GPRS-based bus project gets green light

Auckland's bus service has been granted funding for a system that uses wireless technology and global positioning satellites to allow buses to pass through intersections more quickly.

The plan received $3.2 million from Transfund New Zealand last month and Infrastructure Auckland has also come to the party, last month granting the balance of the $7 million needed for the project.

Under the plan, global positioning system (GPS) locators will convey data about bus locations, via GPRS-based wireless signals, so that traffic lights can be kept green longer if there is a bus nearby.

The deal with Australian joint venture SAAB-Brisbane City Enterprises, which has provided a similar service for Brisbane's buses, was due to be signed last week.

The first stage is due to be completed by the end of the year and will involve real-time information displays at stops for the 24 Link buses which loop the CBD and inner city suburbs, to give indications of how far away the next bus is. A few Auckland bus stops already have such signs, though these are based on transponders in buses and cables under the ground. This method was deemed too expensive to extend more widely.

The second and third stages of the new project, to be completed next year and in 2004, will see the project rolled out to all of Auckland City's buses, with 174 intersections and 204 bus stops covered by the service.

"We won't see it get off the ground for a while, because a lot of the early stage is software development," says Auckland City senior transport manager Vadi Vencantachellum.

Transfund Auckland regional manager Dave Macdonald says the funding was granted because "it rated 4:1 on our benefit-cost ratio in terms of road user benefits".

Road users include bus passengers, he says, adding that according to local and international surveys, such improvements in bus services will result in more people taking the bus. Transfund's contribution to Auckland city transport projects is capped at 48% of the total cost, Macdonald says.

Vodafone is providing the GPRS network.