​NSW embraces Twitter for transport alerts

The New South Wales government has announced it will be turning to the social media platform to convey delays on the state's train network.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

New South Wales State Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance announced on Wednesday that commuters will soon be able to receive personalised messages through Twitter that inform them of disruptions on the state's suburban and intercity train lines.

Constance said the automatic alerts pilot will let customers choose exactly which train services they want to hear about and when they want to receive alerts, with users able to filter out information they do not need.

"We want to create a more personalised experience for our customers and the new Twitter automatic alerts pilot is a major step in that direction," the minister said.

The pilot will launch in December and run for three months, with Constance adding that if the technology proves successful, Transport for NSW will look to work with buses, ferries, and light rail to improve mobile personal messaging.

Wednesday's announcement forms part of the state government's Future Transport Roadmap, which was launched in April in a bid to harness technology to change the way government and customers plan, build, and use transport in NSW.

As part of the roadmap, the NSW government is looking to develop advanced analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities to move toward smarter ways of managing road and public transport networks to tackle congestion and personalise services as well.

Additionally, the state government hopes to extend the functionality of the Opal card -- a contactless smartcard ticketing system used on NSW public transport -- to become a payment platform for all transport related costs across the state, possibly including road tolls and taxis.

In August, Constance announced the department would be leveraging Opal travel data to indicate the volume of people travelling on a particular bus service, letting commuters know how full their next bus is before it arrives.

At the time, the minister said the state government expects to provide other existing travel apps such as TripView, Metrarove, Arrivo, and TripGo access to the data as well, believing it can be used to provide additional information for users.

Constance also called for submissions in August around ideas on how Bluetooth-enabled beacon technology could be used to improve public transport access.

The Beacon Challenge -- also falling under the transport roadmap -- followed a separate six-week trial at Chatswood train station and bus interchange in Sydney where more than 70 Bluetooth beacons were installed.

"We're constantly working to find new data to release to app developers so they can deliver innovative products that make catching public transport easier," Constance said previously.

Earlier this year, Transport for NSW launched the Open Data Hub to give developers access to real-time public transport information.

"By making real-time data sets freely available, the new Open Data Hub will pave the way for app developers across the world to meet a broader range of customer and business needs here in NSW," Constance said at the time.

"We've already had huge success with our popular real-time apps. The applications for this transport data are endless and I can't wait to see more creative thinking about technological solutions to meet the needs of our customers."

Also on Wednesday, Constance said he wants to see public transport in the state behave the same way streaming services do with movies and television programs -- on-demand.

"We have Netflix, Stan, and Foxtel to give us movies on demand -- so why can't we have our public transport respond to where people are and what they want?" Constance said. "Imagine a NSW where you don't need to check the timetable because the right numbers of trains, buses, or ferries arrive when and where they need to. This future is not far off if we are quick off the mark today."

According to the minister, data including how people travel, weather, and special events will be used to create public transport planning changes in real-time, with Constance wanting to see the end of timetables, and a network that can cut down on travel delays by automatically adding extra trains in high congestion times.

"We want the biggest ideas from the best minds in innovation and technology to get cracking on this -- they know better than the government does, and I don't want to restrict their imagination," he said.

Expressions of interest for the on-demand transport trial will be released in December 2016 with responses from industry due by February 2017. Constance said that following an evaluation period, all pilot programs are expected to be operational by the end of next year.

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