Discovering that the train you have booked is on time but full or is late or cancelled due to a disruption is a fairly common experience. What in-formation would commuters and leisure travellers like to receive during normal service and in the event of a disruption? When and how should this information be made available on regional and local trains and what in-formation channels should be used? Researchers at TU Darmstadt and DB Regio AG are investigating how modern, needs-based and flexible passenger information should be organised as part of an innovation alliance formed by the university and Deutsche Bahn.
“The methods used to provide information are not keeping pace with the latest developments in digitalisation and IT”, says Manfred Boltze, Professor and Head of the Institute of Transport Planning and Traffic Engineering at TU Darmstadt. Trains are often old and the technology is not fully up-to-date. He believes that existing methods used to provide passenger information visually and acoustically increasingly appear outdated, static and – due to the long contractual terms for the installed systems – lacking in innovation.
Survey of around a thousand passengers
In order to develop a new concept that specifically focuses on the needs of train passengers, the researchers have surveyed around one thousand train customers. The questionnaire was developed in cooperation with experts from Deutsche Bahn for daily commuters and other travellers who use local trains in the Rhine-Main region. In particular, the questionnaire was designed with the aim of finding out when passengers would like to receive which information, how loud the announcements should be, where instructions should be displayed so that they can be easily seen and what questions and answers are a priority, for example, in the event of a disruption to the service.
The most important finding from the survey is that there is hardly any difference in the need for information amongst commuters, leisure travellers, students and old or young people. “This surprised us. We expected to find greater differences between the groups”, says Professor Boltze. According to the findings, all of the groups would mainly like to receive information on punctuality, arrival and departure times and alternative connections in the event of a delay or disruption to the service. “They want to receive hard facts in a prompt, reliable and easy to understand manner”, summarises Manfred Boltze.
Almost half of those surveyed would like information on how full the train currently is and already want to receive this information at the station while they are waiting for the train to arrive. Around 60 percent of those surveyed would like more information to be displayed or announced in the event of an interruption to the journey. In general, passengers want information on the train service itself; information on the weather, news or advertisements are of secondary importance or uninteresting for most passengers.
According to Boltze, it is important to provide consistent information in a timely manner so that the same information is available across all information channels and there is no confusion. More than 80 percent of passengers own a smartphone with an installed travel app and over 60 percent of them use this app often or even on every single journey. Nevertheless, more than 30 percent of the passengers stated that they mainly use train media to access information during the journey.
It is thus vital that this information is up-to-date, modern and easy to see or hear – even for persons with reduced mobility. The researchers at TU Darmstadt believe that there are good opportunities for providing quick and comprehensive information using, amongst other things, directional speakers, side panel displays, information points and additional displays installed in the train compartments which indicate whether there are free seats or luggage compartments.
The short report “Modern passenger information – providing needs-based, flexible and innovative information to passengers travelling on regional trains” will be published shortly on the website of the Institute of Transport Planning and Traffic Engineering.