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Article: Delivering Travel News.

Author: Timothy Hilgenberg, Information Services Manager, National Traffic Control Centre www.trafficengland.co.uk

History

While some of the history has been lost in the mists of time, it seems that travel came to the BBC in the wake of an accident on the M1 in thick fog, early in the 1970s. This accident was so bad that it was brought up in parliament where the question was asked why the BBC had not warned motorists of the danger. The BBC's reply was that it would have warned motorist, had it been told of the news.

Initially the travel unit's remit was to write “Travel Flashes” as and when there was a problem. In the late 1980s, a subtle paradigm shift took place when a series of rail strikes caused disruption. Suddenly travel news was not all about cars anymore, people wanted to know about trains and other forms of transport.

Today

Research has shown that travel news together with weather reports is seen as one of the most useful broadcasts. The two most prominent questions before setting out on any journey are: “Do I need an umbrella" & "Can I get to where I’m going?"

The Channels

Radio

For mobile users, then and now, radio remains the number one medium. It has the advantage of being easy to use and the service is free. Its other big advantage is that it is one of the most flexible and fastest channels. Getting information on air can be a matter of minutes – and this usually includes verifying the information. Radio programmes can also often be reconfigures on the fly. A good example was the snow and ice earlier this year, with travellers making at best slow progress, Radio 5 Live changed the focus of the programme to keeping travellers up to date with events.

The first attempt find a way of coping with the increasing volume of travel messages came with FM's RDS – Radio Data system. RDS has a function, which can signal that there is travel news available – the TP flag. With the function selected an RDS radio will automatically tune to a station for the travel information and return to the original service afterwards. By adding travel news to the local and regional stations and making use of the TP flag, the BBC could increase its travel service. Listeners to one of the national stations would be retuned only if there was a problem in the area they were travelling in.

Additionally FM has the ability to transmit a very limited amount of data on top of the radio program, this is the way a radio set can display the name of the station. However this can also be used to carry traffic news: RDS- TMC [traffic message channel]. While this type of data service is becoming popular in mainland Europe, there are a number of reasons, not least regulatory ones, why this type of service isn't widely available in the UK.

However, development has not stood still and in addition to LW, AM, FM there now is Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), giving listeners an even wider choice of stations to listen to. Where FM's RDS- TMC service had only a very limited amount of space for additional data services, DAB has had "data-casting" built in from the start with an 8kbps channel for travel information alone.

Building on RDS- TMC, broadcasters and industry, sponsored by the European Broadcasting Union, built a new protocol: TPEG [transport protocols experts group]. TPEG is language independent and offers public transport information on top of road traffic messages. It's design will allow other services, such as parking information to be added when they become available.

TV

Unless there is a major event, travel news is limited to the local news programmes on weekdays. But, in addition to pictures and sound, TV has the ability to transmit additional data: teletext.

The BBC's Ceefax service can provide a much greater amount of data than is possible with voiced travel reports. It also permits a finer grained distinction between local and national roads, local, regional and intercity rail pages and special travel news pages can easily be added as and when they are required.

Ceefax being always on, allows users to access information at a time of their choosing. With over 25 million TV sets capable of receiving Ceefax, it is one of the most widely used channels. And updating Ceefax is a quick as updating the radio – in fact Serco, who provide the service for the BBC use the same software to drive Ceefax and generate the Radio scripts.

The Internet

With over 4 million broadband users in the UK this is an increasingly popular channel. The internet's main advantage is at the same time it's main disadvantage: the sheer volume of data, which means users need to sift though much unwanted data to get to those pertinent items.

With issues around mobility, cost and screen sizes the internet is more of an alternative to Ceefax than to the radio for travel news.

End-users

Today, it probably still is mainly the motorist who listens for travel news, but with a growing interest in "pre-trip" planning, the balance is shifting. Useful particularly when the journey is made to pickup or drop-off someone at a railway station or airport, but also before setting out on a long journey.

The future

So after all this where are we headed? Will there be a day when there will no longer be a need for travel news?

As with all things, the answer is an emphatic “that depends”. If we understand travel news as broadcast, scatter-gun approach, then I suspect the answer will eventually be its demise. However if we are considering travel news as information that helps us to make decisions as to which route to chose or at what time to travel, then this need will not disappear so quickly.


 

Article: A look at the role of the Telematics Service Provider and their partnerships with communication providers.

Author: Brian Martin, Director, VT Solutions

During the Gold rush years, it wasn’t just those that found the gold that made the money. In fact the first providers of ‘pans’, ‘picks’ and ‘shovels’ also made their millions. Sounds familiar? The market place for Telematics Service providers is still growing. The demand has yet to waiver, although the descriptions may have changed the companies remain the same. In 2002 during the Commercial Vehicle Show in the UK, we saw 44 Fleet Management systems, and 20 Vehicle Tracking companies exhibit, whereas the 2004 show saw 50 Fleet Management systems and 15 Vehicle Tracking companies exhibit. Who knows we may yet see the inclusion of the terminology of Telematics Service Providers (TSP’s). I have to admit there are a lot of good TSP’s in the UK and world wide, each of whom have either re-badged or developed their own hardware and software to varying degrees of complexity, ease of use and success.

However, no matter how large or small the TSP, they are all dependant on a communications partner to transfer the data/information to and from the vehicle, PC or machine. Today’s communications partner has become yesterdays ‘pans’, ‘picks’ and ‘shovels’ provider and are equally as important to their users. When you think of a communications provider, you would be forgiven to automatically consider the big four. However, biggest does not always mean best. When looking into the relationship between TSP’s and data communications providers I was very keen to understand first hand how these relationships fared. Thus I simply asked a few TSP’s (15 UK based) about their own working relationships, and how these could be improved. I was taken aback by the consistency of the answers. The top three issues were:

  • Unable to help,
  • Not flexible
  • Account management ‘Unable to Help’:

Even established TSP’s recalled of the difficulties in actually getting started, or having their questions answered. An example being a Multi Million pound warehouse tracking company that had vehicle tracking within their portfolio. They were looking to integrate the two solutions together for the UK market, thus creating full End-2-end tracking of goods. They approached the big communications companies in the UK and asked what were the factors that determine and the different choices for both Mobile connection into GSM network and Back-Office connection into GSM network? The answer was: We do not have enough knowledge to have a discussion and are unable to help.

‘Not Flexible’: Most TSP’s offer scaleable solutions, with a bolt on here and there. Hardware and software price flexibility can easily be achieved, yet to get flexibility with data communication isn’t that straight forward. Most TSP’s found that there was no, or very little choice of data Tariffs. Frustrating, when you compare this with the unlimited price comparisons and choices you can get with voice. Instead, the communications partners tended to have a ‘one solution fits all’ solution, with limited structure or flexibility. The biggest grievance of all was that of ‘Account Management’: This was down to the quality and experience of the Account managers put before them. Account managers were described as: Technologically challenged, unable to grasp the

concept of a data only SIM, unable or unwilling to understand their customers business and ultimately not telematics specialists. There does seem to be a direct correlation between the number of connections and the amount of support or account management a company receives. Because the volumes for data communications are not as big as voice, neither is the support or account management. Other issues included those over reliability, security, roaming and billing, and the inconsistencies and confusions found there

in. However, it is interesting that TSP’s should place a higher value on the human aspects of doing business, over the operational side. Looking at the importance national operators seem to place upon the Telematics Industry, it is no wonder that we are now seeing companies, that can not only solve the reliability, security, roaming and billing issues but are fast becoming the specialists in data communications, and are able to offer ‘help’, ‘flexibility’ and knowledgeable ‘account management’ - today’s new and improved ‘pans’, ‘picks’ and ‘shovels’. These new communication partner companies not only do the job in hand better, but are also keen to work with the users (TSP’s), for feedback and continuous improvements – how novel.


 

Article: Vehicle Telematics: Who is Driving the Need?

Author: Brian Martin, Director, VT Solutions

In the world of Sales you are always taught to go after the “MAN”, the person with the Money, Authority and Need.  But in the world of Telematics he/she is rarely the same person.  So who is making the decisions and who is driving the need?

In the not-so-distant past, the technologies supplied to the vehicle sector under the banner of Telematics fell into 3 distinct groups.  Security, Productivity, and Vehicle Management.

In brief:

  • Security – Tracking as a theft deterrent and vehicle recovery.
  • Productivity – Tracking to know where you are, and where you’ve been.
  • Vehicle Management - Over revving, harsh breaking and service renewals.

In the above three cases, the decision makers tended to be in middle management. Decisions were often made as a reaction to circumstances rather than a proactive management strategy. For example:

  • A vehicle gets stolen - forces the need to implement a theft tracking device
  • Belief that an employee may be doing private work on company time -  forces the need for clarification and the installation of a real time or historical location tracking device
  • An increase in vehicle accidents - forces the need for monitoring driver behaviour. 

What are the technologies used to satisfy the three needs?

There are a number of manufacturers that have saturated this market, all selling tracking units or “black boxes”, all fighting to supply and fulfil the needs of Security, Productivity, and Vehicle Management.

Now times are changing.  Any business operating company vehicles or allowing employees to carry out company business, no matter how trivial, in their own vehicles needs to be well informed about the Duty of Care legislation.

There are an estimated three million company cars in the UK, and a further five million privately owned vehicles all being used on company business. 3500 people are killed every year in road accidents in the UK, 30% of which are work related, resulting in a staggering £2.7bn total cost of work-related accidents to industry in the UK. 

The cost to industry is not just financial, it can also be custodial.  Charges like ‘Corporate Killing’, ‘Corporate Manslaughter’, ‘Killing by Gross Carelessness’, and ‘Reckless Killing’ all levied at company Directors. Is it any wonder the “Need” has changed and is now significantly influenced by the law and the Health and Safety Executive?

As a result of these legislative changes, Directors have the liability, and must now take part in this decision process of implementing Fleet management strategies aided by vehicle Telematics solutions.  It can no longer be left to individual business units alone, as the risk is too great. Moreover, should the worst happen, the excuse provided by “no expertise” will not be accepted as a defence.

In the event of a serious incident involving a vehicle or employee on company business, it is likely that the Heath and Safety Executive will audit the company involved. Directors will be expected to provide maintained records of all vehicle and driver activities for this inspection.   If they do not have such an audit trail, they would be well advised to start recording this information as soon as possible.

So the “Need” has changed. Telematics is not just Security, Productivity, and Vehicle Management. It has matured into part of the business process, to fulfil the need of providing a Duty of Care database, an invaluable aid to Director liability.

So who is making the decisions and who is driving the need?

Well, the Directors are now needed to make the decisions, to ensure that the need to comply with law and Duty of care requirements, are fulfilled.

Can the technologies of Telematics help?

YES it can but rarely using the average tracking unit or “black boxes”. The need to fulfil fleet management and comply with legislation takes a different breed of Telematics company.  One that has taken the time to ask questions, and seek answers to the day to  day commercial and legal constraints placed upon company directors. Rather than going through a blinkered sales routine, akin to one-dimensional box shifting.

Whilst taking nothing away from the need for Security, Productivity, and Vehicle Management, the new breed of Telematics companies can still provide these. Directors like anyone in business still have to justify spending costs, and look at the potential return of investment. .  The “Need” now is for systems that still offer substantial cost savings and increased efficiencies while helping businesses comply with Duty of care requirements.  As with any business process “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

The result: the need for a new breed of Telematics company has never been greater.


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