Public transport in Switzerland is exemplary. A comprehensive, modern service operates throughout the country and this offering is being used by an increasing number of passengers. However, continuous improvement is key to maintaining this popularity and excellent reputation. Transport companies must remain up to date and constantly adapt their services to the needs of customers. Customers expect good public transport connections in all areas of their lives. But these areas are changing and expanding. Towns and districts are evolving, which means public transport services need to be reassessed. And completely new areas need to be added to the tram or bus network. But where exactly is there a need for increased capacity or new services? What is the best way to satisfy passengers? These questions are not always easy to answer and sometimes require innovative thinking and action from transport operators.
The Zurich public transport operator VBZ is also recording more and more passengers. With 328 million people getting on board their public transport vehicles in 2019, passenger frequency has never been higher. This led to the desire to be able to evaluate, analyse and present passenger numbers even better than before – and thereby be able to respond even more efficiently to new needs. In order to make this a reality in the best possible way, VBZ asked Trivadis for support.
VBZ uses a so-called “passenger volume tapestry” to visualise utilisation, which they can use to see how many people get on and off at which stations and at what times – and accordingly the occupancy of their buses and trams. These “passenger volume tapestries” have proven to be a very effective way of presenting the data, which is why VBZ wanted to retain them. However, the existing solution was based on Excel and was populated for each bus/tram line via Microsoft Access using a selfwritten VBA tool. This meant that the desire for more dynamics in the evaluation and analysis could not be met.
VBZ decided to change their strategy to R (R Studio) and migrate to SQL servers. Although VBZ had already been able to migrate data from Excel to R / Shiny with existing packages, there still was no solution for the “passenger volume tapestries”, which are a central component for their evaluation. This is where Trivadis came in. The Trivadis experts developed a new R package with which the data for the evaluation of the “passenger volume tapestries” can be presented in a categorical heat map. For this purpose, the problem was abstracted at the customer’s request and a generic R package was implemented, which can be used to evaluate data on a categorical heat map.
With Trivadis, we were able to successfully develop an open source R package that meets our very specific visualisation needs.
Christoph Baur, Mobility Analyst, VBZ
The R package is therefore a code block that can be easily installed and used as required – either on-premises or in the Cloud. VBZ was now able to use this code block to complete its dashboard. As a public sector company, VBZ wanted everything to be implemented as an open source project. The code is therefore available to the public on github and cran – but not the VBZ data. In line with the VBZ and the Trivadis philosophy, an agile approach based on the Scrum method was chosen for the project.
To begin with, the developers estimated the time required for the measures and then the individual sprints were defined with the VBZ. This resulted in the greatest possible cost transparency and agreement between the two partners in this process. In addition, the people involved in the project held regular virtual project stand-ups, which contributed significantly to the smooth running of the project.
Ultimately, this resulted in a solution with which the VBZ passenger numbers can be processed, made available and evaluated more efficiently. For decision-makers, the way the data is presented will be clearer and more meaningful, which will enable them to better assess the situation in the means of transport and make decisions based on this. The solution was even more impressive with extra features and more interactivity than VBZ originally expected. For example, a mini view can be activated on the X axis over a longer period of time, which greatly simplifies the evaluation of many journeys.
Additional features have also been developed, such as a dynamic time axis, colour gradients within individual categories and user-defined scroll bars. Questions as to whether new lines, a denser cycle or larger means of transport are required can now be answered more quickly, efficiently and interactively thanks to the improved data visualisation, which contributes to the optimisation of operations and thereby also more satisfied customers.
Alongside SBB, VBZ is the largest provider of transport services in the Zurich Transport Network (ZVV). VBZ provides the people of the city of Zurich and the surrounding regions with high-quality public transport services, 365 days a year, at least 20 hours a day. The VBZ ZüriLinie vehicles cover over 90,000 kilometres a day. More than 800,000 passengers a day reach their destination. Up to 400 vehicles are simultaneously in transit on the Zurich network.