Technology has helped us change the way we use our buses. With a constant growth in our population, it has enhanced the commuting experience and allowed services to become more efficient. With 4.44 billion journeys in England alone throughout 2016/17, there has been a demand to make commuting an easier process — and the advancements in technology have allowed this to happen.
How far have buses developed?
It’s important to put things into perspective, because to understand the advances in technology, we must reflect on the history of buses. To do this, we’ve teamed up with the Oxford Tube, a coach to London, to take a look at how advanced our public transport has become over time.
The Beginning: Steam Buses
Walter Hancock pioneered a change that would be revolutionary in years to come, after introducing steam buses in England during the 1830s. These were much more efficient to what was known before — horse-drawn transportation. A common problem with horse-drawn carriages was that they often overturned, but this was a problem that steam buses did not have to face. Steam buses travelled faster and were much cheaper to run. They also reduced the amount of damage caused on the roads.
However, what you may have been unaware of is that, even though these vehicles were very efficient, tolls from the government and harsh legislation eliminated mechanically propelled vehicles for 30 years.
The Middle: Trolleybuses
Powered by the famous trolley pole was electric buses that made an entrance in 1882 — disadvantaging the motor from flexibility due to the overhead wire. William Siemen, who was based in England and his brother Werner, who lived in Germany, collaborated on the creation. Electric currents were able to run to the tram-car and back again, highlighting that tracks would no longer need to be used.
However, although they were introduced in 1882, they weren’t used in Britain until 1911 after Leeds and Bradford adopted the transportation methods.
Before the Peak: Motor Buses
In 1898, London introduced one of the first motors which was a double-decker bus with an open-air section. The bus had a maximum speed of 18kph and could hold 20 passengers at a time. With huge popularity, and requests from across Europe to have similar transportation vehicles, in 1902, a market standard was made available.
Around 3,000 B-Type double decker buses were introduced and distributed around Britain in 1910 — becoming one of the first of its kind.
What do buses look like now?
Even since 1920, single and double-decker buses were fuelled by a diesel engine and are still transiting this way today. If electric buses are on our roads, they’re no longer powered by overhead wires and usually contain their own battery supply, which is often rechargeable at different stations.
Earlier in time, buses were once high-floor vehicles. However, a low-floor design has been introduced to help with air suspension. Another benefit to having low-floor buses is that electric, under-floor ramps can provide access to wheelchair users and those who have pushchairs. Before such technology was introduced, wheelchair and pushchair users would have to use community transport that was provided locally — a separate vehicle fit for their needs.
With advancements in technology allowing us to implement more features, we have used this to our advantage on public transport. For example, we now have an online system where drivers can use a touch-screen to calculate and print ticket prices, making travelling more efficient. These machines do not require a costly wireless network, as they are usually connected by a low-cost general pocket radio service that enables them to function.
What once was an impossible thought, public transport providers are now able to monitor transactions as well as the bus’s motion itself. This also includes a two-way driver messaging system and delivery of online card top-ups, ensuring that everything is achieved in a timely manner.
Scanners have been introduced on buses, allowing smartphones or multi-trip tickets to be detected to grant access and notify drivers. The scanner has the ability to read the ticket and determine whether it is still valid or not — instantly granting access and notifying the driver.
As more banks are introducing contactless payments which allow users to tap their card and pay almost instantly — buses are also implementing this feature, creating a quicker process for all.
Additionally, more services are releasing apps that allow commuters to register an account and purchase tickets that way which can then be presented to the driver — as most buses are introducing free Wi-Fi , they can use this to surf the app. Not only is this useful for the app itself, but for people to browse the internet on their journey.