Over the last week, commuters on Strætó bs, the public transport company that operates the buses in Reykjavík, have been getting used to the sound of a new automated service announcing the name of each destination along their route. The new service is part of a recent redevelopment program by the company, aimed at improving information relay to passengers and to generally make taking the bus a much more efficient and userfriendly experience.
This might seem an unnecessary change for many regular users who already know where they are going, but could be viewed as a welcome addition for many others that don’t. Grapevine spoke to project manager Bergdís Eggertsdóttir to find out what these changes will really mean for both regular users and shiny new passengers alike.
Ch-ch -ch -ch -changes !
The primary change to the fleet has been a switch over to GPS equipment from the current radio system, which involves calling each driver individually, much like that in a taxi company. “A major benefit of being linked by GPS and satellite is that the whole fleet and the control centre will be on the same time,” Bergdís informs me. Installed on both the buses and in Strætó’s control centre, the system means that all the drivers will be working off the same time, on the same schedule and can be traced anywhere along their route. This sounds useful when you consider that before this, each driver was completely dependent upon the time on their mobile phone or watch, resulting in various discrepancies.
“We knew our system was outdated and needed to be revamped, so this upgrade has been part of an overall strategic plan,” Bergdís tells me. When asked whether any of the new changes had been introduced in response to customer feedback, she added that they do receive emails and calls and log any customers complaints: “The intention has been to create a platform upon which we can integrate these suggestions”.
The announcement system, which informs passengers of their next stop, has been introduced on 50 of the 120 buses in the fleet, and the company plans to have both these systems in place on every Reykjavík bus by late November. This could be a welcome change for many tourists and out-oftowners that have no way of finding out where their stop is, other than asking the driver.
Way of the future
Staying on the theme of improving information provision, Bergdís outlined the company’s plan to install visual signage on board all buses in the coming months. “Similar to bus systems in other countries, the Strætó fleet will be fitted in the coming months with scrolling electronic signs that display the name of each stop as the bus approaches it”, she explained, adding that this will benefit the hearing impaired, those who missed the announcement, were unable to hear it. Or just plain couldn’t make out what it was saying in the first place.
Another development down the line is to introduce information updates via mobile phones. According to Bergdís, plans are also afoot to make real-time information available to passengers waiting at bus stops via their mobile phones, so they can keep themselves informed as to when their bus will arrive. “As 99% of people have a mobile phone, it is an effective way to stay upto- date,” she adds.
Yeah , but what will it cost ?
Now introducing sweeping changes is one thing, but all too often this can mean a price hike for the end users of the service. How does Strætó plan to avoid the cost of these redevelopments being passed on to passengers? “There is currently no plan to increase passenger fees as a result of these changes,” says Bergdís, “actually they have stayed the same since 2007, approximately. The cost of the upgrades have been absorbed by building upon the existing communication system, as well as negotiating competitive pricing agreements with contractors.”
Which brings us round to the issue of ticketing. Many of us have been in the following scenario. It’s raining, you’re waiting for your bus and you suddenly realise you’ve no money. So you run to the cash machine before dashing to the corner shop to buy some gum in order to get the necessary change. As you race back, the bus rushes past, drenching you with a puddle of water for good measure. So, are there any steps being taken to make paying for your journey more convenient? Happily, Bergdís informs me that the company is currently researching the implementation of a credit/debit card payment system for passengers. “We are still in the planning stage with this, as we need to find a system of processing payments that won’t cause unwanted delays for customers. But we recognise the importance of this issue and it is something that we are developing and intend to roll out in the coming months.”
Encouraging people to choose public transport over cars makes pretty good environmental sense. I asked if the company had any specific plans to roll out more eco-friendliness down the line. “Alongside internal recycling policies, we currently have two buses running on methane bio-fuel, and are looking at various methods of increasing this number,” Bergdís replied. Possible solutions mentioned were hybrid models or the introduction of electric buses, the latter being a solution Iceland should be in a very strong position to develop given its natural resources.
Strætó’s official mission statement seeks to encourage people to take the bus, seeing it as a more efficient, environmentally friendly and quicker solution than using a private car. Will these changes enable the company to deliver on its ambition? This remains a case of wait and see. “We’ve had mainly positive feedback, although a few people have voiced their annoyance at the announcements. The system is still being tested and we are working on finding a good medium for everyone,” Bergdís told me. She also believed that while many might be slow to embrace these changes, they would greatly benefit many regular and new passengers, as well increase accessibly for those with hearing and visual impairments. “We can’t address all of these issues overnight, but this is an important first step and we firmly believe that it is a positive one for many in the long term”.
In the drive to reduce traffic congestion, encourage ‘greener’ transport options and generally just get from A to B with a little less hassle, let’s hope so.