At the tap of an app: driving public transport forward

“Many people use technology during their daily commute – passengers constantly receive, create and send information as they travel,” says Dr Claudine Moutou from the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at the University of Sydney Business School.

This technology use, combined with frustrating traffic issues, inspired the RateIT project, which is set to make public transport much more responsive to passenger needs, and ultimately improve public transport in Australia.

Research is underway to expand the use of transport apps as a data‑gathering tool, allowing operators to respond to transit issues in real time.

“The idea is to allow passengers to send feedback and warn other passengers of problems such as crowding, comfort and safety in real time,” Dr Moutou explains. “We then feed this back into the operational and planning process.”

Tapping into the crowd will let other passengers know if there are vacant seats, if the vehicle is clean and if there are any unexpected incidents.

It will also provide transport operators with a way to respond and adjust services to overcome difficulties and meet passenger requirements.

Research began by surveying passengers to identify needs. It found there was a gap between the information passengers valued and that provided by current apps.

“More than 80 percent of respondents agreed that being able to see how often a particular service runs on time, and knowing ahead of time what traffic delays are going to affect their transport, would be useful,” Dr Moutou says.

“We now understand the importance of generating a new flow of information and its value to passengers, operators and transport planners. Our next step is to work with Transport for NSW and existing app developers to help get the RateIT project off the ground.”

Honouring an urban planner

Dr Moutou’s research is funded by the University of Sydney’s Henry Halloran Trust, established by Mr Warren Halloran in honour of his father, Henry Halloran, a town planning advocate in the early 20th century. Urban planning and the Halloran name have been synonymous in Australia for more than a hundred years.

Henry Halloran was an innovator of urban planning and residential design in NSW. The planner and developer introduced and implemented new concepts of town planning and created new settlements throughout coastal NSW.

His son, Warren, actively continued his pioneering works and established the Henry Halloran Trust in his memory. The trust brings together scholars, students and practitioners from around the world to advance research into liveable cities and sustainable development.

Dr Moutou’s RateIT project is one of many research activities to benefit from the Henry Halloran Trust. Projects supported during 2015 include:

Visions of sandstone

This project aims to reduce the cost and increase the safety of heritage infrastructure inspections by using aerial robotics. The research team will develop a visual inspection tool for assessing the quality of ageing sandstone in public architecture. By using quad copters equipped with high resolution cameras, researchers will be able to inspect the built fabric of ageing infrastructure and increase the efficiency of the building’s maintenance.

Community engagement for the hard to reach

This research will address the concern of how to build community engagement and promote pathways to economic and social inclusion for excluded social groups. The project combines volunteering with participatory community-based action to develop a social network map. This will help identify how networks operate through relationships of power, trust, conflict and collaboration.

Assessing environmental impacts of major transport infrastructure project: where does human health fit?

This research will investigate how, why and to what extent human health is considered in environmental assessments of major transport infrastructure projects. The project will use four case studies of major transport environmental assessments to explain how and why health was or was not considered.

Find out more about the Henry Halloran Trust.