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Jan 27, 2009

Technology Context CW2: Transportation Network

“Select and research a specific transportation network. Describe and analyse how computers are used to reduce the environmental impact of that specific transportation network. Discuss the potential financial, legal, or political effects of using that computer system for other networks.”

Britain is becoming more and more dependent on public transportation networks, which many feel are vital for the replacement of personal transportation (such as cars) in order to reduce congestion as well as to reduce the environmental impact caused by the release of such great volumes of carbon dioxide. As Foley explains, “the severity of congestion in the South East is second only to London” (Foley, 2004, p.50), which suggests that this area of the country would benefit greatly from more efficient transportation networks. In such areas, where even the public transportation networks are congested, they should be monitored to ensure that their own environmental impact is minimal.

The chosen research area is therefore centred on the bus network that operates in the Portsmouth area, specifically, the usage of interactive bus timetabling and monitoring computers known as ‘The Portsmouth Online Real-Time Traveller Information System’, otherwise known as ‘PORTAL’. This system includes kiosks that are located at bus stops across Portsmouth City and the surrounding areas of southern Hampshire, as well as individual real-time monitoring systems contained within each bus, called ‘On-Board Units’ or ‘OBUs’. In addition, at certain bus terminals, the PORTAL system is used to power real-time displays indicating which bus at which stand, what times the busses operate at and where the bus goes, all in real-time. All this information is then tied together over a mesh network known as ‘MeshNetworks Enabled Architecture’ or ‘MEA’, which is a mesh-topology mobile broadband netork. “The PORTAL system also provides city administrators and bus operators with real-time vehicle, driver and route information, as well as bus maintenance, speed and route tracking. This information is used to improve logistics management, passenger safety, and vehicle maintenance.” (City Council, 2004, p.4) Improving all these points, logistics management especially, is important because it can greatly increase the efficiency of the network. This has an overall impact on the quality of the network and therefore on private car usage, as Chien explains, “Poor transportation systems do not attract ridership, hence the usage of passenger cars increases. Therefore, traffic and environmental conditions deteriorate. Efficient public transportation has been recognized as one of the potential ways of mitigating air pollution, reducing energy consumption improving mobility and alleviating traffic congestion.” (Chien, 2005, p.360)

These kiosks, situated at popular and convenient bus stops, are called ‘i+ kiosks’. These i+ kiosks allow transportation users to access bus timetables, train timetables, local taxi information and walking directions. The monitoring systems installed on the busses allow the system to keep track of bus location and usage so that the timetables on the kiosks and bus terminals’ displays are kept up to date. This type of system can influence several environmental factors including an increase in the efficiency of the bus network by not running busses along underused routes at certain times, but it can also affect the road congestion through providing easier access to public transportation of all types for the average person by allowing them to access information for all types of local transportation. (Great Britain. Portsmouth City Council, 2005, p.9-43) After all, according to Gleaves (1995, p.63), “a key deficiency to overcome [in getting people to adopt public transportation] is the lack of coherence of the overall public transport network”. This congestion issue is what this paper will be focussing on.

The kiosks provide some crucial information to passengers of busses and trains alike, as well as pedestrians, allowing them to complete their journeys without the need for private transportation. “One of the sustainable development objectives of the South East’s Regional Economic Strategy (2002) is to reduce road traffic and congestion through reducing the need to travel by car and improving travel choice.” (Foley, 2004, p.51)

However, these kiosks fall short in some areas. Specifically, the kiosks are not necessarily positioned in locations that benefit the largest number of people possible. As of 2004, it “provides real-time travel information to passengers from more than 300 buses and is displayed at 45 locations including 36 bus stops and nine kiosks throughout the city.” (City Council Project, 2004, p.4) Clearly, this leaves room for improvement before these kiosks can become as useful as they are planned to be. In addition, few people realise that these kiosks are capable of providing this type of information, which ultimately causes them not to be used. Some type of advertising or awareness programme for these kiosks could help them to achieve the desired effect.

In practice, this system has already been applied to the train network in some ways, but its primary focus appears to be for the city’s bus network. The bus network was designed from the ground up to utilise the PORTAL system for tracking and information, and while the PORTAL system has been connected to existing systems for monitoring train times and status, the train network has always had its own system for doing this. Further integration of the train networks with the PORTAL system would be redundant of the train network’s own systems, and would require a great deal of cooperation between the city council and the train operators. It is, however, expected that journey tickets, train included, will be available for purchase from the i+ kiosks, meaning that further degrees of integration are in the works. (Great Britain. Portsmouth City Council, 2005, p.9-43) The system could be adapted to ferries and light rail as well, however this would require these systems to be connected to the city’s central PORTAL system for monitoring, and would also require that these systems billing and ticketing systems be integrated with the PORTAL system and the i+ kiosks as well.

Furthermore, the system could be installed in other cities and locations for their own local bus networks. In some locations, this process has already begun. However, the backend of the PORTAL system can be quite expensive to install, maintain and upgrade, costing £14,437.40 per month to maintain just the kiosks in 2006. The cost of maintaining the PORTAL system and the MEA mesh network powering it is not included in this figure. (Great Britain. Portsmouth City Council, 2006, p.2) Some localities may find the figure, when added to the cost of something similar to the PORTAL system and the systems powering this, quite prohibitive when considering the installation of a system similar to the i+ kiosks, especially since these maintenance costs are a recurring cost, rather than a one-off investment.

In conclusion, the PORTAL system combined with the MEA mesh network that powers it and the i+ kiosks that allow the consumers to access the system is an excellent system for promoting the use of public transport over private transport. By providing easy access to bus and train timetables, routes and schedules, the average person will find it easier than ever to get from one point to another without having to resort to driving. If the system were expanded to a larger number of kiosks available more frequently placed throughout the city, people would be easily more aware of their existence simply from seeing them more often. In addition, an advertising strategy would be beneficial as well, creating further awareness about these kiosks. By increasing public awareness about these kiosks, people would be more inclined to use them, and they would encourage these users to use public transportation, or even walk, rather than driving to their destination, which would help in resolving the ever-growing congestion in this region. Maintenance, installation and operating costs aside, if other regions were to institute this system, and were to advertise it and encourage the public’s awareness of their system, they would likely find that it would help in encourage the public to utilise the various public transport networks available in the applicable region, and ultimately would assist in relieving traffic congestion throughout the area.


Chien, S. I. (2005). Optimization Of Headway, Vehicle Size and Route Choice for Minimum Cost Feeder Service [Electronic Version]. Transportation Planning and Technology, Volume 28. (issue 5), p.359-380.

City Council Project Makes Portsmouth “Europe’s First Mesh-Enabled Municipality” [Electronic Version]. (2004). Computer & Control Engineering, Volume 15. (issue 4), p.4.

Foley, J. (2004). Driving Toward Sustainability [Electronic Version]. New Economy, Volume 11. (issue 1), p.50-56.

Gleave, S. D. (1995). Alternatives to Traffic Growth: The Role of Public Transport and the Future for Freight. London: Transport 2000.

Great Britain. Portsmouth City Council. (2006). iPlus Point Maintenance and Operation Agreement. Portsmouth: Portsmouth City Council. (Retrieved from:

Great Britain. Portsmouth City Council. (2005). The City of Portsmouth INFORM Conference Presentation. Portsmouth: Portsmouth City Council. (Retrieved from: