Is the passenger loading system beneficial?

On 14th May 2018, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the pilot of a new Passenger Load Information System (PLIS) on the Downtown Line (DTL). The system features real-time information of the passenger loading in each train carriage of the arriving train and aims to help commuters better plan which door to queue at depending on the expected crowd levels of the oncoming train.

The PLIS at Bugis Station on the Downtown Line.

The crowd levels are differentiated with colour codes, green indicating that the carriage is relatively empty with a good chance of getting a seat; amber indicating that only standing space is available with a low probability of finding a seat; and red indicating high passenger loads, with limited standing space available in the car.

The DTL was chosen by the LTA for the trial as the Bombardier MOVIA C951 trains are already equipped with the necessary hardware used for measuring passenger loads, which are required for the train’s braking system. The PLIS makes use of this equipment to calculate the laden weight of the train carriage, and transmit the data in a matter of seconds to the next train station after the train door closes. The trial is planned to last for 6 months, and should the trial be successful, the LTA plans to roll out the system to other train lines in the future.

Problems

As good as it seems, the trial system has drawn much flak from people on social media platforms. As one user points out on Facebook, passengers would be able to determine the loading of the train carriage by simply looking through the window as the train pulls into the station. Others have pointed out that the money invested in this system should have gone into maintenance and repair of the train system.

A comment by a Facebook User on the new PLIS system.

The same response was also received in 2014 when SMRT trialled the “Traffic Light” system at Ang Mo Kio and Tanjong Pagar Stations, which indicated how crowded the stations are and how long passengers needed to wait before they are able to board a train. Many ridiculed the system, citing that people are able to see if the stations are crowded themselves, and would not need the “traffic lights” as it is redundant. This subsequently led to the removal of the system completely in 2017.

The “Traffic Light” system trialled by SMRT in 2014. (Photo: The Straits Times)

There are also certain factors that are needed to be taken into account for the system. In view of convenience, many passengers would prefer boarding at doors nearer to the escalators or lifts at their destination station. This would mean most of the passenger loads will still be concentrated at certain doors instead of being spread out evenly along the platform. This is especially true at interchange stations, where there will be greater passenger movements, making it difficult for someone to accurately plan which door to stand at. For example, a train may display 3 red carriages on the LCD screen, however, after arriving at the interchange station, the front carriage can still remain at red while the rear carriages can change to yellow or green. As there surely will be passenger movements at every station, it will end up as a game of luck for the passenger as he has to predict which car will be green or yellow by the time the train arrives at the station.

My Opinion

As with most of the projects or trial programmes that the LTA introduces, the PLIS was a rather unpopular opinion with the general public. In my opinion, the system is a good initiative by the LTA, but I feel that the system can be much improved from its current state. One improvement is to show the load information for the subsequent train, as it would help commuters better plan and decide to board the arriving train or the subsequent train depending on the load.

In the future should the LTA choose to roll out this system to all other train lines, the system will face an issue while being rolled out to the North South & East West Lines (NSEWL), as they operate trains which are 6 cars long. As all NSEWL stations, with the exception of Jurong East, have only 1 plasma screen along the platform, it will be difficult for commuters to see the status of the train loading from certain locations while waiting for the train. If implemented, an upgrade of adding additional train information displays would be necessary to allow passengers situated far away from the screens to be able to view the loading status, otherwise, the system would not benefit passengers at all.

A plasma screen out of sight from the end of the platform at Kallang Station on the East West Line.

Taking a step forward, the LTA can also work in collaboration with train operators SMRT and SBS Transit to implement this feature in the form of a mobile application instead. This will allow commuters to better plan their journey depending on the current crowd levels in trains before entering the network, instead of finding out for themselves after reaching the platform. An example of this can be seen on the JR-EAST Train Info application, a mobile application for iOS and Android developed by the East Japan Railway Company. Known as the Yamanote Line Train Net, the feature allows passengers to view the loading status as well as the position of trains on the Yamanote Line in real time. Similar to the Passenger Load Information System on the Downtown Line, the Yamanote Line Train Net uses the laden weight of the train carriages to determine the loading status of the carriage.

The Yamanote Line Train Net (JR-EAST Train Info Application).

Such a feature, however, is present in SMRT’s mobile application as well. SMRTConnect uses colour-coded figures to display the estimated number of trains commuters need to wait before boarding at a particular station, similar to the “Traffic Light” system mentioned earlier. Based on our knowledge, this feature is not dynamic and requires constant updates from the station staff in the Passenger Service Centre to update the crowd situation, and would possibly become automated only when SMRT updates their system in the future.

The Train Frequency Indicator (SMRTConnect Application).

However, given the size of our train network as compared to Japan, it is not necessary to have a feature as elaborate as that of the Yamanote Line Train Net. Instead, it would be more feasible to use the colour coded figures to represent the average crowd level of the train, and it can be shown alongside the train arrival timings so that commuters can gauge how crowded the arriving trains are and how long they may need to wait before they are able to board a less crowded train.

With today’s advancement in technology, Singapore is also trying to keep pace by implementing new technological systems to incorporate into our MRT system. While we may be slower compared to other developed countries, we are better late than never. With the implementation of these systems, it will enable the LTA, SMRT and SBS Transit to gather and further make use of this data to accurately analyse the travelling pattern of commuters and improve our daily commuting journeys.

All in all, the PLIS will give passengers a rough estimation of how crowded trains are, and can serve as an advanced notice to others how many trains they would need to wait for before they are able to board. Here in busy Singapore, everybody will have to board a train eventually, it just depends on whether we are patient enough to wait for a less crowded one, board the current one no matter how packed that carriage is, or queue at a door which is expected to have lower crowd levels as compared to others!

 

Brian Ngauw

An avid railway enthusiast with good knowledge of Singapore's and Japan's train system operations. Holding a Diploma in Aerospace Electronics, he enjoys watching anime and reading up more about the transport system.