Seven years ago, the first scheduled buses of George’s own public bus service departed from the York Street depot at 05:00 on 8 December 2014, rolling out Phase 1 of the George Integrated Public Transport Network (GIPTN).
Today, 24 of the planned routes have already been activated and are covering a network of 142 km, crisscrossing the streets of George, enabling residents to travel to work, school, medical and community services and shops anywhere in town.
“Although there have been many challenges along the way and we would have loved to have made further progress with more roll-outs to date, we are very proud of what we have achieved thus far,” says GO GEORGE Manager, James Robb. “Apart from the dedicated and hard-working workforce behind the bus service, the advanced level of technology keeping this intricate system running, is constantly developing and being customised to suit the needs of a top-class, scheduled public bus service such as GO GEORGE.”
Intelligent Transport System
The GIPTN has an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) that allows real-time remote monitoring of route and timetable adherence as well as several other operational performance indicators such as speeding, harsh braking and acceleration, and emergency calls from drivers. The system provides alerts in respect of deviations from any of the prescribed parameters and keeps an ongoing record of the mileage, idling times, standing times, etc. of all vehicles.
In parallel with vehicle tracking, buses are also fitted with on-vehicle cameras, linked to a tracking device, that allow the observation of the bus interior and “road ahead” views.
The ITS monitoring facility is based in the GIPTN control centre, in the same space as the GO GEORGE Call Centre, allowing real-time feedback to passengers phoning in, as well as the functionality to track older footage to investigate complaints. As the system is reliant on constant connectivity, there are, however, periods of frustration when service cannot be provided at the preferred level and speed, as is the case with many local businesses having to deal with unstable internet connection.
“A very sad reality of our operations is the constant vandalising of our buses and infrastructure,” says Robb. “The on-board cameras are definitely helpful in this regard and should act as deterrent for this kind of behaviour, but still, we do not see the decline one would expect. We are rolling out a focused anti-vandalism campaign this month and are aiming to change people’s attitude and get communities’ direct involvement in the new year, to help us stop vandalism.”
Automated Fare Collection
The GO GEORGE Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system replaced the interim paper ticket late in 2018. With over three years of operations, the AFC System has created a cashless tap-on solution that allows passengers to travel conveniently on the GO GEORGE bus service using their personal Smart Card.
Linked to the ITS, the AFC system is providing valuable insights that are being used to improve the quality of the GO GEORGE service for the commuters. Some of these insights include:
- A better understanding of passenger travelling patterns to improve planning and ensure that bus scheduling decisions align with passenger demand data.
- A more data-driven improvement of the Smart Card products sold using the AFC system to ensure that it meets the needs of passengers.
- Development of strategic top-up vendor and mobile kiosk deployment to areas where boarding is high and trip top-up facilities low.
Digital fuel management system
At the George Link depot, three on-site diesel tanks with a combined capacity of 69 000 litres have been installed in 2018.
John Heathcote, George Link Operational Manager, says the saving to the Municipality by refuelling on site instead of driving several kilometres to do so at an outside vendor at the end of every day, is about R90 000 per month.
“We now fill up on site at the end of each shift. Managing the stock and consumption through a digital system allows me to be on top of everything from anywhere in the country through an application on my smartphone or laptop computer. Downloading the data in spreadsheet format, I can check each refill by bus fleet number, driver’s and fuel attendant’s identity and the amount of fuel that was taken in, from which pump,” Heathcote says.
This constant eye on the fuel consumption of each vehicle as well as on the driver handling the bus on that shift, also alerts management to excessive consumption which might call for a mechanical check-up or a look into the driver’s skills in terms of fuel economy.
People remain the core of the service
“Even though all the technological aids sound impressive, we are acutely aware that at the core of our services lie the attitude, dedication and perseverance of an amazing team of humans,” says Robb.
“There is often a perception that the system is designed and run by people who are far removed from the ground but in reality, every one of our team members spend many hours in the field every week, observing passenger behaviour and movement out on routes. This includes the entire management team – we are constantly reviewing data from reports, keeping an eye on complaints or requests coming through.
“There’s a drive and an effort across the organisation not to plan routes and schedules on a piece of paper, but to assess and walk things out on site, to touch and feel and see what the passenger would. We may not get it right all the time, but every challenge makes us want to try harder and do better to serve our community.”
See the GO GEORGE 7th Birthday Video