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What’s going on at the bus stop? The impact of Auckland’s real time passenger information system on patrons timespace perceptions

Phillipa Mitchell
p. 331-348


Les innovations dans le domaine des transports sont surtout connues pour leur pouvoir de changer l’espace géographique à travers la contraction de la notion d’’espace-temps. L’émergence de systèmes de transport intelligents nous fournit un nouveau prisme au travers duquel il devient possible d’interroger les perceptions individuelles en la matière. Un de ces systèmes, le système d’informations prévisionnelles en temps réel des passagers (RTPISP) installé actuellement à Auckland, Nouvelle Zélande sert de cadre à cette proposition qui consiste à comprendre comment les expériences de déplacement des passagers peuvent s’en trouver modifiées. Cet article suggère que de telles technologies modifient considérablement la donne. Par le simple fait d’attendre l’arrivée d’un bus ou tout au long du trajet, de nouvelles possibilités émergent, permettant aux usagers de se constituer des nouveaux espaces temporels jusqu’alors inconnus.

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I wish to thank Auckland Regional Transport Authority for their cooperation in researching this paper. I am also indebted to Richard Le Heron and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the original manuscript.


1The rapid emergence of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are said to be altering individuals’ everyday lives in numerous ways. Thrift and French (2002) argue that there is an unrecorded ‘automatic production of space’ by software occurring in urban environments and believe that geographers should be reconsidering how city spaces are being made. Transportation innovations provide one lens through which to undertake this reconsideration. Transportation is an essential aspect of people’s everyday lives and its impacts have been studied in depth by geographers such as Janelle (2004). Through an examination the Real Time Passenger Information Signal Pre-emption System (RTPISP System), an intelligent transport system operating in Auckland, New Zealand, this paper contributes to the increasing realization in transport geography that ICTs are resulting in complex interactions between individuals and their travelling environment, in this case the bus stop. Catching the bus has its own particular issues. The bus is subject to the vagaries of the road from traffic lights through to congestion, although these can be mediated by bus priority measures. In general using buses can be time consuming and hampered by transfer difficulties resulting in a generally negative perception of buses as a mode of transport, particularly when compare to other passenger transport modes such as rail (Currie, 2005 ; Rainsford & Mackaness, 2002). Often one of the key goals in the implementation of intelligent transport systems is to alleviate these negative public perceptions (Transit Cooperative Research Program, 2003). This, however, raises an interesting point made by Cao and Mokhtarian (2005) that there is often a discrepancy between individual travel behaviour and transport policy. In examining the impacts the RTPISP System has had on passenger transport users experiences’ in Auckland any evidence of a discrepancy between what was intended by the implementation and the outcomes should be revealed. The paper focuses on the following three questions. Firstly, how can intelligent transport systems affect individual travel experiences ? Secondly, how are these experiences being shaped by interface the RTPISP System provides, between the ubiquitous computing background and individuals everyday lives ? Finally, what intelligent transport systems mean for individuals’ constitution of timespace ? This final question shifts the focus from the compression of space by time to an examination of the conditions of possibility interactions that go with any new technology-human interface begin to create.

Transport Geography – a new direction ?

2Before considering these guiding questions and examination of how transport geography in particular is dealing with the advent of ICTs must be considered. Until recently transport geography’s consideration of ICTs has largely focussed on their potential to reduce the need for physical transport through technologies such as telecommuting, teleconferencing and e-commerce, what Janelle (2004) terms virtual mobility. Hanson (1998) proposes that in fact too much attention has been place on ICTs simply as transport substitutes and believes more interesting questions arise from an investigation of the ‘off road/on road intersection’. Vilhelmson and Thulin’s identify that “there is rarely a straightforward substitution potential in the interaction between transportation technology and ICT” (2001, p. 1026) in their discussion of ICT based modes of work compared to travel based modes in Sweden. Their investigation found that while teleconferencing and teleworking were occurring they were not attracting the large numbers analysts anticipated. Instead ICT based activities are becoming more time consuming leading Vilhelmson and Thulin (2001) to suggest this may lead to a displacement effect where other actions are sacrificed. They conclude that,

“The potential and consequences of the use of technology are often looked upon in quite similar ways…But it is also clear that circumstances beyond the system under study may also influence the development process and bring about some potential effects, embedded in technology, that may be more desirable than others…This makes it even more important to address and investigate empirically questions concerning the extent to which people’s everyday activity patterns are based on different kinds of technologies… (2001, p. 1028) ”.

3This conclusion is fundamentally important to this research as it begins to provide some empirical evidence of how an everyday activity, catching the bus, has become embedded in technology directly due to the implementation of the RTPISP System in Auckland. Consequently, individuals’ experiences are becoming based almost unconsciously on what will be shown to be a complex range of technologies that comprise the RTPISP System.

4While how ICTs may alter accessibility and mobility in urban environments and the multiple temporal and spatial constraints that act on these has been widely investigated (see Shen, 2000 ; Kwan, 2002 ; Janelle, 2004). Less attention has been dedicated to the impacts of intelligent transport systems. Nonetheless two aspects stand out. Firstly, these systems enhance transport safety through mechanisms such as surveillance and traffic management software (Annino & Cromley, 2005). Secondly, they are used in the development of sustainable practices through travel demand initiatives that either increase the efficiency of passenger transport, for example real time information, or charge for the use of private vehicles for example congestion charges.

Individuals’ travel experiences

5Investigations into the interactions of ICTs transport and urban environments, essentially comes down to the experience of the individual and how these increasingly embedded technologies affect their everyday travelling activities. Key studies reveal a notable lacuna in this area of the transport discourse to date. Hodge and Koski’s examination of research possibilities in relation to ICTs identified that “we know very little about how these new technologies will affect individual travel behaviour” (1997, p. 192). Dziekan & Vermeulen’s examination of the psychological effects of real time displays state “that knowledge about the behavioural effects these have on customers… in the real world is quite sparse” (2006, p. 72).

6Of the previous work that has been conducted on peoples’ experiences of intelligent transport systems it appears that they generally have a positive psychological effect (Dziekan & Vermeulen, 2006). Dziekan & Vermeulen identified that the use of real time information displays for passenger transport “can greatly reduce anxiety” (2006, p. 72) and further reduce passenger perceived wait time. In explaining this affect they speculate that,

“Another possibility for decreasing actual wait times is that people may simply walk by the stop, see that there are still several minutes until… departure, and decide to use the remaining time to do something else.” (2006, p. 84).

7This paper explores Dziekan & Vermeulen’s (2006) point further. The concept of ‘wait time’ is central to any passenger transport initiative principally because it can be considered onerous (Hess, Brown, & Shoup, 2004) or even as the longest part of the journey (Li, 2003). In their study Hess, Brown, and Shoup found that bus patrons perceptions of wait times were very subjective as “Riders overestimated their wait time by a factor of two when it was imposed by the transit system, but accurately estimated their wait time when they chose to wait for the free bus” (2004, p. 67). While this research does not involve comparing bus patrons’ perceptions of wait time with the actual time they waited, it does consider bus passengers time perceptions and the potential impacts of the real time signs on this.

Situating the bus passenger interface

8It is important at this point to conceptualise the bus stop environment and the various contingent relationships occurring between the RTPISP System, the real time signs, the buses and the bus passengers, all of which lead to timespace possibilities, as shown in Figure 1. This provides an opportunity to explore what Hanson (1998) referred to as the interesting ‘off road/on road intersection’ as the on road bus stop environment is now embedded in the technology of the off road RTPISP System. The real time signs provide an interface allowing the system intersect and influence individuals’ everyday experiences in and around the bus stop environment.

Figure 1 : Conceptualisation of the bus stop environment

Figure 1 : Conceptualisation of the bus stop environment

Conceptualisation of the bus stop environment identifying the various interactions between of the RTPISP System, the bus, the real time sign, the bus patron waiting at the stop and some of the timespace possibilities that may emerge.

9It is important to go inside the concepts presented in Figure 1 to explore how these technologies manifest themselves in the bus stop environment. To do this, this research draws on Dodge and Kitchin’s (2005) idea of code space. They argue that software or code now “produces, monitors, surveys, augments and controls many aspects of daily life” (2005 : 162) and break such controlled space into four forms. Coded objects, these use code to function and cannot be accessed without software ; coded infrastructure, which is the networks regulated by code that link objects and infrastructure ; coded processes, which are the transaction and flow of digital data across coded infrastructure, and ; coded assemblage, this is the convergence of the other three forms in one system (Dodge and Kitchin, 2005) . Auckland’s RTPISP System can be conceptualised in this way, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 : The coded space of the RTPISP System

Figure 2 : The coded space of the RTPISP System

10This conceptualisation illustrates the complex range of technologies that comprise the RTPISP System and expose the need to “investigate empirically questions concerning the extent to which people’s everyday activity patterns are based on different kinds of technologies” (Vilhelmson and Thulin, 2001, p. 1028). Considering the system as an interface and a coded space, however, is only a first investigative step as “The extent to which code is embedded in everyday society (as objects, infrastructure, processes, and assemblages) is not the same thing as the extent to which it makes a difference to everyday life” (Dodge and Kitchin, 2005, p. 169). Consequently, it is also important to interrogate these individuals’ temporal and spatial perceptions and how intelligent transport systems are creating conditions of possibility through which the bus patrons are beginning to constitute a multiplicity of timespaces.

Constituting timespace – more than space time compression

11Transport geographers focus on necessary travel (Urry, 2002) has, this paper argues both driven and been driven by the emphasis on transport ability to compress geographic space through time. This presumes only necessary movements will be undertaken with the greatest speed and least travel required. This dualistic treatment of space and time is, however, incompatible with a theoretical examination of the impacts of intelligent transport systems on individuals’ perceptions of space and time. May and Thrift’s (2001) concept of timespace is an attempt to dissolve the space time binary. Their manifesto identifies that the discipline has fluctuated between emphasising one or the other. May and Thrift (2001) contend that discussions regarding the implications of information and communication technologies have often fallen into the trap of favouring one over the other, be it space or time, resulting in severe limitations to the research that has been conducted.

12This paper proposes that intelligent transport systems are creating a complex set of interactions in space and time which can be better conceived through the timespace concept, where the two are interconnected and interdependent (May and Thrift, 2001). The RTPISP System currently being implemented in Auckland will provide real time passenger information signs at hundreds of bus stops throughout the region. As stated in each instance the signs act as an interface between the bus patrons real life transport encounters and the hidden software background placing bus passengers in a coded space milieu. These circumstances provide the opportunity to constitute different timespaces in and around the environment of the bus stop. The information the displays provide, both consciously and unconsciously, affects the behaviour of the waiting passengers. This research will reveal that individuals are now able to constitute and engage in a range of timespaces in the bus stop environment ; timespaces that were not previously accessible. Clearly this interaction is not a compression of space by time, in fact, the provision of real time information is opening up space in ways not experienced by these bus passengers previously.

Context : The Auckland Region

  • 1 NZD stands for New Zealand Dollar.

13Auckland is the largest metropolitan city in New Zealand with over 1.2 million people, just under a third of the national population. The regions physical geography greatly restricts its transportation as it is situated on a narrow isthmus between two major harbours resulting in significant bottlenecks for any north to south movements, see Figure 3. These problems are exacerbated by the region’s extensive low density urban sprawl and New Zealanders passion for cars. The International Energy Agency (IEA) identifies New Zealand as the world’s most motorised country relative to its GDP (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, 2006). Auckland in particular is recognised for its traffic congestion problems which have been estimated to cost the national economy $ 1billion (NZD1) per annum (Ministry of Transport, 2002).

Figure 3: A map illustrating the location and physical geography of the Auckland Region and the partitioning of the region between the seven local councils and one overarching regional council

Figure 3: A map illustrating the location and physical geography of the Auckland Region and the partitioning of the region between the seven local councils and one overarching regional council

14Transport planning in the region has also often be short term and restricted in its thinking and funding. This in part is due to the fragmented governance structure of the region which has an over arching regional council and seven local councils (see Figure 3) competing for funding. Auckland’s passenger transport has been condemned as inadequate and inefficient, a perception reflected in the user statistics. According to the 2005 Auckland Regional Land Transport Strategy passenger transport accounted for only 8 % of trips in 2001 (Auckland Regional Council, 2005). Importantly, buses are vital to the Auckland region’s passenger transport accounting for 82 % of all passenger transport trips in 2004 (Auckland Regional Council, 2005). This reason for this is two fold. There is no underground system as again Auckland physical geography, in this case its volcanic nature, means tunnelling is prohibitively expensive. Secondly, until 2000 investment in the regions rail system was minimal and while this has now changed significantly the rail network only services limited areas of the region. In 2003 a Joint Officials Group (JOG) was formed to deal with Auckland’s transport problems. This resulted in the streamlining of the funding processes through the formation of the Auckland Regional Transit Authority (ARTA) (Joint Officials Group, 2003) and a shift in emphasis from roading solutions to regional passenger transport and travel demand management initiatives. While the RTPISP System was originally commissioned back in 2001 it is exactly the type of project that JOG initiative promoted, particularly as it has a regional focus.

Background to the RTPISP System

15The RTPISP System was originally commissioned by Auckland City Council to create more efficient and reliable bus services by improving issues such as journey times, reliability, passenger information, the uncertainty of passenger transport and the reporting of information on bus services to the operators and planners (Gravitas Research and Strategy Limited, 2004). The initial contract was for $ 6.9million (NZD). In March 2006 ARTA took over the operation of the system in line with the original memorandum of understanding signed by all the councils to ensure the system became regionally implemented. This research however, is limited to a consideration of the systems impact within Auckland City Council’s jurisdiction as this is the only complete part of the RTPISP System. This area includes 204 bus stops that have had real time signs installed and also lead to almost the entire regional bus fleet of 900+ buses being equipped with Automatic Vehicle Locators and Global Positioning Antennas and the installation of signal pre-emption at all of the regions intersections. This regional implementation occurred because Auckland City’s geographically central position in the Region, as Figure 3 illustrated means that most bus routes run through it as some point. When complete the entire system will be the largest of its kind in the world, comprising of over 750 real time signs and over 1000 equipped buses. Three factors differentiate this system from comparative systems worldwide. Firstly, its scale, most similar systems focus on key service routes not entire regions. Secondly, all buses are equipped with General Packet Radio Systems for communication and Global Positioning Satellite antenna, other systems rely on a beacon and VHF radio systems. Finally, all off these systems are based on historical prediction times to ensure the accuracy of the real time information ; this system combines that with daily and weekly information so it is able to adapt quickly to issues such as road works2.

16There were technical problems during the initial roll out of the system which was repeatedly delayed and this received considerable negative media coverage. Subsequently, Auckland City Council decided on a low key approach to the roll out with very limited publicity on how the system works. This has important ramifications for this research as those surveyed at the bus stops had only their personal understanding as a reference point for how the real time signs conveyed information.

17Another important consideration to note is that currently the Auckland City real time signs display a mixture of scheduled and real time information. Essentially the moment a bus registers for a trip on the system the scheduled time displayed on the sign is replaced by real time updates of the bus as it moves along the route. If a bus does not register for the trip the sign continues to count down the expected scheduled arrival time to DUE and then changes to ‘DLY’ i.e. delay, and then clears. Currently, there is no way for a patron to differentiate between scheduled and real time information and so any missed trips, driver error or equipment faults are publicly displayed as delays. This has had a misleading impact on patrons’ perceptions of the system reliability as it is often something separate from the system that has resulted in the ‘missing’ bus. This paper demonstrates just how problematic this technical issue was when it came to peoples’ perceptions of the RTPISP System’s reliability.

Positionality and Methodology

18This research uses a reflexive approach (Rose, 1997) to discuss the author’s positionality and the ramifications of this on the methodology and results analysis. The key aspect to take into consideration is that the author has, and still is, involved in both the implementation and operation of the RTPISP System as a transport contractor. In addition, she is also a regular bus patron and utilises the signs in her daily commute. This creates a complex interaction of insider and outsider tensions. Her professional ‘insider’ knowledge of the system places her firmly as an outsider in relation to other bus patrons’ experience of the signs, however, her daily commuting, places her partially as an insider due to her dependence, as a bus patron, on the sign information. These tensions influenced the survey construction as she was both interested to see how the system had been received, and also from a need to quantify the anecdotal observations she had experienced while waiting for the bus. More importantly the prescribed ethical requirements of the research meant the author had to reveal her professional role in the RTPISP System. This coloured the subjects’ perceptions of the researcher resulting in a loss of neutrality. There is a likelihood that some peoples answers were influenced by this relationship with some more reluctant to discuss their opinion with an authority figure on the project, while others saw it as a chance to increase their knowledge of the system, in turn asking their own questions. Thus the research findings are informed and bonded by both the partiality of the researcher’s perspective and preconceptions of the respondents.

  • 3 The New Zealand dollar has a floating exchange rate so only approximate conversions can be provided (...)

19It was determined that the best way to ascertain individuals’ perceptions of the RTPISP System and how it may have altered their interactions with different timespaces was to conduct a survey. This was verbally administered to 100 people at 15 different bus stops equipped with real time signs in Auckland City. The survey was conducted on weekdays between 9-10am to capture a range of potential bus patrons from commuters to more casual users. The 15 bus stops used were selected for their very similar environments. They were all located in suburban shopping centres on main arterial roads ; had high morning patronage numbers ; were serviced by multiple high frequency (10 minutes apart) bus routes that were heading to the same destination, the Central Business District (CBD) ; most of the stops were no more than 20 minutes from the CBD, and ; the fares were either $ 1.50(NZD)3 or $ 3(NZD). The researcher particularly chose bus stops that were located in shopping areas due to the focus on patrons’ interactions with the spaces around them. The results would have been quite different if stops were located in residential areas with no options to do something else while waiting.

20Several methodological restrictions were encountered during this research. Surveys were unable to be conducted during the peak hours of 7-9am and 4-6pm as the high frequency of buses meant that although the survey took only three minutes it was often impossible to complete before a bus arrived. The other key restriction was that the majority of the real time signs were located at bus stops inbound to the CBD as these were stops with high patronage, a requirement for installing a sign. The major outbound stops with signs were located in the CBD and often catered for multiple routes again making the completion of surveys difficult.

So what is going on at the bus stop?

21The primary focus of the survey was to ascertain if the signs altered people’s behaviour at the bus stop, did it change their impressions of the time spent at the bus stop, did it allow them to constitute alternative timespaces while waiting for the bus ? Questions were asked regarding the degree to which individuals trusted the signs, whether they did anything else while waiting for the bus, how the signs made them feel about catching the bus and whether they felt the waiting time passed any differently due to the added knowledge the signs provided.

22Peoples’ impressions of the real time signs were overwhelmingly positive with 83% of those surveyed having favourable first impressions with comments such as Really informative, good to know what is happening or “Makes a huge difference, actually represents what is coming, it’s great”. Notably, however, 30% weren’t aware that the signs actually provided real time information, which could partly be explained by the lack of publicity about the system. The demographics of the 100 individuals in this survey, illustrated in Figure 4, are comparable to national data on bus patronage. As can be seen those under the age of 25 years were overrepresented in the survey and correspondingly nationally “Those aged 15 to 24 years were… significantly more likely to use public transport every day or nearly every day [accounting for] 24%” (Gravitas Research and Strategy Limited, 2005, p. 85). In addition, Figure 4 illustrates that this research surveyed 59 women and 41 men again reflecting the national data where women are slightly more likely to use public transport than men with 43% percent stating this compared to 41% of men (Gravitas Research and Strategy Limited, 2005).

Figure 4 : Demographics of the surveyed bus passengers by gender, age, frequency they caught the bus per week and their reason for catching the bus

Figure 4 : Demographics of the surveyed bus passengers by gender, age, frequency they caught the bus per week and their reason for catching the bus

Levels of Trust in the Technology

23Trust was the major determining factor when assessing the impact of the RTPISP System had on individuals’ behaviour and their constitution of timespaces. Each individual was asked on a scale of one to five to rank how much trust they placed in the information the real time signs provided with one being ‘never trust it’ and five being ‘always trust it’. 58% mostly or always trusted the sign information with women being more likely to rank their trust as such, 66% compared with 46% of men. A key contributor to this lack of trust was the delay feature discuss previously. Several people made negative comments about this feature such as It is good in some ways but the delay can be misleading, the bus won’t turn up if this appears on the sign or Not as reliable as I thought, to many delays”. When the issue of trust was examined taking into consideration the age of the bus patron those between 25 and 50 years were more likely to identify with mostly, 33% or always, 33%, trust the sign. Those under 25 were slightly less trusting favouring moderately, 36% or mostly, 45% and those over 50 years appeared to favour the extremes with 40% always trusting the signs and 20% never trusting them. Those in this later age group tended to either be strongly in favour or strongly against new technologies in general, with comments such as All this is so wonderful, it’s like magic or It’s all too confusing, I am too old to learn new tricks”.

24The frequency with which people caught the bus and therefore their familiarity with the signs also played a part in how much they trusted the sign. Figure 5 illustrates this clearly, showing that everyday commuters, who would be the most familiar with how the signs operate, are more likely to trust them.

Figure 5 : The level of trust bus passengers had in the real time signs categorised by the frequency they caught the bus

Figure 5 : The level of trust bus passengers had in the real time signs categorised by the frequency they caught the bus

Constituting Alternative Timespaces at the Bus Stop

25As stated all of the bus stops used in the survey where located in suburban shopping areas as illustrated in Figure 1, which comprised of strip shopping containing cafes, bookshops, greengrocers and so on. This was done to explore whether bus patrons would engage with these venues while waiting for the bus thereby constituting alternative timespaces. Only 24 % of those surveyed had actively made the decision to do something else while waiting based on the real time sign information. The sign information created new conditions of possibility that lead these individuals to feel that they could partake in alternative activities thereby constituting a new timespace while they were waiting. Most commonly they chose to engage in retail activities such as buying a coffee or looking in a bookshop. It was clear, however, that their behaviour was contingent on the length of the wait. If the wait was quite long, usually over 20 minutes an alternative set of conditions of possibility began to arise in which other modes of travel such as walking or going home to get the car looked more favourable. This has implications for transport planning in terms of bus service frequency, as clearly there is a point at which people begin to find passenger transport less viable.

26If the particulars of the 24% who stated they would go and do something else while waiting are examined the issue of trust is clearly a determining factor. Women were slightly more likely to go and do something else 27 % compared to 19 % of men and those between 25 to 50 years were also slightly more likely to do something else while waiting 28 %, compared to 21 % for the under 25, and 20 % for the over 50, results that mirror those for trust. When looked at from the perspective of the frequency with which they caught the bus, familiarity was again a key feature, of those 24 %, 58 % were everyday commuters.

27Of the remaining patrons surveyed 5% identified that they did not use the sign and the other 71% stated that they checked the sign and then just waited for the bus. There were two predominant reasons given for this. Firstly, mistrust of the sign information. Comments such as I couldn’t risk it and No, because sometimes the information is wrong were common. Secondly, several identified that their purpose for being at the stop was to catch the bus so they felt they didn’t need to do anything else except wait.

28The patrons were then asked, ‘If you knew reliably that the bus is more than 10 minutes away do you feel this gives you a choice as to what to do with that time ?’ This revealed a key determiner which explained why only 24 % were currently willing to do something else while waiting for the bus - reliability. The percentage of people who would consider doing something else while waiting for the bus more than doubled to 62 % if they were able to feel the sign information was reliable. The implication of this is that improving the systems reliability (which is currently occurring) will alter individuals’ behaviour while they wait for the bus providing the right conditions for them to constitute alternative timespaces in and around the bus stop environment. Among other things this could have positive economic ramifications for any shops or services in that area around these signs.

Real Time and Waiting Time

29As identified previously 30 % of those surveyed were unaware that the signs displayed real time information. This in part is due to the current confusion over the combination of scheduled and real time information that is displayed. What is clear from the literature is that as Dziekan and Vermeulen (2006) identify these signs have a predominantly psychological impact. This research supports Dziekan and Vermeulen (2006) argument that real time information reduces anxiety. It demonstrates this in two ways. First, individuals were asked, ‘If there was only standing room on the bus and they could see on the real time sign another bus was following would they get on the bus or wait for the next one ?’ (on which they may or may not get a seat). Over 50 % of patrons actively made the choice to wait for the next bus if they saw that there was only standing room. A small percentage of these put the coda on that they would only do so if they were not already running late. Interestingly, patrons’ willingness to wait was affected by how regularly they caught the bus, as illustrated in Table 1. The bus patrons were assumed to fall into two groups, those who rode everyday and those who rode less frequently. The less frequent users were assumed to have a different attitude to the signs at the stops. A chi square test explored the null hypothesis that the frequency with which bus patrons caught the bus did not have an effect on whether they waited for the next bus if the bus currently at the stop had standing room only. The test confirmed that there was a relationship between the frequency the patrons caught the bus and their behaviour, with a chi square of 7.14 and a p value of 0.0075. Clearly the provision of real time information provided the bus patrons with choice. Choice provides a sense on empowerment which can subsequently result in a reduction of anxiety. Furthermore, by choosing to catch the next bus these individuals actively choose to constitute another timespace that of the next bus which may have flow on implications for everything they did that day.

Table 1 : Bus passengers’ willingness to wait for the next bus if there is only standing room on the current one as determined by their bus catching frequency

Frequency bus caught during weekdays

“Don’t wait, catch this bus”

“Yes, wait for the next bus”


1 to 2 times per week




3 to 4 times per week












30The second way the psychological effects of the real time signs were examined was through the following question, ‘If the bus is completely full and goes straight past does knowing when the next one is coming make the experience less frustrating?’. 77 % stated that yes it did make the experience less frustrating which lends critical support to the positive psychological benefits of real time displays that Dziekan and Vermeulen (2006) identify. This perspective was not greatly altered by the frequency the patron caught the bus but everyday commuters were certainly more likely to feel less frustrated 86 % compared to just over 60 % for those who caught the bus less frequently.

31Wait time is a key consideration for any transport initiative and intelligent transport systems that use real time are particularly designed to reduce this aspect of people’s travel experience. The results reinforced Hess, Brown, & Shoup’s (2004) finding that perceptions of wait time can be highly subjective. There was an almost even split between those who considered it made them feel like the time passed faster and those that didn’t feel that it made the time pass any differently. Furthermore, 22 % stated it made them feel like the waiting time actually passed slower. It is interesting to note that while knowing in real time when the bus was coming did alter individuals’ perceptions of how the time passes ; this did not seem to predicate patrons decisions to do something else while waiting for the bus. So while patrons’ timespace perceptions were in some cases altered by the real time signs it did not automatically lead them to choose to constitute alternate timespaces.

Altered impressions of the bus service ?

32As stated Cao and Mokhtarian (2005) identify discrepancies between individuals travel behaviour and transport policy. The key justification for installing this system was create more efficient and reliable bus services so the survey also asked patrons if the signs had changed their perceptions as to the frequency and reliability of the bus service. There was quite an even split with 53 % stating yes it had changed their perceptions and 7 % of these identifying that this change had been for the worse. More men than women identified that it had altered their perceptions with 65 % and 43 % respectively. When looked at from the perspective of bus user frequency there was an almost even split between yes and no irrespective of how frequently they caught the bus. It could be said that with only just over half the respondents identifying that it had changed their perspective that this supports Cao and Mokhtarian’s (2005) conclusion of the frequent discrepancy between policy and individual behaviour. In this case, however, the reliability problems perceived by the public may be more to blame as mentioned previously 83 % stated had a favourable impression of signs and the Council’s intent in installing them.


33Transport innovations have always featured predominantly in discussions of the impact of new technologies on space, accessibility and mobility in urban environments. Examinations of intelligent transport systems provide an interesting next phase in this discussion. They provide a way for geographers to explore the interactions between peoples’ everyday lives and the ubiquitous background of computing that is now inherent in these daily activities (Thrift and French, 2002 ; Dodge and Kitchin, 2005). This investigation of the RTPISP System in Auckland, has suggested that these interactions may alter people’s perceptions, experiences and behaviour when it comes to catching the bus.

34This paper began with a series of guiding questions to reveal these interactions. The first of these related to how intelligent transport systems affect individual travel experiences. While clearly the provision of the RTPISP System is only slowly having an impact on people’s perceptions of bus services people were overwhelmingly positive about the intent of the signs. The discrepancy Cao and Mokhtarian (2005) have noted between individual travel behaviour and transport policy has evidently not occurred in this instance. The real time displays have in fact provided a public face to a significant financial investment of $ 6.9m (NZD), demonstrating to the public a renewed commitment by local government in Auckland’s passenger transport. Furthermore, the RTPISP System is evidently reducing the anxiety levels associated with catching the bus and also the frustration when it doesn’t work as expected. These findings reinforce Dziekan and Vermeulen (2006) identification of the positive psychological impacts of real time signs. Hess, Brown and Shoup (2004) have demonstrated that wait time is highly subjective and the present study again reinforces this finding with an almost even split between those that perceived the time to go faster and those that found the real time signs made no perceptible difference to their time judgement. The issue of reliability greatly influenced all the results as demonstrated by the low levels of trust and the limited number of individuals willing to engage in alternative activities while waiting for the bus. Notably, however, it was established that if peoples’ perceptions of the reliability of the system can be improved this will result in an appreciable change in behaviour.

35The second question asked how these experiences are being shaped by the interface with the RTPISP System. Significantly, the interface injected more transparency into the operations of the bus service. The design of the system to indicate DLY whenever a bus was late, not run, had faulty equipment or there was a driver entry error, revealed what were previously unknown factors to the passengers waiting at the stop. In doing so this information directly influenced their perceptions of the reliability of the system. Due to the failure of Auckland City Council to disseminate much information on how the system worked this transparency effectively backfired, resulting in a lack of trust in the system. When in fact the system is simply revealing the complex coded spaces that were operating in the background and how these were contingent on an extensive number of, at times unpredictable, external factors.

36Finally, the paper has engaged with the concept of timespace. The research shows that people’s encounters with the real time signs provide the conditions of possibility to engage in alternative activities, activities that require them to constitute timespaces other than waiting at the bus stop. The signs provide information on how much time is available before the bus arrives, providing people with the choice to use the space around them in different ways, the two are interdependent. Without an awareness of the actual wait time people could use the spaces around the bus stop for more than just waiting but there is a risk associated with this, they may miss the bus. The signs provide reliability (even if this is currently doubted by the majority), and therefore the choice to go to the shop, rush home or choose an alternative mode of travel. Each choice in turn involves constituting an alternative timespace to simply waiting for the bus. In the moment of decision the opposite to a compression of space by time is actually occurring. The signs by providing temporal information are creating the ability to constitute alternative spatial encounters, expanding the possibilities of what May and Thrift (2001) would call a multiplicity of timespaces.

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1 NZD stands for New Zealand Dollar.

2 See the Infopolis 2 website a project partly funded by the European Commission Telematics Application Programme for detailed information on other Real Time Systems throughout Europe.

3 The New Zealand dollar has a floating exchange rate so only approximate conversions can be provided $ 1.50(NZD) equals 75cents(€) or $ 1(USD).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 : Conceptualisation of the bus stop environment
Légende Conceptualisation of the bus stop environment identifying the various interactions between of the RTPISP System, the bus, the real time sign, the bus patron waiting at the stop and some of the timespace possibilities that may emerge.
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Titre Figure 2 : The coded space of the RTPISP System
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Titre Figure 3: A map illustrating the location and physical geography of the Auckland Region and the partitioning of the region between the seven local councils and one overarching regional council
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Titre Figure 4 : Demographics of the surveyed bus passengers by gender, age, frequency they caught the bus per week and their reason for catching the bus
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Titre Figure 5 : The level of trust bus passengers had in the real time signs categorised by the frequency they caught the bus
Fichier image/jpeg, 29k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Phillipa Mitchell, « What’s going on at the bus stop? The impact of Auckland’s real time passenger information system on patrons timespace perceptions »Netcom, 21-3/4 | 2007, 331-348.

Référence électronique

Phillipa Mitchell, « What’s going on at the bus stop? The impact of Auckland’s real time passenger information system on patrons timespace perceptions »Netcom [En ligne], 21-3/4 | 2007, mis en ligne le 15 septembre 2016, consulté le 18 août 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Phillipa Mitchell

School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92 019, Auckland, New Zealand. Email: Ph : +64 93737599. Fax : +64 9 3737434

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