The Automation & Self-Service Awards recognize exceptional innovations that create great user experiences and boost business effectiveness in seven categories: Best Use of AI, Vending, Kiosk, Robotics, Accessibility, Best Mobile Solution, and Influencer of the Year. Cherryh Cansler, VP of events for Networld Media Group, and Dave Wurm, chief sales officer at Networld Media Group, producer of the summit, presented the award winners.  

As the winner in the Accessibility category, Visor represents the future of transportation by enabling passengers with sight loss to have greater independence while using public transportation, providing easy access and personalized information that makes travel more comfortable and reassuring for everyone. 

Visor is more than just a technological solution; it is a symbol of hope for millions of passengers with sight loss addressing the challenges in navigating while traveling. These passengers have long struggled with traditional signage and therefore cannot be fully independent in unfamiliar environments.  

Our vision for Visor was to address these challenges and transform transportation infrastructure into an accessible and inclusive environment. Visor provides contextual guidance to travelers, helping make transit facilities fully accessible, and allowing us to build transportation systems which can be enjoyed by all.  

The solution, developed by GoMedia in partnership with the Royal Institute of Blind People (RNIB), leverages NaviLens BIDI codes and GoMedia’s cloud-based, passenger information system to display directions in the NaviLens and NaviLens GO apps. 

“I am deeply honored to accept the 2023 Automation & Self-Service Award in the Accessibility Category for our groundbreaking innovation, Visor,” said Roger Matthews, Chief Commercial Officer. “Our journey to this award has been one of perseverance and dedication, and we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our partners for their unwavering support and commitment to realizing our vision.” 

Visor is the first and only solution that gives users contextual awareness and autonomy back with an interface that gives passengers information in the format that exactly fits their accessibility needs exactly. Something that point-to-point navigation does not provide. Visor provides many innovative features, including real-time live personal journey information in at least 24 different languages about facilities, points of interests, and retail, and navigation directly to the passenger’s device.  

Visor’s approach is unique in the market. It makes use of optical BIDI codes that can be scanned from a smart device up to 12x further away than similarly sized QR codes. Passengers simply hold up their smartphone. The smart device automatically recognizes any BIDI codes in view and displays location- and context-specific directions to help the passenger reach their destinations more quickly and easily.  

“I believe that innovations like Visor are key to realizing a more inclusive tomorrow, where all individuals can travel with greater ease and confidence, especially those with specific accessibility needs,” said Sven Koster, Head of New Business & Innovation.

Transport systems, pavements, and built environments are often not designed to be fully inclusive for blind and partially sighted people, making them difficult to navigate, particularly if the environment is unfamiliar. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) reports that 4 out of 10 blind or partially sighted passengers cannot make all the journeys they need or want to make. 

Visor makes stations accessible for the blind and partially sighted local passengers, as well as offers benefits for tourists that can now find their way around the public infrastructure in their own language; a customer base of 42 million people in the USA and Europe alone. The solution meets multiple needs to the marketplace including: providing accessible wayfinding for visual-impaired travelers, maximizing passenger comfort and confidence, allowing equitable means to travel on mass transit, and expanding ridership by meeting the needs of potential future transportation systems.  

With Visor, Icomera and GoMedia have set a new standard in the transportation industry for being a technological service innovation enhancing the appeal of public transportation in accessibility, comfort, design or user-friendliness of a transport system, vehicles, and stations. 

Let us all continue to work towards a more accessible and inclusive future, where everything from transportation to everyday experiences can be fully enjoyed by all.  

The Polar Bear Express service provides vital connections between the communities of Cochrane and Moosonee, through some of the province’s most remote areas.

Members of the community enjoyed an opportunity to board the train and bus to experience the Passenger Wi-Fi and GoView entertainment portal. Dignitaries joined ONTC’s CEO, Chad Evans and Commission Chair, Alan Spacek as they announced the start of this project, marking a significant milestone in a commitment to modernization.

“Trips can fly by when passengers are connected and entertained; commutes can feel easy when they are productive,” says Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal, President of Icomera North America. “We are thrilled to bring passengers seamless travel – from one mode to another – from Ontario Northland bus to the Polar Bear Express passenger rail service.”

“Plan Group, an EQUANS Company, is proud to be the installation team on this groundbreaking project. Plan Group will perform the installation in accordance with the Icomera (design documentation, project deployment schedule. Our Teams will work as one during the installation efforts by providing the installation modification procedure, quality assurance inspection and testing procedures to validate the work before proceeding to Commissioning and Acceptance Testing. As part of the installation support, training guidance will be provided to ONTC installation staff.” – Scott Mitton, Head of Business Development – Technology for Plan Group, Inc. 

Regional Connected Bus Travel

In January 2023, Icomera partnered with ONTC in designing an onboard connectivity solution for the bus fleet. Ontario Northland’s bus fleet provides transportation from Hearst to Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, and many points in between.

Installations were completed in early October, just in time for the holiday peak travel season. The bus fleet is now equipped with a first-class experience where passengers have access to reliable mobile Internet and entertainment – even on journeys through rural or remote areas – and local information in both English and French.

“The onboard experience continues to evolve in all kinds of exciting ways. Because GoView entertainment content is hosted directly on the onboard hardware and delivered directly to passengers’ mobile devices, there’s no need to download an app and we are proud to be bringing our platform to Ontario Northland,” said Roger Matthews, Icomera Chief Commercial Officer.

These digital transformation projects achieve ONTC’s 2022-2023 Business Plan goals of improving operational efficiency of business lines and consolidating the data expense per vehicle. The projects will continue to be spearheaded by Icomera Canada, led by the project management and technical services team out of Mississauga, and supported globally.

GoMedia’s FOAK23 project, ‘Luna’, comprises a solution that translates digital information listed online into British Sign Language (BSL) and transmits it directly to the user through their smart device, by way of their own personalised digital sign language avatar.

Powered by Signapse technology, the Luna system will be integrated with GoMedia’s accessible wayfinding solution, Visor, giving users access to a wealth of information about their journey, in the way they need it, no matter where they are. Passengers can use their personal devices to access station and facility information, live departures and disruptions, station announcements, and navigational instructions, in BSL as well as audio and text, in as many as 33 different languages.

Signapse’s vision is to translate all the world’s words into sign language. This team of Deaf professionals, entrepreneurs, academics and linguists are using 20 years of research into Generative AI and 300 sign languages.  They are creating the most elegant solution to the problem of dynamic and instant translation of transport announcements for the Deaf Community.

The technology will be trialled by UK transport operator Arriva Rail London, operator of the London Overground service, across five stations for a period of six months and will involve the use of a unique webpage accessed by URL or QR code. Luna will be tested alongside other end-to-end wayfinding systems and user feedback will be collected to determine which solution works best against a wide range of scenarios.

Roger Matthews, Chief Commercial Officer of Icomera and CEO of GoMedia, said: “We are pleased to deliver another innovative accessibility project through the ‘First of a Kind’ programme, adding to a portfolio of award-winning accessibility solutions that have been proven to give passengers more autonomy and independence in how they travel.

With British Sign Language used by over 151,000 people in the UK, including it as a means of communicating important travel updates and wayfinding information is crucial in helping a large number of passengers who may otherwise struggle to make their journey. It therefore made perfect sense to trial GoMedia’s Luna solution, to provide a truly independent journey for our passengers.”

Sally Chalk, Signapse CEO, commented: “Our vision is to translate all the world’s words into sign language. There are 2,400 train stations in the UK in our database.  This partnership means that Deaf passengers can access critical, real-time information about those stations in their pocket, giving our Community the control and choice that they need.”

The AdWheel awards aim to honor public transportation systems and business members for their “outstanding marketing and communications efforts that contributed to strategic organizational goals.” Our instructional video on HEAR, Accessible On Board Train Announcements, demonstrates a prime example of educational communications that empower public transportation decision-makers to make informed choices.

After facing a final round of judging of the 49 First Place winners, GoMedia was one of the APTA Business Members presented with a Grand Award at APTA’s TRANSform Conference and EXPO on October 10, 2023, in Orlando, Florida.

Making public transport inclusive is not just about fulfilling a function, it’s also about instilling confidence in all passengers, regardless of their abilities. It’s especially important for people with hearing loss, who may need assistance when navigating through a transit station, platform, vehicle, and eventually their destination. Therefore, on behalf of the team at GoMedia, I am deeply humbled to receive the Grand Award to recognize us for our accessibility work.” – Sven Koster, Head of New Business and Innovation at GoMedia

The video was created to 1) educate deaf and hard of hearing passengers on how to use HEAR on board trains; 2) empower those passengers to travel independently and, 3) highlight the need for investment in accessible passenger announcements. The video was narrated and produced by Sven Koster, GoMedia’s Head of New Business & Innovation, using his keen eye for storytelling and his own mobile phone.

The story is never completely told; we need to continue to create compelling campaigns that explain the pressing need for accessible journeys, ensuring that transportation infrastructure and technological advancements cater to the diverse needs of all individuals.

The video was used in tandem with a survey with NGO partners for people with hearing impairments to discover the ease of travel and boost confidence. Of those surveyed, 96 percent of the people were more confident during their journey and hoped to utilize public transit for more of their travel – rather than on-demand transit.

HEAR, short for Hearing Enhanced Audio Relay, is an onboard digital service that delivers personalized journey information announcements to passengers with hearing loss. It addresses the pressing need for accessible passenger announcements, ensuring that transportation infrastructure and technological advancements cater to the diverse needs of all individuals.

Winning this award is not just about recognition, it’s a reminder of the importance of inclusivity in every aspect of transit. It’s about making sure that everyone feels welcome and empowered to travel independently. We are committed to continuing to make a real difference in the lives of people with hearing loss, so we will continue to improve HEAR with the hopes of expanding its reach to other transportation systems across the world. Once again, we are humbled by this recognition and grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others.” – Roger Matthews, GoMedia Managing Director

As narrated in the educational video, the HEAR application enables passengers connected to the onboard Wi-Fi to receive personalized journey announcements to their smart devices in real-time. These notifications can be specifically tailored to passengers’ preferences, for example only informing them of announcements relating to their destination, in both audible and readable formats.

Trials of HEAR on Transport for Wales trains on the Rhymney line yielded remarkable results. Passengers with hearing loss received real-time, personalized announcements tailored to their preferences, available in both audible and readable formats, ensuring they did not miss crucial information about their journeys. Inspired by this success, the HEAR campaign was launched to showcase how effective HEAR is compared to traditional hearing loops.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, as of 2022, 11.2 million people, age 65 and older, have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, one in eight people in the United States (13%), aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.

 “As an industry, we must continue to strive towards a future where accessibility is not an afterthought, but a fundamental aspect of passenger experience. We recognize that our work is far from done, and we remain fully committed to our mission of enhancing accessibility and inclusivity in transportation. Thank you, APTA, for this important recognition, which inspires us to continue working towards a more accessible future for all.“– Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal, Icomera US President

GoMedia – a subsidiary of Icomera and of EQUANS – developed the technology with support from non-profit organizations such as Hearing Link and Hearing Dogs with the aim of alleviating the challenges that passengers with hearing loss face. Through educational initiatives, community engagement, and advocacy efforts, this partnership is making significant progress in creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.

HEAR was funded by the Department for Transport through its £9m ‘First of a Kind 2021’ competition, delivered by Innovate UK (part of UKRI).

To view all the APTA AdWheel 2023 Grand Award winners, click here.

Passengers using the Navilens app in DLR stations are automatically connected to GoMedia’s Visor platform, developed in partnership with RNIB. Visor combines Navilens’ wayfinding technology with GoMedia’s real-time journey information, allowing people with sight loss, or facing language barriers, to independently navigate through dynamic and complex transport environments with confidence.

NaviLens is designed specifically to enable blind and partially-sighted people to access and locate information and interact with their environment, particularly in busy areas like train stations. NaviLens’ technology has seen successful deployments in New York Metro, Barcelona, and Los Angeles. It is even used beyond transport, such as in supermarkets on some Kellogg’s packaging, to provide ingredient information.

NaviLens technology is based on image recognition using augmented smart codes, placed along designated customer itineraries, and a smartphone app that provides voice guidance for blind and partially-sighted passengers. Once the smart codes have been scanned using the NaviLens app, users can benefit from the help of the app’s voice assistant to continue their journey, the voice assistant having told them practical information including description of a physical element, guidance indications and real-time DLR arrivals and departures.

BIDI codes are optical smart codes that offer many advantages over standard monochrome QR codes for passengers on the move:
- Easier to spot and scan from a distance (up to 30 meters away)
- Registered 12x faster by a mobile device’s camera, even when they are out of focus or orientation
- Multiple codes can be scanned simultaneously
- Secure, locked-down environment compared to standard, open-source QR codes

The trial of NaviLens will be supported by audio announcements at stations, members of staff at Woolwich Arsenal DLR station and Passenger Service Agents that are onboard all DLR trains to assist passengers. The technology could also support those hampered by language barriers, or passengers unfamiliar with London: the NaviLens app can transmit the information encapsulated in the smart codes in augmented reality, in 33 different languages.

TfL is actively pursuing innovation, and in particular is working with KeolisAmey Docklands to use the DLR as a testbed to help improve customer experience and decarbonisation right across the network.

Seb Dance, Deputy Mayor for Transport said: “Encouraging greater use of public transport is a top priority for the Mayor, and the NaviLens app should make a real difference for partially-sighted customers and help make London’s transport network accessible to all. The DLR is one of the most accessible modes of transport on our network and this new technology will go even further to help customers with access needs travel with ease, building a better, safer and fairer London for all.”

Tom Page, General Manager of the DLR at TfL, said: “Customers are at the heart of everything we do. With step-free access across the DLR network, the NaviLens technology will allow us to use four stations to trial how we can best serve everyone, including those with accessibility needs or needing to access information in other languages. NaviLens will work alongside Passenger Service Agents that are onboard all DLR trains, and we will work with our partners KeolisAmey Docklands, GoMedia and The Royal National Institute of Blind People to review the trial once it has concluded.”

Andrew Dickinson, Service Delivery Director at KeolisAmey Docklands, said: KeolisAmey Docklands are excited to trial the innovative NaviLens technology in partnership with GoMedia, RNIB and Transport for London. We are proud to operate the DLR serving our customers, communities and businesses in east London. We continually look to improve and make our railway even more accessible to all.

This trial is an exciting partnership collaboratively working to improve the customer experience for those who are partially sighted or fully blind. By embracing and building on technological developments we can build the connectivity of the Docklands area to those living around it.

We will also be developing the trial to see how it can help us with other areas of customer communication and provision of service information.

Robin Spinks, RNIB Head of Inclusive Design, said: Navigating train and light rail stations can be a very daunting and anxiety provoking experience for people living with blindness or partial sight.

“As someone who is registered as blind, I can struggle to navigate around train stations as the signs are often inaccessible to me. I don’t want special treatment; I just want access to the same information that everyone else takes for granted.

“RNIB is delighted to be involved in this partnership, where NaviLens technology is enabling more confident, independent travel for people like me.

Roger Matthews, Managing Director of GoMedia and Chief Commercial Officer of its parent company, Icomera, said “GoMedia’s accessibility solution uses a live, cloud-based passenger information system to deliver accurate, content-rich, location-based information to users of the Navilens app. The trial does not require the installation of any additional physical infrastructure aside from the optical smart code stickers, so it presents a fast and cost-effective accessibility win for transport infrastructure owners and operators.

About KeolisAmey Docklands

KeolisAmey Docklands operates and maintains the DLR under franchise for Docklands Light Railway Limited, part of Transport for London. It is the busiest light railway in the UK.

KeolisAmey Docklands is a joint venture between transport operators, Keolis (70%) and infrastructure specialists Amey (30%).

About GoMedia

GoMedia creates award-winning infotainment platforms for rail, coach, and transport companies, including, Greyhound Buses (USA), TransPennine Express, Capitol Corridor (California), Metrolinx (Canada) and more. In September 2020, GoMedia was acquired by Icomera, a subsidiary of Equans and the world’s leading provider of integrated connectivity solutions for public transport. GoMedia is helping to deliver The Connected Journey, improving the onboard experience through world-leading entertainment, live passenger information, and a range of messaging solutions delivered to passengers’ own mobile devices. For more information about GoMedia’s accessibility solution, visit

That’s why constant innovation is vital. Thankfully, due to the ever-increasing levels of digitalisation within the public transportation industry, the capacity to deliver experiences which live up to passenger demand has been significantly improved in tandem: Fast and reliable connectivity empowers transport operators to enhance existing onboard passenger services, or to deploy helpful and handy new applications.

In this article, I’d like to introduce and explain two such GoMedia solutions in a little more detail: At-Seat Ordering, and ScreenShare.

At-Seat Ordering: Your Snacks in a Snap…

At-Seat Ordering empowers passengers to browse, order and pay for food and beverages from the comfort of their seat, simplifying the travel experience and creating additional revenue potential for rail operators in the process.

Utilising the fast and reliable Wi-Fi delivered via Icomera’s centralised connectivity platform, At-Seat Ordering allows customers to see what’s available and order refreshments via the train’s online web shop directly from their Internet browser; this means that no App is required (though the service can be integrated with a transport operators branded App, should that be preferred). The solution automatically brings the passenger to the correct web shop for their specific train service and can even be designed to automatically attach their designated seat number to each order.

There’s the possibility for orders to be delivered directly to passengers at their seat, or to be collected from the train’s buffet car. At-seat delivery clearly provides convenience-related benefits for all passengers, allowing them to continue watching that movie or chatting with their friends / family while they wait, rather than having to get up to collect their order. For lone travellers especially this improves the travel experience, since they do not need to worry about leaving their luggage unattended or taking it with them around the train to collect their order – potentially losing their seat if it was not reserved.

There are also specific advantages for anyone who might otherwise find it difficult to reach the dining area independently; passengers with mobility issues can rest assured that their snacks will be delivered to them at their seat, saving them the difficulty of finding their way. Further improving accessibility, At-Seat Ordering is WCAG 2.0 compliant and can be built to be multi-lingual too.

From a transport operator’s perspective, the solution supports a variety of payment options and can be integrated with existing Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) and stock management systems, where available. Food and drink stock levels can be updated in real-time, and staff on the vehicle can directly create, edit and / or remove any listings themselves.

ScreenShare: Meetings on the Move…

ScreenShare is a high-quality video and audio-conferencing solution, allowing passengers to give presentations, collaborate on documents, or chat with friends / family located on the same train.

With more rail passengers than ever utilising onboard Wi-Fi services while they travel, and more seeking to take advantage of their commute to carry out work-related tasks, ScreenShare makes communication between passengers traveling on the same vehicle easier and more productive. For example, a group of colleagues travelling on the same service might decide to use the ScreenShare feature to prepare for an upcoming meeting together, by sharing their entire screen, a single application window or web browser tab. Similarly, if a group of friends are on a busy train and forced to sit apart from one another, ScreenShare allows them to carry on their conversation throughout a trip.

ScreenShare leverages the onboard Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity delivered by Icomera’s routers, providing a far more stable connection than relying on a single passenger’s mobile data to host a meeting. Because all data is transferred across the train locally, the service doesn’t impact other connected services (such as passenger Wi-Fi), since it does not require any of the bandwidth from the vehicle’s external Internet connection, saving data costs for the transport operator. Additionally, if the vehicle loses external Internet connectivity for whatever reason, ScreenShare continues to work.

ScreenShare integrates as part of a transport operator’s web portal so, again, no App is required. It can be designed to meet bespoke brand guidelines and is password-protected, delivering security and peace-of-mind for users.

Crafting a Vision for Better Public Transport via Innovative Onboard Solutions

Inventive in their aims yet simple to deploy, passenger-centric services which take advantage of improved digitalisation within the rail sector, such as At-Seat Ordering and ScreenShare, help transport operators set the benchmark for seamless and enjoyable journeys.

By building travel experiences which are effortless, engaging and rewarding for passengers, we can elevate train travel, setting it apart from other modal choices, and encouraging its future use.

Our expectations for mobility and transit are changing rapidly. Regardless of whether you live in the center of a major city, the suburbs, or in a remote community, convenience is now top of mind when considering how to get from point A to point B.  

This focus on convenience is even shaping the economic picture, as many people are willing to pay more for an experience, if they consider it to be more convenient. While transit operators will always compete to some extent on cost, convenience is emerging as a critical battleground.  

So, how can you ensure your passengers are receiving all the conveniences they’re expecting? Here are four key perspectives to consider. 

Convenience in Planning 

Convenience here applies to both journey planning and accessibility. Every journey begins before the first mode of transportation. We all take time to plan our route, considering the most effective, affordable and, yes, convenient way to reach our destination. Every journey should also be made on systems that is fully accessible: simple and stress-free for all people regardless of age, disabilities, or native language. In Canada, the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO) has developed a roadmap to make the country fully accessible by 2040, and transportation is an essential aspect of that plan. 

But beyond accessibility of the transit itself, transit operators should also consider accessibility of information. We can only choose the best journey if we can evaluate all available options. Routes, timetables, and wayfinding should be easy to find and understand. And as we look to the future, these tools should be personalized based on customer preferences. In retail and other consumer services, we expect companies to use data to serve as relevant offers and information. The same goes for transportation ― we should use the wealth of data at hand to better understand a customer’s priorities, preferences, and needs.  

Convenience in Execution

Over the past decade, we’ve seen how convenience has completely reshaped transit decisions.  

In cities like Chicago, New York, Toronto and Montreal, robust public transit systems allow people to easily and affordably travel throughout the city. Every city should continuously be looking for ways to make our offerings more convenient for the end user. We’re seeing a great example at the moment in Toronto, where Metrolinx is working to expand GO Transit’s rail lines into a comprehensive regional commuter rail service.  

For most people, more options lead to more convenience. The same holds true for transit. Having access to a variety of modes of transit ― and the flexibility to combine them into a multi-mode journey ― can make the difference. When transit operators collaborate and make it easier for passengers to move from one mode to another, it creates a halo effect that benefits everyone involved. The future of transit is integrated, not siloed. 

Convenience Beyond the Journey 

In our interconnected world, nothing is judged in a vacuum. When we go to a sports game, we’re not just thinking about whether our team won or lost. We’re thinking about the view from our seats, the food and drinks available in the arena, the entertainment taking place between periods. Transit operators also need to think about convenience beyond wheels and rails.  

The bare minimum for the future of transit convenience will be connectivity. Last fall, VIA Rail Canada started an initiative to roll out high-speed internet onboard its new Québec City-Windsor corridor fleet. This simple amenity provides an outsized level of convenience to passengers, making it easier for them to work, relax, and simply stay informed.  

Convenience for Satisfaction

recent industry survey by Optibus showed that passenger experience was the top priority for 64% of respondents. In our fast-paced world, we want things to be quicker, easier and streamlined. We want quick and easy access to reliable transit with minimal hassle and maximum satisfaction. It’s no longer a “nice to have” ― it’s table stakes. 

Our focus on convenience should be looked at as an opportunity. As an industry, we have great potential for infrastructure innovation.By applying the lens of convenience to the design, function, and optimization of our systems, we can reach new levels of performance and customer satisfaction. 

Real-time information (RTPI) systems can significantly improve the experience of those travelling via public transport. When a passenger is kept fully informed regarding their trip, they feel confident and prepared; they know exactly where they need to head to make an onward connection, what time they should arrive there, and how the remainder of their journey looks.

By removing uncertainty through the accurate and timely delivery of information, the experience of navigating a trip is made as stress-free as possible, and the actual / perceived duration of travel is reduced. Passengers don’t need to wait for so long at a stop (which can make them feel safer), and they will arrive at their destination feeling relaxed (which naturally increases their propensity to travel using public transport more often). It’s little wonder that in Transport Focus’ recent report “Britain’s Railway: What Matters to Passengers”[1], ‘accurate and timely information about train times’ and ‘being kept informed about delays and the options’ both feature within the top 10 issues cited.

Making the Best of a Delay

No-one likes their trip to be delayed, but when a delay occurs there are different ways that transport operators can deal with the situation. As Stephanie Tobyn from the UK’s Office and Rail and Road (ORR) has explained, “Poor quality information, particularly during disruption, makes an already frustrating situation worse for passengers, and significantly more challenging for front-line staff”[2]In contrast, if a passenger is kept informed regarding any delay, they can plan around it, and even use it to their advantage.

By way of a thought experiment, let’s imagine it’s a cold, wet winter evening, and that John and Jack need to get home after a hard day’s work…

Scenario A: John’s Journey…

John leaves the office at the usual time, arriving at the station only to learn that his train has been delayed. Information screens provide no further detail on how long he will need to wait, and staff aren’t able to help her either. After receiving contradictory and confusing information via multiple different communication channels, he is told that he will need to take a replacement bus service, but no guidance is given on where or when these buses will be departing from. John eventually finds the departure point; he waits and waits, but no bus materialises. Left frustrated and angry by the entire experience, he is forced to pay for a taxi to get home. He complains about the train operating company privately to his friends and family, and publicly via social media.

Scenario B: Jack’s Journey…

While still at the office, and in good time before he planned to leave for the station, Jack receives a notification to his smartphone informing him that unfortunately there is a 30-minute delay to his train service. The notification confirms that the train is on its way, and includes a new estimated departure time. This allows Jack to track the train’s progress in real-time, and to opt-in to receive any further relevant updates, should he wish to do so; the message also offers Jack a complimentary coffee coupon by way of apology. Jack utilises the extra 30-minutes to do some grocery shopping that he had originally planned to do later in the evening, and to pick up his complimentary coffee. He arrives at the station for the new departure time, boards the train, and arrives home only a little later than usual, given that he has already done his food shopping.

The differences between these two travel scenarios are as clear as night and day. In one, an already bad situation for John is exasperated by poor communication from the train operator at every step. In the other, though an unfortunate situation occurs, Jack receives clear and constructive notifications which allow for as positive an outcome as is possible. Communication is key when it comes to handling delays. Removing uncertainty via journey information reduces frustration and allows passengers to stay productive.

Facilitating Seamless Journeys for All Passengers

As we’ve seen, when delivered intelligently, real-time information empowers a Connected Journey – but the method(s) and level of detail via which it is communicated to passengers also need to be carefully considered. Transport operators must be mindful not to alienate passengers by over- or under-communicating, or by using communication channels which favour or disadvantage particular demographic groups.

We are bombarded with information every minute of every day; so, any information needs to be kept relevant. Travellers only require a certain level of detail at any time; too much information can overwhelm, and too many options risk causing confusion, or even frustration. Going back to our thought experiment involving John and Jack, in neither scenario are they likely to appreciate a notification informing them that the train company is selling discount tickets or promoting holidays. This type of information is unrelated to their train delay, and therefore not relevant or useful.

Furthermore, although it’s a generalisation to say, those in older age demographics are less likely to be digitally proficient than younger passengers, and information must be delivered in a way which does not discriminate. It’s no good for a transport operator to communicate a delay only via a specific social media platform, when they cannot safely assume that all their passengers use that platform.

As Alex Warner, writing in Passenger Transport Magazine, states, “For those who haven’t mustered up the courage to travel for some time because they think that transport has left them behind, they need to be shown that it is still designed for them, and they haven’t been excluded. Confidence is key.”[3]

Transport networks should therefore be designed and built according to inclusive principles, to standards which support all passengers. Reflecting this overarching goal, Icomera offers transport accessibility solutions which provide real-time information in ways which help those with hearing and sight loss to travel with confidence.

Reimagining The Connected Journey

To meet the promise and potential of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) solutions, RTPI systems should communicate valuable information to passengers at every step, not just while they are on board the vehicle. In the case of Jack, we’ve seen how this can look pre-boarding, with passengers receiving useful notifications that keep them updated, to help ensure that their travels are as stress-free as possible.

At the other end of a journey, we can imagine that Jack is given easy access to information regarding his onward options. The next leg might require another train or bus connection. But, to offer a truly joined-up experience which also accounts for a trip’s overall carbon footprint, transport operators should also consider the ‘last mile’, and work to communicate how the passenger might reach their destination using an electric scooter or eBike, for example. In this way, real-time information can be used to educate travellers and further encourage a modal shift towards green mobility.

Unquestionably, new ideas will propel how the passenger experience evolves in the years ahead. With the thrust of each generation of technological innovation, inspirational ideas will push against the boundaries of the possible, starting with the reality of today, but striving towards an experience which is ever greater for all travellers.

The Connected Journeys of this imagined future can and should be more effortless; as industry pioneers, it is up to us to continue working towards this vision of what public transit can be, aspiring to create a world in which travel by train, tram, bus, and coach is the natural default for all.

The portal uses industry-leading data sources and GPS mapping to provide expected arrival and departure times, relevant platform numbers, onward travel options, and much more.

The new portal provides up-to-the-minute information showing the train’s location, the next stop, and the service’s destination. Additionally, the portal offers a new feedback form and ‘Share My Train‘: a feature allowing customers to share their live journey information with friends and family by SMS or WhatsApp – ideal for arranging meet-ups.

Teleri Evans, TfW’s Customer Information Strategy Manager, said:

We strive to continuously improve the delivery of customer information on our stations and trains, and meet the requirements of Welsh Language Standards and customers with hearing loss. Our latest work with GoMedia has allowed us to improve the on-train Wi-Fi experience with customers and present bilingual real-time information. The new onboard Wi-Fi portal is fully accessible and meets the Web Accessibility Initiative Level AA.

Our new real-time information portal is our latest step in using data to improve the customer experience on our trains, following increasing the amount of free Wi-Fi data from 25 MB to 50 MB in 2019 and adding charging points to all of our trains. Our brand new trains will also feature full-colour digital screens with bilingual real-time live information for our customers.

Roger Matthews, Managing Director of GoMedia, and Chief Commercial Officer of Icomera said:

We are very pleased to work with Transport for Wales to deliver an engaging and inclusive digital passenger experience. The feedback has been excellent so far with over 80% of passengers saying they were delighted with the overall experience of the real-time information service and appreciated the availability of a two-way communication channel with TfW during their journey.

Indeed, these should never be overlooked; an operator can utilise feedback data to measure satisfaction levels over time, better understand why their passengers feel the way they do, and action improvements to their services as an end result.

However, in this article I’d like to elaborate on another aspect, which often doesn’t attract so much attention: Namely, the capacity for passenger feedback to identify / fix issues relating to onboard assets, and the operational and safety benefits that this can deliver.

Identifying Faults in Near Real-time

Traditionally, feedback from passengers was primarily captured manually. Transport operators would be required to send staff armed with clipboards and forms out to vehicles in order to ask travellers for their thoughts; this was a cumbersome undertaking which could only ever capture data from a small percentage of a fleet, and retrospectively.

More recently, passengers could be invited to complete feedback forms sent via email once they had completed a journey. Again, this was less than an ideal process, since it was not always clear which journey/vehicle their feedback related to, and issues could still take quite some time to rectify once raised. Passengers using a service regularly could be left frustrated that feedback they had flagged was taking too long to be investigated.

In contrast, nowadays it’s possible for those travelling to submit feedback directly from their smart device while they are still on the vehicle. This not only significantly simplifies the feedback process for passengers but also means that operators are given access to invaluable live data regarding their fleet and onboard equipment.

Feedback can be automatically tagged with details of the exact vehicle (and, when relevant, carriage), route, and time of day, further facilitating the ease by which any issues can be pinpointed. It’s even possible for automatic alerts to be triggered according to certain criteria; for example, if a particular type of feedback is provided.

With access to live feedback regarding their services, transport operators can notify staff situated on a vehicle of any issues which might be able to be fixed straight away, dispatch engineers to investigate a problem further, or organise an appropriate time for a vehicle to be brought back to a depot, if deemed necessary.

Facilitating a Two-Way Conversation

Capturing real-time feedback in this way can be especially useful in cases where there are limited numbers of staff working on a vehicle. Issues can be identified directly by one of the many passengers using a particular service, rather than staff being required to carry out laborious and time-intensive manual checks.

It’s also possible to implement a messaging service as part of a feedback solution. This not only helps passengers feel listened to and engaged with, it can help operators as part of the trouble-shooting process too. A passenger sat on a vehicle right now might be able to provide useful further details which make it simpler to identify the root cause of a problem and enact a faster solution.

Using Feedback to Deliver Safety & Security Benefits

One can imagine many scenarios in which feedback generated by passengers relates to onboard issues which are far more than matters of mere convenience. For example, a faulty air conditioning system during the temperature extremes of the summer or winter months can pose a health risk to travellers, and therefore warrants being known about as soon as possible.

Feedback provided can also work in parallel with data generated by other onboard systems. For instance, a passenger might use a real-time feedback form to alert an operator to a piece of abandoned luggage; the issue could then be further investigated via live video surveillance feeds to identify exactly whom left it behind, and whether there is any cause for further concern (e.g. in the case of a potential security threat). Similarly, a passenger may flag that one of the toilet doors is malfunctioning; onboard telematics data might then help ascertain exactly when, why and/or how the problem began.

Real-time feedback solutions such as those offered by Icomera even allow the possibility for passengers to directly contact the Police in the event of an incident; this can be useful if violence were to break out, for instance. Messages sent using this functionality can automatically include details of the vehicle and its calling pattern, saving passengers manual efforts, and enabling authorities to intercept it, if required.

Enhanced by Next-Generation Connectivity

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the integral role that onboard connectivity can play here too. Since feedback can be delivered via passenger Wi-Fi systems, optimal Internet connectivity helps ensure that information can get back to the operator as quickly as possible.

In a passenger feedback trial that took place with West Midlands Metro in the UK, 5G connectivity was leveraged to increase the speed by which data could be processed. It also allowed for the use of different types of passenger-generated feedback data to be more easily handled. For example, passengers connected to the vehicle’s onboard connectivity network could send videos and images of any issues they discovered using the Wi-Fi service, without incurring data costs themselves.

The Power of Now

As we’ve seen, feedback solutions should therefore not be seen purely as a means to derive passenger-centric data insights, but also as a method to help monitor onboard assets. Combined with other digital applications which harness powerful Internet connectivity, transport operators can more quickly and efficiently diagnose issues relating to their fleet, and work to rapidly fix problems related to their onboard equipment.