Edinburgh’s new bus tracker system showing timetables not real time updates

Tuesday November 14th 2023

Edinburgh bus tracker

One of the new bus tracker screens. Image: @jester_mouse on X.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Edinburgh Council has been urged to come clean over issues with its long-awaited multi-million pound bus tracker system causing “concern and confusion” to passengers.

Newly-installed on-street screens intended to provide real-time service updates are displaying timetables without live location data, leading to inaccurate arrival times being shown at bus shelters across the capital.

Residents have “inundated” a local councillor with complaints about the discrepancies it is feared could “put people off using public transport”.

The council said it was “working closely” with Lothian Buses which is in the process of upgrading its fleet with new GPS trackers able to “communicate with our new system”.

Labour Transport Chief Scott Arthur said he was “sorry for the inconvenience”. He expected the “full rollout” to be complete next year.

But Edinburgh Bus Users Group (EBUG) said if the local authority “can’t be bothered” to make it clear that the bus times being displayed until then are not based on live data then people will stop trusting the new system altogether.

A two-year delay to the project, blamed mainly on the pandemic and Brexit-related issues, has already led to an extra £1.7m being spent on keeping the existing, outdated digital bus boards running.

In the four years since the council signed the £2.9m contract with 21st Century PLC, now Journeo PLC, 190 out of 330 on-street screens have been replaced, with completion expected by the end of the year – and further 100 new signs set to be installed at new sites across the city thereafter.

Some passengers comparing times shown at bus stops with live bus information on the Lothian Buses app have taken to social media to point out that the two often don’t match up as they should.

Responding to one on X, the council’s customer service account @edinhelp, confirmed the new screens are currently set to timetables and don’t provide real time updates yet – prompting an accusation in response that what has been installed is “useless”.

Independent councillor Ross McKenzie said it was time for the council to “front up, explain this cock-up and use the screens to inform residents that the information is duff”.

Marie-Clair Munro, Tory councillor for Morningside, said she had been “inundated” with messages from fed-up constituents.

She said: “A lot of residents have said ‘if I want a timetable, I’ll look at the bus shelter’.

“Surely the trackers should be in real time, otherwise they’re not tracking and, as such, they’re not trackers – they’re just online schedules.”

Cllr Munro will table a motion at the Transport and Environment Committee on Thursday (November 16) highlighting “concern and confusion to residents who rely on buses to get to school, work and appointments” and calling for answers.

She said: “It gives the impression of inaccurate information which might put people off using public transport.

“It’s imperative that it’s accurate because the whole point is to get people onto buses and what we don’t want is to have something that then people look at and say ‘what is the point of a tracker that is not tracking?’

“At the end of the day the taxpayer is paying for this, and when you pay for something, you want it to work. I understand there might be teething problems but it comes to a point when the public are now saying ‘we’ve understood there’s delays, it’s costing a lot of money – we just want it to work in real time’.”

Cllr Scott Arthur, convener of the Transport and Environment committee, said: “The Council is the process of rolling out a new travel tracker system, which will allow it to display real-time departure information for multiple transport operators, including Edinburgh Trams, linking to information in neighbouring authorities and using more readable, full colour screens. To date, 190 out of 330 on-street signs have been replaced.

“Since the beginning of the roll out we’ve been working closely with Lothian, and will continue to do so as they introduce their new real time system. In the meantime, the screens will display their scheduled times only but you check real time information using the Transport for Edinburgh app. Other operators’ information will continue to display on the screens in real time.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience this is causing the travelling public, but look forward to the benefits it will bring once the full rollout is complete next year.”

EBUG spokesperson Harald Tobermann said: “We are keen to have proper quality information available which is key to increasing bus ridership which is in turn improving other things, where houses are being built and the environment is being improved.

“With this information, the most important thing is credibility. If you put up provisional information, you have to flag it up as a provisional, testing phase. If you can’t be bothered to do that – to put up that it’s not the real thing – people stop trusting you.”

Lothian Buses was contacted for comment.

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