Full project title: ChoiceRail - Finding the best Rail Journeys
Sponsors: Co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Technology Strategy Board and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB)
Research partners: Cotares Ltd, Inrix Media Ltd and Trapeze Group UK Ltd
Start date: September 2012
Finish date: March 2014
Project briefing sheet: Download the briefing sheet
Imagine an online journey planner that not only compares different modes of travel, but also mixes them together to offer the optimum way of getting to a destination when making longer distance journeys (those over 50 miles / 80 Kms). ChoiceRail has done just that, developing a new aid for travellers’ that is not just an accomplished road and rail planner, but more importantly one which will combine public (rail) and private (car) transport to find the quickest, easiest or potentially cheapest journey across the modes.
ChoiceRail moves beyond simple timetable and route information found in traditional planners (even most multimodal ones) by presenting results as a set of journey options. These options reflect the fact that there may be several possible access stations for a trip involving rail, with pros and cons for using local, intermediate or distant stations, choices further moderated by time of travel. Thus, rather than restrict a traveller’s options to merely one local station, ChoiceRail will consider 'kiss-and-ride' (being taken to a local station), changing to a train part-way, and park-and-ride (near-city transfer to rail to avoid congestion) as journey scenarios. The best journey (as determined by user criteria) in each of these scenarios will be presented in response to any travel query – along with a car-only alternative for comparison.
Other ‘best-of-breed’ features include complete door-to-door journey planning incorporating ‘last-mile’ travel information (e.g. walking, bus routes), awareness of real-time conditions on the road and rail network, the resilience of different journey choices, and other important real-life factors - such as parking availability.
CTS has provided knowledge of traveller behaviours to the project (particularly in relation to travel information and journey planner use), drawing on earlier work such as that on Transport Direct for the UK government (see also CTS research project: ‘Futures – Barriers to information use’). This knowledge, and new qualitative research carried out within the ChoiceRail project has been applied to the user interface design and to use and usability testing of the new planner to help refine its appeal to travellers.
CTS conducted a range of activities with members of the public during the project to gauge reaction to the ChoiceRail concept, and its proposed functionality. The research has informed technical development of the demonstration planner and provided direct input for future deliberations about the presentation and functionality of ChoiceRail as a commercial product.
Perhaps the key potential benefit in this approach to journey planning will be to encourage modal shift from car to rail for longer distance journeys, as in spite of 20 years growth in rail use, the car is still by far the predominant mode for such trips. Through offering alternate access points ChoiceRail could also encourage more optimal use of rail networks (particularly perhaps under-used elements). Both of these benefits could help reduce road congestion and carbon emissions. Better visibility of journey choices could also potentially help spread the load on congested networks and mitigate the impact of transport disruptions by allowing users to compare the merits of a modal switch – both to and from road / public transport. Some change may though be incremental, with some drivers encouraged to use public transport for part of their journey. For example, by driving to a station that offers better connections or better services (e.g. express services, ability to work) than a local option, or by using Park-and-Ride to avoid parking issues at a destination. Such changes in behaviour could still reduce the time taken, miles driven, and/or congestion for a journey.
A map-based demonstration website has been developed to utilise the prototype ChoiceRail planner. This allows users to enter an origin and destination (via text entry boxes or directly from the map) along with dates, times and modes of transport which include car and public transport (bus and rail at present). The user can compare resulting journey plans using a number of views. Although the project is now complete, the prototype is intended to serve as a test bed for the UK companies involved, who are keen to go on and develop internationally competitive products from it.