e to Bea

In a Request for Proposals released April 13th, Sound Transit outlined a set of system upgrades for its passenger information systems (PIMS). The most visible component of these systems are the realtime arrival information for ST trains and buses, but they also include backend systems that collect and process the data. This project has three major components: real-time prediction enhancements, better schedule integration, and cross mode messaging, integrating data from multiple transit modes into a single enterprise system. The contract will replace the Public Address system and the station Variable Message Signs currently in place for Link, Sounder and Tacoma Link. Bringing all of this data in to a single combined system may require new or augmented data collection equipment (e.g. tracking or passenger counters).

Passenger-facing improvements include provisions for communicating train size, passenger load, and out-of-service indicators, among a long list of other datapoints. Information would be displayed on station signage, the Sound Transit website, on One Bus Away, and in GTFS/R feeds that interface with third-party services such as Google Transit.

East Link’s budget already funds augmenting the current system to support multiple lines serving the same station. The current two-minute warning announcements would be modified to announce the train’s destination and line color. If the RFP failed for some reason, the existing project would still support multiple lines, while riders would not enjoy any benefits of a more modern information system.

Sound Transit notes that the current Link passenger information system is approaching the end of its life (though some readers may proclaim that has already passed). Replacing the entire PIMS is a disruptive task and Sound Transit has wisely identified that the best time to complete a major overhaul would be in conjunction with the opening of East Link, when major modifications would have been taking place anyways.

The project is backed by lifecycle replacement funds that periodically repair and replace aging equipment as well as a portion of ST3’s technological innovations budget. This RFP covers Link, Tacoma Link and Sounder. Future RFPs will bring ST Express and ST’s future BRT lines in to this system. The RFP boldly states that “multiple, unintegrated systems does not satisfy the [requirements],” but then admits that implementation may come in multiple phases, thus diluting–or at least postponing–the very goal this and the future RFP set out to achieve.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin in 2019; proposers have been asked to offer implementation schedules that deliver benefits as early as realistically achievable. However, some aspects have hard deadlines to coincide with the launch of East Link service.

The full list of features the contract is looking to provide looks like it was lifted out of STB comment threads, and is listed after the break:

Train arrivals
The System shall display vehicle arrivals and relevant details including but not limited to:

  • Route/Line Color
  • Destination
  • Arrival or Departure Time
  • Indication if train is out of service

Provide visual and audio announcements when vehicles are close to the station, examples include but are not limited to:

  • Train arriving in two minutes
  • Train now arriving

Track/platform # for next train

Display the track or platorm that the next train will arrive on. Mandatory for Sounder and may also apply for Link at terminus or in single tracking conditions.

Car/vehicle capacity

Display information about how full a car/vehicle is based on passenger load (APC). Provide number of cars in multi-car train consist.

Service announcements

  • Service announcements (scheduled, event initiated)
  • Service announcements (ad hoc remote & ad hoc station/platform driven)

Destination/route being served

Provide customers with detail on the destination and route, even if the train is deviating from a standard schedule. If the vehicle is not on regular route, indicate where it is going. (example: airport to Beacon Hill only). Applies to shuttle train and multiple lines.

Informational details
Informational messages should provide non-emergency information such as:

  • Elevator & escalator outages
  • Changes to circulation (routes through the station)
  • Reminder: tap on/off
  • Entering fare paid zone

Partner alerts

Display service alerts from transit partners, example Amtrak delays. In the future, new partner alert systems will be added, example KCM alerts that impact customers leaving University of Washington Station.

Location or station specific alerts

The system shall allow display of location or station specific information.

Car number
When a customer uses an emergency button or emergency phone on board Sounder, the car number where the emergency is located should be displayed on signs.

  • Internal signs alert the conductor
  • External signs tell emergency personnel which car they should approach when the train is arriving at the station. Current functionality displays the car number on all external destination signs.

Partner agency train arrivals

Display Amtrak train arrival information on Sound Transit signs. Display Sound Transit train arrival information on signs controlled by Amtrak. In both cases, customers must have enough detail to determine whether the arriving train is for Sounder or Amtrak Cascades.

Bus arrivals

Signs shall display predicted bus arrival information. Bus predictions may be generated by the PIMS system (e.g. Sound Transit BRT services). Other predictions may be generated by partner agencies such as KCM. Signs at a given location shall display bus predicted arrivals based user configured parameters (e.g. bus routes).

Direction of travel

Provide the ability to display direction of travel or bearing for train.

Next station information for onboard signs

Display information next station and station arrival information.

Parking availability/capacity

Provide the ability to display available parking and/or parking capacity details.

Vision for the Future
The following items are not in scope for this effort. They are included to help proposers understand the direction the Agency wants extend passenger information.

  • Real-time ETA to destination (onboard signage)
  • Bike holding capacity
  • Interactive content
  • Map of vehicle locations with real-time movement
  • Traffic incidents
  • Motion/Activity based content
  • Bike locker capacity
  • Platform capacity and wait times

Interested parties hav until June 29 to submit a proposal after which staff will review the proposals and present the best option to the board for approval.

30 Replies to “Sound Transit Looking to Improve Passenger Information Systems”

  1. I have been working on writing my first article for Page 2 and I can’t wait to publish it! However, WordPress “updated” and now I’m not able to publish or edit it. Any advice?

  2. ugh. they really need to improve the min requirements.

    >Provide visual and audio announcements when vehicles are close to the station, examples include but are not limited to:

    >Train arriving in two minutes
    >Train now arriving
    This bar is too low.

    1. A display screen should always display a countdown to when the train will arrive. The audio announcement is only necessary when the train is actually arriving. We don’t need a voice screaming an update in our ears every 30-60 seconds, and even a two-minute warning is kind of redundant if you have a display screen that always contains the upcoming arrival times.

      1. The announcements maybe annoying for some, but those with sight loss or who are in wheelchairs will benefit as display screens tend to be placed rather high.

  3. Very Curious whether there is an Industry standard for this. With new rail cars for Central/North and East Link arriving soon that probably already have specs for display and PA systems finalized, It would be nice if modifications to them could be kept to a minimum after delivery.

    I hear that the existing 62 LRVs are going to be refurbished as new cars replace them temporarily before all are needed as the line extensions are completed. Changes to automated PA announcements on those cars have been limited due to reprogramming costs.Hopefully PA and display system features will be identical on both fleets once that is done.

    Capability to transmit announcements directly to individual trains from LCC would be nice – even as an operator I would benefit overhearing those if it were possible and having to relay same when received via train two way radio on the PA system is not always easy to do when busy with other tasks – like operating the train…

    In a perfect world it would be possible for a train operator to access the station PA system from the train radio when arriving on those hopefully rare occasions when needed. Or at least each station would be staffed with station agents who can access PA systems as they patrol the platforms. I have visited many systems with both capabilities. Delays in getting information out to riders with currently employed technologies often hinder operations.

    1. Jeff, it seems like Seattle has always had terrible problems with passenger information lifelong. For a city whose people are so well-educated…why can’t they get this one right?


      1. Try NYC as busses there don’t have announcement systems beyond using the rear door. Clever devices of Long Island had a pilot program with the MTA, but it didn’t go anywhere. The speculation had something to do with the density of the highrises in Manhattan, but most other areas of the city don’t have that problem.

        Now to be fair I do own aTrekker GPS for the blind & it does have issues when in Manhattan, so the MTA may have a point unless the Clever Devices system is more advanced than systems used by the general public.

  4. Sadly, this project is written without any strategies to assure user-friendliness testing, evaluation or acceptance from an independent group of riders. It’s written like a scope from 1999.

    Information systems today are so flexible that they can provide just about anything. I am concerned that the drive for the lowest bid to meet a minimum design will shortchange the riders.

    Consider that there is no “user” process in this scope. Only ST staff sign off on everything.

    Several agencies have recently elevated “user experience” to be much more important, but this procurement seems to lack this major focus. The culture of ST to primarily cater to elected officials and interest groups but not their riders continues.

    1. Al, you’re right about the focus part, but I think the worst problems stem from office politics and turf wars. Massive improvement if any official at all, elected or appointed, even knew what you’re talking about, let alone cared.

      Interest groups? Maybe evil alliance between seekers and providers of the lowest bid. Ominous that both Gothenburg, Sweden, and Oslo, Norway, with a century of streetcar experience and an alert riding population, ended up with Breda machines worse than ours.

      Where’s a war crimes tribunal when we need one? No excuse for Norway or Sweden. The Hague is in Holland, flight time shorter than Route 62. Sorry, San Francisco. You’re on your own. Should have just coupled PCC’s together.


    2. It’s especially bad given how many UX experts there are in Seattle working in tech!
      I would love love love a real human voice recording for the regular, repeated announcements – stop names and train arriving etc. In Portland they have nice recordings of real humans reading the announcements in English and Spanish too! I have enough computers in my life already.

  5. I’m with Al S above. I’m a little worried this will technically be achieve, but could be less useful for the riders.

    It would be great to add some user friendly design into the proposal so we end up with accessible information. For example, with some design guidance the display screens at UW and Capitol Hill could be more effective at displaying information and also look better.

    1. >> I’m a little worried this will technically achieve, but could be less useful for the riders.

      I’m a little more worried that this summaries the entire system. It is as if they are checking things off of a box, without bothering to see it if really is a cost effective way to meet your objectives. Maybe that should be the ST motto: Technically we achieve, but don’t expect it to very useful for the riders.

  6. Can we please stop the scrolling on Link?

    The word “Station” is totally unnecessary. Everything else can be adjusted so that it fits on the Matrix without scrolling. Please.

    1. But maybe keep the Out Of Service as a scrolling message so you can tell from a much farther distance if the train is in service or not.

      1. One of the features the RFP is requesting is the ability to denote the next-arriving train as out of service.

  7. Please have all information entered into the system by someone whose job description includes riding every single route in the system to understand what information passengers are most likely to need. Whose desk is not in…well, nothing against Singapore. Which doubtless already does that on their own system.

    Boston and Queen Anne Avenue westbound. Unless we share an eye doctor, which cross-street is best info for them: First or Queen Anne Avenue? But while I know this is getting almost as tiresome to you as it is to me, Milky Way Galaxy Award for information that actually is a Black Hole and sucks like one:

    Exact information explaining how you can receive a $124 fine for “tapping on”, which is visibly mandated, not a word that doing it after not “tapping off” makes you a fare evader. And what in the name of the Dark Lord of the Sith is an RCW. You won’t know from reading one, let alone all six or whatever.

    The row of them below one of the TVM’s at Sea-Tac is doubtless directed at passengers named Rex or Fido, because it’s at human ankle level, which is where dogs read their e-mail. Yeah, put the “p” and the extra “e” in front of the dash. And wish they’d o the same on the leg of whoever considers a link to “Ride The Wave” to be passenger information.

    Whose tone, is threatening and abusive legalese, starting with a law-laydown of fact that possession of a pass is not proof of payment. Where’s the Transit Passengers’ Union? They can crowd-source a lawyer easier than I can. But I guess information to passengers Universe-wide could not be clearer:

    Campaign promise of an integrated regional system, let alone ordinary decency to passengers, loses out to dividing fare revenue among seven quarreling agencies. By people whose own job is to do it, but would rather just bully their passengers into bewildered compliance. “Just tap when you get off and nobody gets hurt” really belongs in movies where “th” becomes a “d”, and da peanut machines on da platforms feed a lotta boids.

    Mark Dublin

  8. When things are working correctly (most of the time), real-time information is useful but less essential. It’s when there are problems — train lines out of service, escalators or elevators not working, etc — that real-time information is critical.

    For example, if trains cannot arrive, riders could fill up the platform and create unsafe overcrowding. Letting riders know this before getting on an escalator is very important in this situation. I don’t get why this issue is explicitly listed as not included. Sign placement is very important and the spec doesn’t talk about this.

    I also don’t get why continuous arrival estimates are not included as a minimum design spec. ST is the only system I’ve seen that advises riders of arrival times only at two minutes. Most systems I ride periodically or continually let riders know when a train is coming. Somebody probably thinks it’s nice to give any advance arrival information — but truthfully it’s pretty limited. Even Metro’s arrival signs let a rider know how long to wait.

    1. Can whoever at LCC issues these communications actually see their subject and context?


    2. Continuous arrival estimates are a minimum design spec:

      “The System shall display vehicle arrivals and relevant details including but not limited to:
      Arrival or Departure Time”

  9. Can we please reserve audio announcements for information that’s really specific to the moment, such as train arrivals, rather than screaming the same stuff over and over again every few minutes. Or at least, reduce the volume. Elevator outages don’t need an audio announcement at all, just post paper flyers.

    I really hope the ability to announce more things doesn’t make the problem worse.

    1. Elevator outage announcements are pretty critical when you are incapable of using the stairs or escalator.

      1. There are some types of communication where the visual medium is best and others where the auditory medium is best. The difference is that the visual medium, the information is always there for those that want to see it, and always out of the way for those that don’t. Whereas, audio, the information is in everyone’s face at the moment the message is sounding, interrupting all thoughts and conversations, but completely inaccessible at all other times.

        A good example of a message where auditory communication is appropriate is “train now arriving”, since it’s something that nearly everybody in the station needs to know – right at that particular moment. Similarly for emergency announcements, like fire alarms.

        But, elevator outages are continuous events, so there is nothing special about the particular arbitrary moment for sounding the announcement in every station. This makes a bad experience for everybody. Those that need to know about it aren’t expecting the announcement and might miss bits and pieces of it until it gets repeated, which might not happen for several minutes, during which the train might come. Or, maybe the train comes right away, and they don’t hear the announcement at all. And, for those that don’t need it, the announcement is simply auditory clutter that interrupts conversations and whatever music people with headphones are trying to listen to, which serves no purpose except to make the transit-riding experience more unpleasant.

        There is, of course, one case where an elevator outage does pass the “in the moment” test where auditory communication is appropriate, and that’s when you’re actually on the train, pulling into the station with the elevator outage (or the station that people who need to use the elevator are supposed to use instead), since, again, that’s something that people in need of the elevators need to know *right now*. Sounding the announcement at every single station, every few minutes does not pass this test. Those standing at station X that need to know that the elevator is out at station Y can just read a piece of paper.

        That said, I do understand the “politically correct” argument that for the sake of the visually impaired, every little piece of information needs to be said out loud, and at a loud volume, since there might be somebody who is both visually impaired and hearing impaired. I counter that argument with the fact that most of the station announcements simply regurgitate well-known policies and common sense (“proof of payment is required to ride Link Light Rail”, “hold onto the handrails when standing on trains and buses”), and for things like elevator disruptions, people that can’t read the signs can still receive the notifications with phone apps and headphones. Worst case, they’d still hear the announcement while on the train, as the train approaches the station with the broken elevator.

      2. Does Link do that now, telling you when you’re approaching the station that an elevator is out? I don’t think I’ve heard it on the train but I’m not 100% sure.

      3. It’s not the delivery of the message, rather it’s the message itself people here are concerned about… right?

    2. “Does Link do that now, telling you when you’re approaching the station that an elevator is out?”

      I’m not sure, but if it doesn’t, it should. The time to be reminded when the elevator is out, is when you’re on the train, about the pull into the station where the elevator is out. Not when you’re sitting in a completely different station, waiting for the train. In any case, audio is still not a substitute for old-fashioned paper signs.

  10. I hope this is just part of a general signage upgrade. ST should eliminate station signs that say “to Seattle” at stations that are already *in* Seattle! I’ve never been able to figure out the Why of that one.

    1. Those are for visitors, for whom “Seattle” means downtown. It may be clumsy but for getting around people don’t usually care where the city boundaries are. Although if you want to make them more prominent, you can do what San Diego does with the city name in smaller letters below the station name on suburban station signs.

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