Improving train platform info with NS and ProRail

STBY has recently completed a large scale live test with two major service improvements on the Dutch railway system. NS and Prorail (the main train operator and rail infrastructure company in The Netherlands) have developed an app and a new led screen along the full length of the platform that provide train travellers with live information about the availability of seats in the train they are waiting for, and the actual composition of the train (length, doors, 1st/2nd class, bicycle and wheelchair access, etc). With this information train travellers can make a better informed decision on where to get in from the platform. During the 3 months test period many people have used these new services, and about 700 train travellers have regularly provided their feedback to STBY through online questionnaires and in-depth interviews. This feedback offered valuable input for the business plan that supported the decision to do a gradual national roll out of the new services in 2014-2016.

Long term exploration and collaboration
During the past three years, STBY has effectuated a series of projects around train traveling. Starting early 2011 with an exploratory study investigating train travelers movements, motives and needs, towards eventually ending with testing two fully functional prototypes. Here we give a quick overview of these projects.

The first project was an exploratory study for ProRail, the company responsible for the rail network and the management of train stations in the Netherlands. While ProRail was already doing quite some quantitative research about the occupation of train platforms, mostly for safety purposes, they had little knowledge about train travelers and about how and why they move around platforms. Through observations and shadowing, STBY mapped the major pedestrian flows on platforms. Additional interviews with travelers helped understanding the motives behind these flows and gave us information about train travelers needs. It appeared these needs weren’t dependent on the person or on a type of traveler but were linked to the type of journey the traveller undertakes. More specifically, when one is undertaking a so called “frequent trip”, on a route and at a time-slot one is very experienced with, less preparation and information is needed. On the other hand, the needs and behaviour of that same person undertaking an “infrequent trip” will be very different. A customer journey, explaining the movements and needs for each of these trips was made and problem and opportunity areas within this customer journey could be identified.

Working with train travellers and design team
One of the identified problem areas, ‘the scramble moment’ between travellers stepping into the train and travellers stepping out of the train, was picked up by ProRail to be investigated further to inspire the development of concepts. This second project was therefore a more in-dept study involving diary studies and interviews with train travelers. For about three weeks, travellers were asked to keep track of their train travels trough a specially designed diary. In this diary, travellers had to answer some questions about their trip, make sketches to indicate their movements and indicate how (dis)satisfied they were at various stages. Each participant was then interviewed about the answers in their diary and one trip from the diary was selected and staged in a train station. This process was filmed and eventually resulted in two compilations videos visualizing the major problem areas. A co-creation workshop was then organized with the participating train travellers, and with them first ideas for solving these problem areas were developed.

These results were then discussed and taken into a next stage with Edenspiekermann. This design agency had been involved in the project from the start and was already using the results of the various researches in order to formulate new or improved service concepts. The results from a co-creation workshop with train travelers STBY organised very much connected with the concepts Edenspiekermann created already, allowing us to bring the two together in a presentation to ProRail. At this presentation it seemed these concepts, and especially one concept about providing train travellers with information about the degree of occupation of the various train compartments, very much connected with developments from NS, the company responsible for the trains and information to travellers.

Live test with full scale prototypes
It appeared NS was working on an mobile application giving similar information to train travellers, the so called iNStApp, and were planning to test this application. One train route was selected for this test and 11 trains from that route were equipped with infrared sensors. These infrared sensors were placed above the train doors and could detect the amount of people stepping in or out of the train. This realtime occupation information was then transferred to the iNStApp using an algorithm that also takes into account historical information on train occupation. On the iNStApp train travellers could see through a color code (red, orange or green) the real time occupation level of the various train compartments. Thereby the app also provides information about the composition of the train: where are the first/second class compartment, wheelchair entrances or quiet zones. As such train traveller can make a well-advised decision about where in the train they want to step in. Also, the availability of this new information made it possible to try out one of Edenspiekermann’s other concepts: a 180 meters LED screen attached to the whole length of the platform, above the train, and providing travelers with information about the real time occupation level and the train composition.

From February until the end of April 2013 these applications were tested in situ on a platform in Den Bosch and with the app along a whole train route, with STBY conducting the research. During the 4 months research STBY analysed the usage of the iNStApp and the new LED screen and participant satisfaction with these. This was done both quantitatively (through a series of online questionnaires) as qualitatively (through interviews with train travellers). The results were used to build a business plan around the concept, which eventually led NS and ProRail to decide to implement the system on the intercity routes in the Netherlands.

The project has won several prizes since, such as The Innovation Manager (TIM) Awards for most innovative company, the Rotterdam Design Public Prize (decided by public vote – read more about this here), and the prestigious DA&D Black Pencil Award for technological innovation. Below you can see the film about the project that was made for the exhibition at Rotterdam’s Boymans van Beuningen museum to accompany the Rotterdam Design Prize.

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