PSI Blog

Public Transport with Added Value: Cloud Controls Buses and Trains

26/11/2019 - Technology, Transport

GVB Amsterdam relies on a high-performance automatic vehicle management system. Source: LuckyStep/stock.adobe.com

In the Netherlands, public transport passengers stand more in the focus of operators than elsewhere. This is also the case in Amsterdam, where GVB bears the responsibility. Being on time and providing information are the two most important words here. A central element in achieving these goals is the automatic vehicle management system (AVMS). This recently experienced a comprehensive upgrade and was then successfully migrated to the transport company’s new cloud infrastructure.

Amsterdam without buses, trams and subways? Anyone who has been to Amsterdam knows: That’s inconceivable. In almost no other city does the urban network enjoy such overwhelming popularity. It’s no surprise, since using its

  • 43 bus lines,
  • 15 tram lines,
  • 4 metro lines,
  • 6 ferry connections and
  • 200 buses and trams,

passengers can reach almost anywhere in Amsterdam.

Complex network and large vehicle fleet require supporting IT systems

The Amsterdam bus and tram, for example, each operate approximately 200 vehicles. Since 2006, GVB has been using the automatic vehicle management system (AVMS) from PSI Transcom, based on the PSItraffic system platform. The system is the key element for keeping vehicles ontime and the high performance of the passenger information. Because here in the control centre is where all the information comes together.

Around 900,000 passengers use GVB buses and trams every day. Buses and trains that are on time, and fast and precise information for passengers about changes have top priority. Source: GVB

Reasons for the introduction of the AVMS in 2006

At that time, the people of Amsterdam complained about their city’s unreliable public transport system and felt inadequately informed about schedule changes. That’s why the GVB introduced a new control centre system and upgraded the entire network with a large number of displays. The initiative also included relaunching the website and introducing a passenger app.

Since then, every control system function has been used, most of which PSItraffic/AVMS already offers as standard. This includes continuous tracking of vehicles and their operating situation, and the display of dynamic passenger information.

The result: Significantly fewer deviations from the schedule, significantly better passenger information and, above all, more satisfied passengers.

Information every second

In 2016, as part of the maintenance contract, GVB finally requested a comprehensive upgrade to the vehicle management system – with the same functions. This step allowed GVB to establish a modern user interface and a modularised, future-oriented system. In addition to existing standard interfaces such as the VDV, it can be extended to include additional interfaces to systems from other manufacturers – a central measure of quality for modern software solutions.

And one more goal was in the focus of the upgrade: Vehicle tracking needed to become even more precise, and with this, the quality of routing and passenger information should continue to increase as well. To that point, the system only tracked the position of a vehicle when leaving a stop and only provided information in the event of a schedule deviation of 60 seconds or more. The plan was to reduce this to 15 seconds – both to provide dispatchers with an even better overview, for example, for improved reactions to deviations, and to inform passengers even more quickly and precisely.

Johannes Kremp, Project Manager at PSI Transcom:

“At GVB’s request, we even went a step further and are currently testing a cyclical location report every five seconds in parallel to the 15-second solution. In both cases, the control centre will have an overview almost in real-time. Furthermore, the solutions will also impose a higher load on the system, which will now have to record and process considerably more data."

First measurements have already shown that the delay between a vehicle message and the display in the passenger information has decreased by almost 50 percent. In addition, the new system enables faster and more efficient disposition decisions. In the event of disruptions during driving, passengers are now informed much faster and more accurately about timetable changes.

New and legacy systems in parallel using

In the meantime, until the migration has been completed, the new and legacy systems are being managed and tested in parallel using an intelligent bridge concept. This means that both systems are supplied with all of the data from the connected IT solutions, and entries made using the legacy system are automatically transferred to the new system – and vice versa. Kremp explaining the advantages of the solution:

“In this way, we can exactly compare how each system behaves and make adjustments if there are unwanted deviations in the new system. Above all, dispatchers also have the opportunity to metaphorically ‘cross the new bridge’ step-by-step. In this way, they can make certain entries in the new system while still working in the old system in other areas. They can decide for themselves when they want to complete the changeover.”

Migration to the cloud

What’s new, however, is not only the AVMS, but also that almost all operations are in the cloud. Because during the upgrade, managers at GVB decided to migrate the entire IT to Microsoft's Azure Cloud – including the PSI operations control system.

The advantages for a public transport company overlap with the general advantages of a cloud-based solution. In addition to the cost savings thanks to eliminating both acquisition and maintenance costs for hardware, scalability is also important. Although there will be no major changes regarding the size of the vehicle fleet, but functional changes, for example for increased message exchange or the performance of the servers used, will be relevant.

Thus, the client systems – and most importantly, all of the interfaces used by dispatchers – run independently of the backend and in any environment. This can range from desktop PCs, to using virtualization (Citrix, Cloud), to smartphone apps. By contrast, the backend system, consisting of the database and application servers, usually runs on an on-premise systems – at GVB, currently independently in the cloud or using Microsoft's remote services.

The PSItraffic user interface with different views. Source: PSI Transcom GmbH
The PSItraffic user interface with different
views. Source: PSI Transcom GmbH
The PSItraffic heatmap shows punctuality
of the vehicles. Source: PSI Transcom GmbH

The critical point was therefore network routing and establishing the initial connection. When remote access works, the whole system works. This is because it ensures that all of the systems that communicate with the operations control system are reachable. This includes:

  • communication with the vehicle fleet
  • control of the switching system
  • all of the databases that have not yet been migrated to the cloud
  • the data hub through which all displays are controlled

The entire backend system now runs completely in the cloud, and the ITCS-Client is Citrix-based. For the computationally intensive dispatcher workstations with multiple screens and views, GVB also followed the recommendation of the PSI consultants to continue using physical computers to avoid latency problems.

The Benefits of a Cloud-Based Operations Control System (ITCS)

  • Fast introduction
  • Low investment costs
  • Immediate scalability
  • No maintenance
  • Location-independent access

Further information on the operation control system PSItraffic / ITCS.

Eric Nöh

Head of Sales Public Transport
Phone: +49 30 2801-1680

Eric Nöh is responsible for international sales of ITCS and depot management systems at PSI Transcom GmbH.