An interactive web-based utility for suggesting public transport improvements and routes on a local, regional and national level.
(n.b.This is an idea I originally had planed to put onto Showusabetterway.co.uk; so it has heavy reference to ideas suggested on that site)
Publictransportidea is an interactive, web portal based, suggestions and survey application that will allow visitors to provide suggestions and ideas about how to improve public transport and to register visitors’ views on other suggestions. To the first time viewer, it will appear as an interactive geographic map within a browser window and access to a “tool-box” by the side. Publictransportidea will be helpful for all people that use, want to use and want to improve public transport. The idea of interactive online public consultation being useful has a precedent with a basic version already existing for Oregon, USA (http://www.oregonmetro.gov/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=29903). While the Oregon metro idea serves as a good template for Publictransportidea, Publictransportidea will differ substantially in that it would not have capped budgets or limited routes to work with. The aim of Publictransportidea is to encourage as many creative ideas as possible; it is about expressing what ideas the user has and to allow others to view and comment on those ideas. Contributions will be supported by providing as much data as possible to provide feedback about the outcomes of their ideas.
Why should this idea be developed?
The realization of this idea will:
-Give people a platform to air ideas for public transport improvements and projects.
-Give people an idea of what ideas and suggestions exist for their area of locality/interest.
-Help local and national government know what people want when it comes to public transport.
-Add democratic legitimacy to transport plans, which can be made know to and approved by the public
-Publictransportidea also has inherent great educational and training potential.
Who can use it? What use is it?
This project has many beneficiaries and uses including:
1. Local and National Government:
The scope of this utility affects the areas of responsibility of MPs, County Councils and other agencies with responsibility for transport planning. Publictransportidea can provide national and local government with concrete ideas of preferred public transport options and development.
2. Transport companies:
Like government, companies will be able to see what potential routes are popular and tap into that demand for service. This would go someway to fulfilling R Fulford’s basic premise of the Public Transport Optimiser (as seen on Showusabetterway).
3. Civil engineering organisations:
Provide basic estimates and analysis for future project ideas, and standardise project plans and communicate with public more effectively
4. Education Professionals and students
Further and Higher Education institutes can use this utility to provide basic principles of town planning; project management; architecture and infrastructure. Schools could also use it to highlight town planning/social geography. An example of a web-based tool for such educational purposes has already been implemented in some New Zealand schools and can be here: http://www.electrocity.co.nz
Related to other ideas from Showusabetterway.co.uk :
Publictransportidea shares features and aspirations of many transport and planning ideas suggested to Showusabetterway.
Publictransportidea, like UK2.5d, highlights how “computer game” ideas can be linked into providing an interactive social and consultative service; Publictransportidea shares Citivision’s (Katherine Prescott) goal of providing a web-based, user friendly tool for civil planning/projects; has overlapping social ambitions of improving public infrastructure shore with Mahmood Choudhury’s Youtopia idea and T Drummond’s OmniBus idea; goes someway into helping tackle the problems highlighted by Bob Irving’s “Gap in public transport” idea and highlighted present public transport problems and limitations shown by Fixmytransport.
This tool is not for car users. This is not for proposing new car-friendly roads, new car-friendly road routes or car-friendly road works (removing road bumps, removing cameras, etc). It has been noted by Professors Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy that allowing free expansion of infrastructure for cars comes at the expense of public transport; potentially resulting in a state of automobile dependency.
How to use it:
First, Publictransportidea should be very easy to find -
It should be available just three clicks away in Direct.gov, just one click away in DfT and just two clicks away in local council sites (one click when there is a public transport news update).
On opening the utility, visitors will be introduced to the main menu, which features a login screen. Visitors can start viewing, but will not be able to vote/contribute without registering and logging in. Once logged-in, visitors can either view ideas with the ability to comment and vote, or to contribute to/edit an improvement/route themselves.
Visitors will be presented with a map of the UK, with which they will be able to zoom to any locality (e.g. Street level, town level, county level, regional level, national level). Ideally, the format will be based on Googlemaps or similar, to allow viewing in either satellite-like mode, street plan or topographic/geographic versions of the map as well as the ability to show and hide overlays such as property prices, population, density and people flow. With this map visitors will be able filter and overlay current transport links, transport ideas by type, most popular particular transport ideas by locality, the most popular averaged transport ideas by locality, etc.
Visitors should be able to click/ highlight current connections to able to see a realistic estimate of basic information such as frequency of service, capacity, daily/monthly/yearly passenger numbers, fare prices, CO2 footprint, income and profit. Visitors will be able to click on each new idea to open a presentation window/screen. The presentation can feature a more in depth description of the transport idea, with visualisations and sketches. With every suggestion viewed, visitors who are logged-in can vote, similar to a Digg like/dislike counter. At the bottom of the screen, there will also be a pop-up list of similar suggestions.
If a user chooses to contribute a transport idea, they will be presented with a “tool-box” menu akin to SimCity/ Transport Tycoon, with the geographically accurate map taking dominance of the screen. There will be a zooming feature on the map as well the entire overlay, underlays and filters that can be viewed as described above.
The two main courses of action to be taken will be:
1. Improving specific points of public transport
2. Editing routes (new or current) which will also include improvements
For example, a visitor might want to improve a particular bus stop they know. They would zoom to a locality, identify where the current bus stop is and by using a computer game-like interface of a “tool-box” menu; select the particular transport improvement suggestion. This could be simplified for users by being displayed as pre-packaged options (the prices themselves attained from general market price sources).
If the user wants to edit a route without changing its journey (i.e. increase service), they should be able to click on the overlaid image of the service route, to bring up basic information. Frequency of service and price will be listed, and the user will be able to edit the service and receive feedback on the predicted consequences.
If the user wants to edit a current or new route, they will select from the “tool-box” menu what particular transport mode/route they would like to edit/create. They will be then given a plotting tool for your mouse cursor to plot a route. This could be a vector like plotting tool with ability to edit routes with a simple “click and drag” system. Potential problems with the proposed should be highlighted, e.g. route goes through/over river/valley so should be able to suggest when viaducts, bridges and tunnels are needed. A tally will be kept of the costs associated with selecting certain routes. When the transport idea is submitted, it will be available for other users or visitors to see and vote either for or against. The original user will be able edit their idea at anytime, with all changes being logged. All transport ideas will be tagged to their locality.
What technology/information is needed?
-Algorithms required for utility to function
-Statistics for algorithms to work with
A basic login/authentication feature will be required to keep record of a contributor’s development of ideas and to allow contributors to update their voting preferences
Also, by allowing basic personalised information contributors will be able to identify themselves and their interests (e.g. local architect). If the user has contributed other transport ideas on Publictransportidea, then having a registered profile will allow the user to link to those other ideas.
Privacy and security are also important. Information such as email and other contact details would be needed for registration, but would not be shown with profile. Optional information such as a profile name or organisation could be shown. Further, by having a profile, messages could be sent though the site to other users. It will not be necessary to reveal personal email addresses.
Maps and map statistics:
An obvious computer map to use is Googlemaps, as its accuracy would be very useful for determining a location or route. Googlemaps’ ability to switch between satellite, street map and topographical viewing could prove to be useful for visualising routes on the map, so a map with those features could be welcome. If Googlemaps cannot be used, then it should one that is very similar in quality, as I believe a realistic satellite-like view is integral to be able to visualise a route; A-Z style maps are likely to be too abstract. There will also be various overlays to use on the map. A good example of overlays being used is Mapumental (http://mapumental.channel4.com/); and like it, the Publictransportidea overlays will have to have a level of sophistication and clarity to be usable for the public at large.
The most important overlays are those of current transport connections. Most information about current transport could be easily obtained from transportdirect.info.
Toolbox, Algorithms, Statistics:
The idea for the editing in Publictransportidea takes inspiration from computer games such as SimCity and Transport tycoon. They both highlight working examples of utilising algorithms and data parameters to simulate transport networks and their consequences. In order to separate Publictransportidea from a perception of it being “just a computer game”, the utility will provide realistic estimated costs and benefits that will arise from a contributor’s idea. For this, some algorithmic work will be needed to combine data from the map overlays with what the transport idea is.
For example, when estimating cost of work, the map could be overlaid with available current data of street prices. From this, a basic cost of working land (paths, roads, underlying utilities, existing networks cost, etc) could be combined with an averaged cost of street prices. Costs of working land could also be estimated with regards to difficulty of working the land by including algorithmic work with a topographical/geographic map.
Another way to think about it would look like this:
Basic prices of public works-
e.g. On the map, for every 10m2, there is an original basic cost of a road (£x)
Add on: Cost of utilities network underneath
Add on: Cost of location
Add on: Cost of works
(e.g. Bus lane, cycle lane, tram track)
Add on: Associated cost of works
(e.g Motor vehicle underpass/tunnel)
= Total costs of works for that 10m2
+ Next 10m2 cost of works
=Total cost of works for route idea.
If algorithmic work like this is combined with using a mouse cursor to edit a particular part of public transport or route, then it must be easy to use and intuitive. This is easily achievable, considering that software such as Simcity and Transport Tycoon were already handling such algorithmic functions and are pieces of programming from 15+ years ago.
In considering the costs that will appear to the users of Publictransportidea, one should not forget the potential benefits that should equated in.
Estimated benefits/value of service:
With the previously suggested overlay with density and flow of people could be utilised to estimate potential amount of people served, etc.
My expertise is not within civic engineering domain so I would need to seek advice about sources and algorithms that DfT and civil engineering organizations would use for benefit analysis. However, as a starting point, reasonable benefits analysis could be derived from information such as:
-Property/ land prices
-Work/ people flow
By comparing this to usage of other similar routes, a reasonable estimation could be figured for an idea’s usage and viability.
Clear presentation is a key factor to the success of Publictransportidea. The presentation of the toolbox and map need to be clear, easy to use, but also functional. The design of Publictransportidea should not look too complicated to scare people off, yet not patronise people with over the top restrictions and simplification. Publictransportidea’s look, especially the appearance of its toolbox, should attempt to have a professional look on par with TFL (www.tfl.gov.uk) or YouCity (www.youcity.com), to give people faith its usefulness.
If the editing and viewing is the back bone of this utility, the voting ability is the nervous system that will give it life. A form of Digg-like counter will be vital in providing the democratic aspect to the utility. There have to be ways of not corrupting voting system and the easiest is to only allow registered users one vote on each transport idea. Another factor to consider with voting system is that if the initial transport idea can be modified, one would have to also prevent further corruption of democratic principles; possibly by allowing users to take back their vote if the transport idea has been modified into an idea that they cannot agree with. In conjunction, there could also be some form of “wiki-history” with editing and presentation, to allow visitors to see how the contribution has developed over time. Otherwise, simple data collection tallying the votes for ideas will highlight the most popular contributions and provide valuable data for the transport sector to know where to prioritise.
To enhance the democratic strength and potential of the utility, messaging will be an important feature. Users will be able to communicate with each other regarding ideas, without needing to reveal their own personal email addresses etc.
This idea could not only contribute to the high ideals of development for an open and transparent society but would also have concrete results for value for money and civic and democratic agreement on the future of public transport infrastructure for this country.