Lancashire buses set to 'talk to traffic lights' - while bus stops will tell passengers when their service is due

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Digital displays are set to be installed at dozens of Lancashire bus stops telling passengers when the service they are waiting for is due to arrive.

The “real-time passenger information” (RTPI) system will also be accompanied by technology which speeds the progress of buses through traffic light-controlled junctions by giving them priority over other vehicles.

The twin bus-boosting features will first be rolled out in yet-to-be-named areas of East Lancashire, but the aim is to bring them to all parts of the county as more funding becomes available.

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Lancashire County Council’s cabinet has agreed to begin the tender process for the kit, which will see arrival time boards initially put in place at 80 bus stops, along with facilities to ensure visually impaired people can also benefit from the scheme.

New traffic light technology will react to give priority to buses on some Lancashire routesNew traffic light technology will react to give priority to buses on some Lancashire routes
New traffic light technology will react to give priority to buses on some Lancashire routes

Real-time information was briefly provided at bus stops in Preston more than a decade ago, but the system was switched off in 2011 after the funding that paid for it - from planning agreements with housebuilders - ran out.

Cabinet member for highways and transport Rupert Swarbrick said the measures due to be introduced were intended to “improve the experience of catching the bus and hopefully…entice new bus users to the network”.

He added: “People who use trains always expect to see information about when the next [one] is due to arrive. The aim of this system is to work towards that same level of service for bus users.

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“The real-time information on the whereabouts of buses on the network allows the technology to improve journey time reliability by moving buses through [traffic] signal junctions more efficiently. Engineers call it ‘intelligent bus priority’ - I’d call it the bus talking to the traffic lights,” County Cllr Swarbrick said.

Passengers at new real-time information bus stops won't be left to wonder when the service they are waiting for will arrive (image: PA)Passengers at new real-time information bus stops won't be left to wonder when the service they are waiting for will arrive (image: PA)
Passengers at new real-time information bus stops won't be left to wonder when the service they are waiting for will arrive (image: PA)

He told cabinet colleagues that other upgrades would be carried out at the bus stops set to receive the RTPI system in order to make them more accessible, including the raising of kerbs.

The broader plan is a key part of Lancashire’s so-called “future mobility” aspirations to transform travel by using the latest technology.

The initial rollout of digital information and bus prioritisation in East Lancashire is dependant on the approval of a full business case County Hall is set to submit to the government in order to draw down the necessary cash from its successful £50m Levelling Up Fund bid, which proposed a raft of transport improvements in the east of the county.

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WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF LANCASHIRE?

The expansion of the two systems to other parts of Lancashire could be funded through the joint Bus Service Improvement Plan developed between Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council, for which the two authorities have received more than £34m from the government.

The contract being procured by the county council will enable Blackburn - and fellow standalone council Blackpool - to purchase their own RTPI and bus prioritisation infrastructure under the same arrangement, while County Hall could introduce the kit in places like Preston and Lancaster.

The minimum contract value is estimated to be £3m over a potential six-year period, with a maximum £6m value on offer if and when other funding becomes available - potentially through the kind of developer contributions that financed real-time bus information in Preston in the late 2000s.

In a statement issued after the cabinet meeting at which the procurement process was agreed, a spokesperson for Lancashire County Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: "We have a real opportunity to transform the way people travel in Lancashire thanks to the £34.9m funding we've received for our Bus Service Improvement Plan, as well as the schemes being developed as part of Lancashire's Levelling Up Fund.

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"A key aspect of these programmes is to introduce bus priority measures in a number of locations to improve reliability of bus services and journey times, and in many instances improve the general flow of traffic.

"Our overall aim is to make it easier for more people to choose the bus for regular journeys, and the introduction of Real Time Passenger Information systems on a number of routes is another way we’re looking to improve the experience for passengers by providing accurate information about when the next service is due."

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