are now working closely with other operator partners to roll out this innovative software elsewhere, starting with National Express West Midlands – the UK’s largest bus network outside of London.

SwiftConnect uses artificial intelligence technology to predict capacity levels for every bus on any given date and time. This information is provided to passengers in a dynamic colour-coded format – in other words a simple traffic light-style display.

The real strength of the technology is as a pre-planning aid; those looking to travel to work, education, the shops or even for a coffee with a friend can view a prediction of the likely bus passenger volumes. This information is not just provided for the journey in question, but it is also offered for each point-to-point within the journey as well.

It means that passengers can make an informed decision about when to travel, improving comfort, safety and peace of mind. There are also some potentially significant benefits for operators too by helping to spread the peaks and stimulate demand off-peak by encouraging travel on quieter buses.

"I think it could be the most powerful use of big data yet in terms of aiding local bus networks and customer service,” said Martijn Gilbert, Managing Director of Go North East. “That's a bold statement, but we are really excited about it."

"I think it could be the most powerful use of big data yet in terms of aiding local bus networks and customer service. That's a bold statement, but we are really excited about it."

You can experience SwiftConnect for yourself via the Go-Ahead Group and National Express websites.

SwiftMetrics: Boosting network performance

SwiftMetrics

SwiftMetrics aims to give bus operators a full understanding of their networks by placing performance closely under the microscope. 

Our bus data engine seamlessly integrates with existing operator systems - for example, ticket machine feeds or AVL data - to instantly visualise and automatically report detailed reliability, efficiency and demand metrics. That means we add value to existing operator investment.

SwiftMetrics provides schedulers and network planners with specific information on reliability, efficiency and passenger demand metrics. This information can then be imported into a bus operator’s existing scheduling set-up in order to ensure operations are as efficient as possible, while also significantly boosting performance. 

It empowers operators to react rapidly to sudden changes in demand or emerging mobility patterns – something highly relevant in the ‘new normal’.

"The future is going to be very challenging," commented Andy Foster. "SwiftMetrics will help us deliver the best possible service because we can quickly analyse trends and probe demand, vehicle speeds and identify problem locations.”

"The future is going to be very challenging. SwiftMetrics will help us deliver the best possible service because we can quickly analyse trends and probe demand, vehicle speeds and identify problem locations.”

SwiftSchedule: optimising timetables

SwiftSchedule

SwiftSchedule can accurately predict bus journey times, based on operating conditions and passenger demand. It aims to help operators ensure that every single bus is where it’s expected to be by harnessing the power of our bus data engine to consider traffic congestion, events and other external factors that can affect service reliability. 

It is important to highlight that this technology is not a stand-alone scheduling tool. It integrates closely with existing scheduling systems to accurately predict journey times based on operating conditions and passenger demand, significantly reducing network review timescales and increasing network efficiency.

Want to know what effect the opening of a new school or leisure facility could have on your network? SwiftSchedule can provide the answers by evaluating and comparing multiple scenarios while also examining the likely impact on bus times and operational costs. 

Our aim is to enable informed decision-making for network development and growth while also significantly reducing network review timescales and increasing network efficiency.

"SwiftSchedule enables us to complete analysis of running times in hours rather than days or weeks,” Andy added.

"SwiftSchedule enables us to complete analysis of running times in hours rather than days or weeks.”

Powering a revolution for bus networks

This is just the beginning. 

Our team of bus data experts continue to work closely with operators to enhance our existing technology suite and develop new ideas – our rapid development and deployment of SwiftConnect during lockdown is a case in point.

The post-Covid world will bring new opportunities to unlock the potential of our expertise, especially as towns and cities across the world look to move to a more sustainable way in which they approach mobility.

We believe data-driven operators will be best placed to take advantage of this transition. 

So stay tuned.

The Data-Driven Bus Operator