The dream of fully automated, intelligent and integrated public transport systems is one that every city and transport authority has.
But attaining the dream means travelling a long and difficult road – one that might be easier to do in stages in line with available appetite, skills and budget.

This is the word from Thomas Snyman, Intelligent Transport Systems Director of Huawei Enterprise Business Group and chairman of the Intelligent Transport Society of South Africa (ITSSA).

He points out that the concept of the fourth industrial revolution is premised on the digitalisation of processes. “The third industrial revolution was all about digitising: now we have to take the next step to intelligence.”

In making that next step, Snyman believes it’s important for South Africa to learn from what other countries have done. “That’s the advantage we have at Huawei: that we have a wealth of best practice expertise in lot of areas; and can put that experience at our customers’ disposal.

In some areas, South Africa leads the way, he adds. “For instance, from an Integrated Fare Management perspective, South Africa was the first country to implement fare management systems that comply with the EMV banking standards.

Technology and skills, however, aren’t the only considerations when it comes to intelligent transport systems: the availability of budget plays a massively important role, but there are other considerations too.

“The end goal is that technology is a business enabler: it is the biggest driver in getting to the point where we can implement an intelligent transport system,” Snyman says.

“But you also have to take into account all of the stakeholders within the ecosystem. For instance if you want to integrate public transport networks, it’s not going to work unless you can also integrate all the different transport modes for example include the minibus taxis.

“I think Huawei is one of the first technology companies in this industry that understands the whole value chain and not just the technology. We realise that technology on its own won’t work. You need to have the buy-in and the know-how as well.”

Against this background, Snyman believes that intelligent transport systems will fail to take off unless there is more emphasis on perception change management.

“There will always be problems if companies have technical expertise but no business acumen, and vice versa. Only when you marry the two, and understand that things have to work together in harmony, will these systems succeed.”

Central to any intelligent transport system is the Advance Public Transport Management System (APTMS), which enables the operator to accurately manage all aspects of running the transport fleet.

There are many aspects to APTMS, many of which are not fully understood by public transport operators, Snyman says.

Tracking vehicles is the foundation of the system, he points out. “The moment someone, like the government, is paying a fee per kilometre for a service, tracking becomes important: you need to know where it is, where a trip originated, and what the destination is.

“With public transport, there is also a need to collect revenue: so there needs to be automated fare collection and a ticketing system that allows for fares to be collected and banked on behalf of the contracting authority.

“Of course, one of the conditions is that trips are schedules, and those schedules are adhered to.”

In fact, Snyman says, a full APTMS solution consists of a range of technologies like tracking, scheduling, surveillance cameras, station activations, universal traffic control and unified communications.

Because of budgetary constraints, however, some governments have opted for just fleet management without added features like scheduling and managing services.

“The result is that they don’t see all the value-adds, and conclude that the system doesn’t work very well,” Snyman points out. “I believe we need to work on providing modular systems where components can be added as they are needed.”

A modular system will allow municipalities to integrate all the different components of the public transport network: buses (including bus rapid transport – BRT), mini-buses, rail services (Metro Rail and Gautrain in Gauteng), bicycles and pedestrians.

“Everyone is looking at how to reform pubic transport. In Gauteng, the plan is to have an integrated system.”