London’s lumbering, fume-snorting buses may sometimes seem like a relic from a previous industrial era, but for all their many flaws, they are home to a surprising amount of technology – not least the infrastructure that underpins Transport for London (TfL)’s iBus system, which spans vehicle location, passenger information, payments data collection, traffic light signalling and more.
The iBus system uses a combination of on-bus computers, GPS, a wide-area network (WAN), and a smartphone app API to provide real-time bus location information to passengers and depots, as well as a wealth of data to TfL.
iBus also underpins the data collection and calculation engine behind £2 billion in annual payments to London’s bus operating companies (BOCs) and helps buses connect with 2,700 smart traffic lights via shortwave, to request priority.
With an initial £162.4 million contract for the system awarded to Siemens in 2005 – later taken over by Trapeze in 2009 – the system has been in place for some time.
After 14 years, is it time for a replacement?
Time for iBus2?
Trapeze won a fresh five-year £98.2 million contract in May 2015 that includes clauses for two further one-year extensions.
TfL is looking ahead to 2022, however, and mulling plans to fundamentally overhaul the spine of the capital’s bus intelligence provision, with plans for an “iBus2” beginning to take shape.
A public information notice gives a flavour of what TfL is hoping for.
Computer Business Review took a closer look at the procurement brochure too. Here’s what we found. Firstly, TfL has three main aspirations for its planned iBus2: lower cost, more flexibility and the ability to function as a source of Open Data.
(London’s buses pump between 26,100-43,500 files daily into TfL’s 7TB database; downloading it via wi-fi at their respective depots.)
Read this: TfL – Calling All White Hats
Yet right now, TfL is not entirely sure what it’s looking for.
The company is planning a Market Briefing Event to discuss potential solutions, tentatively pencilled in for Thursday 14.2.2019. Meanwhile, assessing options.
As the brochure puts it: “It is possible that through this process TfL will decide to procure a similar end-to-end system to the one that exists today. Equally, TfL has a history of innovation and is not averse to change.”
“There are a number of other models for running solutions using standards based architectures and through these, introducing more choice to TfL, more flexibility for bus operators and a standard platform for future change.”
“Currently, our thinking is that TfL may procure a back office solution from a single supplier, but would like to explore the ability to purchase on-vehicle hardware from multiple vendors that can operate with that back office. This is a position statement only and the EME process is intended to inform the final decision.”
As its vision statement sums up though, in a time of biting cost-savings, one thing is paramount: cost-efficiency.
(TfL drives over 85 percent of its revenue from passenger income and last year was forced to tighten its belt [pdf] as it faced its first financial year without a direct operational grant from the government, meaning the loss of more than £700 million in funding.)
“The iBus2 project will provide an ITS solution for London buses which costs less to operate, retains the current functionality of iBus as a minimum… provides more flexible and efficient bus operation, service control and management of bus services by BOCs… Allows TfL to plan an efficient bus network for London and has a life expectancy of not less than 15 years.”