Journey Planning: ITS Evaluation Guide

Published August 21, 2022 in ITS Evaluation Guide

The internet and smartphones allow passengers to plan their journey in ways that were not possible previously.

By defining where they want to go to and where they are traveling from, journey planners give passengers a range of different routes, modes, times, fares and ticket purchases for the various transport options. This gives passengers the ability to choose how to make the best use of the various services to plan their optimal journey.

For occasional travellers, like tourists, a journey planner is great for planning an unfamiliar trip in a new city. For regular daily commuters simply looking up personalised real-time departure and disruption information for their favourite stops and services, a journey planner has become a key component of improving the usability of public transport systems.

Generally, data entry is done through a map and intelligent address and location-based searches. The journey planning system will then give passengers a range of travel options including connecting services and estimated walking times.

A good journey planner will also manage and disseminate fare information and allow you to buy digital tickets. This gives passengers confidence in what they’re paying at journey planning stage, allowing them to make informed decisions. Having options and fare information gives passengers confidence in the service and thus drives public transport patronage.

For passengers with disabilities, journey planners allow them to see routes with wheelchair-friendly access, elevators, or routes with reduced walking times. Systems are being developed that link drivers to mobility-challenged passengers, notifying drivers or station staff of assistance needs as the bus pulls into the stop.

Some cities, for example, Tshwane, in South Africa and Dubai, in the UAE, have trialled passenger information applications that include smartphone camera images that are layered with location information to produce an augmented reality. For example, directions to the nearest stations and timetables can be overlayed and displayed on phone screens.


The benefits of Journey Planning systems include:

Encourages Public Transport Use. Convenience and usability go together for passengers. Better passenger information and journey planning improve system usability, particularly for those passengers with disabilities. Lack of familiarity with services is a significant barrier to entry for public transport use, a good journey planner can help familiarise the infrequent user and attract new users.

Increased ridership. The more reliable and convenient a service is, the more likely passengers are to use it. Reliability requires that passengers first know the routes served and planned times; a good journey planner will inform passengers how services are tracking against these planned times. Headway services publish just the service frequency and encourage passengers to turn up and simply catch the next service.

Provides passengers with travel options. With a range of options passengers can make the journey fit their timetables. They know when to leave to arrive on time and can select options based on time, route, fares or other parameters.

Updates passengers with real time information. From vehicles being delayed, to planned disruptions that will affect specific services, a journey planner is a great tool for keeping passengers up to date on the progress of their trip.

Evaluation Guide

When assessing Journey Planning systems, the following should be considered:

1. How do you want passengers to plan their journeys? Do you plan on having a web portal, or a dedicated journey planning app?
Journey planning is usually handled by an add-on to the scheduling system. Schedule information is transferred to a journey planner engine, hosted in the system data centre or the cloud. Data is then interpreted by apps and websites that host the passenger interface and the information is then displayed visually on a website or in an app. Most good scheduling systems will have a white label journey planning module and off-the-shelf applications for Android and iOS-based devices that can be customised to your requirements.

2. Can it accept real time data?
Traditional journey planners use static data then layer real time on top, leaving the passengers with trip options for which the connection cannot be made due to late running services. Real time data on the current public transport services means that passengers who want to travel now are given the best available data. They can see the bus on a map, and it updates as it moves along the route and by using real time predictions the planned journey is more likely to make connecting services.

3. What data sources can it accept?
A journey planner is only as good as the data that drives it. Passengers need to trust the information which must be accurate, rich, and of the highest quality.

With journey planners that rely on consolidated national datasets, information travels through numerous different systems increasing lag time and the potential for inaccuracies. By taking data straight from the source wherever possible, there are fewer links in the chain and greater accuracy. This also makes it possible to get updated data online and available to passengers in hours rather than days or weeks.

Select a planning tool that can accept data from a range of sources. As such it is important that the tool can accept industry standard data such as TransXchange, VDV452, ATCO CIF, GTFS, SIRI, HAFAS. It should also be able to import geographic data for stops and mapping data from a range of sources such as Open Street Maps, Google maps or local survey maps.

4. Does it support multi-modal services?
Bus, tram, rail, and ferries all form a key part of the transport journey and should all be considered when looking for a journey option. A journey planner must consider all available modes including walking and cycling and not be constrained to a specific mode.

5. Does it work with shared services?
The first and last mile is important to any journey. Incorporating a variety of non-scheduled services such bike sharing services or taxi services rounds out the service for passengers.

6. Can it show fares and let you pay in advance?
Being able to see the various fares and associated costs gives passengers key information they need when deciding on the various options. Allowing passengers to pay in advance gives a level of convivence that drives public transport patronage.

7. Does it support favourites?
Passengers often like to travel from their favourite stop or to their common destination. By saving favourite journey plans, favourite stops or stations, the journey planner can make the experience even better with less friction and faster results. Letting passengers subscribe to disruption alerts for favourite stops lifts the value to a passenger even further.

8. How does it support disruptions?
Disruptions are part of running a public transport system. They are going to happen and when they do, the ability to inform passengers of disruptions pertinent to their journeys and give them viable alternatives is essential.

Labour strikes, weather warnings, or disruption at a specific stop should all be communicated to passengers when they are planning their journey or already on route. Regular updates and real time data about delays make a huge difference to the passenger experience.

Select a journey planning system that is easy to update with this information and able to push it to websites and passenger devices at a moment’s notice. This ensures that trust in the public transport system is retained and maintained.

9. Can it be white labelled?
Journey planners are one of the primary customer interfaces. If they are white labelled, then they can be branded as part of the Authority or operators web site helping ensure that passengers have a single point of reference for public transport data.

The planner should include a web interface that can be white labelled as well as mobile applications that can be rebranded and made available via the Apple App store or the Google Play store.

Case Study: Traveline Scotland, United Kingdom
When one thinks of Scotland it is kilts, tartan, lochs, and the highlands that often come to mind, not immediately their public transport network.

Rugged landscapes, isolated communities, and the lowest population density in Western Europe make it great for tourists wanting to explore the Highlands or go ‘Nessie’ spotting.

For public transport operators the challenge in Scotland is linking its cities, where most of the country’s population lives, with its rural communities which are often quite isolated. To help do this Scotland has implemented an award-winning public transport information system and journey planner run by Traveline Scotland.

Traveline Scotland is a public-private partnership of local authorities, public transport operators, and Transport Scotland. Together, they provide public transport information for the whole of Scotland covering bus, coach, rail, trams, ferries, scheduled flights and Glasgow’s underground.

Traveline Scotland have put in place a total public transport information centre. They have a call centre, website with a journey planner, they have an app for Android and Apple devices, they share transport data with Google and even broadcast frequent traffic and travel information bulletins on Traffic Radio Scotland.

Their journey planning app is the star of the show. Passengers can not only plan their journeys, and get fare information, but they can get information on delays, current incidents on their network, view road works, see live traffic cameras, and listen to Traffic Radio Scotland broadcasts all from within the Traveline app.

By providing a total passenger information solution to passengers and linking urban areas and regional travel options with their journey planner, Traveline Scotland helps to overcome the remoteness of the country by allowing door to door journey planning across Scotland.

Visit the Traveline website

The Unst Bus shelter, also known as Bobby’s Bus shelter, on the island of Unst in the Shetland Islands is the most northern bus shelter in Scotland. It is frequently redecorated by residents and has become a tourist attraction on the island. With 406 miles between it and Edinburgh it illustrates the challenges faced by rural communities in Scotland. Click here to see the journey in Google Maps.

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Download the ITS Evaluation Guide – Passenger Experience

Mode of Transport

Bus, Trams/Light Rail, Ferry, Public Transport Authorities


Intelligent Transport Systems

Meet the author

David Panter

Industry Solutions Manager, ITS

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