Minimise the need for manual communications between the driver and dispatcher. Integrate communications with other computer-based on-vehicle and network facilities in bigger cities. Implement hands-free communication connections for drivers.
Generally, there is a need for the driver to be able to make contact with three groups involved in the process of bus operations:
The dispatcher at the operational control centre or the urban bus manager at smaller networks (e.g. to report unforeseen occurrences such as breakdowns, disruptive passengers),
Other bus drivers (e.g. to inform them about passengers transferring vehicles),
Customers in the bus or at bus stops (e.g. to announce necessary route changes).
In the first instance, communication should be limited to what is really necessary, because any communication will interfere with the essential task of the bus driver, which is driving the bus safely and keeping to schedule as much as he can. The following features can be implemented:
Automatic detection and reporting of problems (on-board vehicle diagnostic system)
‘Invisible’ button in case of emergency or a special emergency channel (e.g. disruptive passengers)
Setting clear communication strategies in case of security problems (who has to be informed?) if there is no emergency button in use,
Providing generally valid route instructions for drivers in case of slight deviations from the route (e.g. fixed alternative routes in case of traffic jams / accidents)
Good passenger information in the bus (route plan, interchanges, points of interest, etc.)
The communication between the dispatcher and the driver is mostly one-way communication: the dispatcher provides instructions to the driver to follow. Communication with drivers is mainly made through radio data transmission, voice channels or mobile phones. The public transport company can also operate its own dedicated radio network (with mostly an analogue technique) or upgrade it to GSM. New GSM-based systems of driver communication are being introduced as part of larger systems with a number of other functions, integrating dynamic real-time information for passengers (on buses and at stops) with improved facilities for operational management and control (information about transfer options with other modes, punctuality etc.).
Communication with other drivers can be made over cell phones or a radio network. Newer, more functional, GSM-based systems allow bilateral communication with colleagues in other buses. The larger operators tend to restrict driver-to-driver communication in order to avoid non-essential communication (e.g. private conversations), with communication between buses having to be done via the dispatcher.
Communication between the driver and passengers can be of the following types:
Announcement by the driver to all passengers in the bus or at bus stops in cases where there are deviations from the timetable (e.g. due to a road closure),
Enquiries by passenger (e.g. where to alight to reach a certain point of interest).
In both cases, reasonable knowledge of the language spoken in the city and region is essential. Furthermore, the driver should be reasonably informed about the public transport services in general (network structure, operating hours, fares, etc.) as well as the area served (e.g. points of interests in the city).
Good knowledge of the local language is a precondition for being a driver in terms of internal communication (e.g. with operational control centre) or customer contacts. Consequently, there is a potentially significant barrier to appointing personnel from the international labour market in situations where there is a shortage of drivers in some countries in Europe.
The use of new electronic on-board devices (e.g. radio data transmission devices) requires special training for the driver.
The use of mobile phones while driving affects safety and driver performance. The safety risk from using a mobile phone during driving has been studied quite often; however, the results are controversial. Some studies reveal that there is a small number of fatal accidents caused by drivers using mobile phones (Pöysti 2005). Other studies conclude that hand-held mobile phones (when compared to a hands-free system) are associated with poorer driving performance (Haigney 2000).
Almere, Groningen (The Netherlands): The operator Connexxion introduced ‘Infoxx’ – a system which incorporates a number of facilities including communication with drivers, real-time information for passengers etc. It is based on GSM.
Besançon (France): In the city of Besançon, drivers are trained for internal communication as well as for external: the former is seen as a management tool.
Graz (Austria): Data radio and text messages are the usual communication tools for standard communication between the dispatcher and the driver. Due to the fact that the ITCS-system provides the dispatcher with the position of each vehicle, the need for direct communication with drivers is reduced to a minimum.
Haigney, DE, Taylor, RG, Westerman, SJ (2000) Concurrent mobile (cellular) phone use and driving performance: task demand characteristics and compensatory processes. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 3(3):113-21.
Pöysti, Leena, Rajalin, Sirpa, Summala, Heikki (2005) Factors influencing the use of cellular (mobile) phone during driving and hazards while using it. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 37, p. 47-51