It’s the frustration Sydney commuters know all too well – your app promises the bus will arrive in two minutes, but it never shows up and leaves you stuck on the side of the road.
They’re ghost buses: scheduled bus services, cancelled hours before, that still appear to be running on a live timetable. And now the government is hunting them down.
Commuters can be left on the side of the road after scheduled buses don’t show up.
Commuters can be left on the side of the road after scheduled buses don’t show up.Credit: Wolter Peeters/supplied
One in 10 buses in Greater Sydney is a ghost bus, NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen said. In the northern beaches region, there were 26,424 bus cancellations between January and March this year, according to data tabled in parliament https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/hp/housepaper/29394/QuestionsAndAnswers-LA-23-20230912-Proof.pdf.
Most Sydney buses are equipped with an onboard tracking device, part of the city’s Public Transport Information and Priority System (PTIPS). But the system, in place since 2007, is now so rundown that significant amounts of data are not being transmitted. Some of the tracking devices are only connected via 3G, which is being turned off next year https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/rain-gauges-school-zone-signs-the-tech-still-using-soon-to-be-dismantled-3g-20230429-p5d48v.html.
The landmark Bus Industry Taskforce Report https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/system/files/media/documents/2023/Bus-Industry-Taskforce_First-Report_July-2023.pdf into the shocking state of Sydney’s bus network and ongoing driver shortage, which was commissioned by the Minns government, said the system had “minimal investment” since it was last upgraded in 2015.
“As a result, the technology has become end-of-life, operating on a degraded capacity. For example, it is unable to manage headways and service disruptions, which undermines accurate passenger information,” the report said.
If you see these words on your travel app, you might be getting
ghosted by your bus:
* TripView: “Real-time data unavailable”
* Google Maps: “Scheduled"
The data used by the system is the same data used by bus companies to report their service performance – which is a requirement of holding bus contracts in NSW – including how often buses are late or cancelled.
When the system was first trialled in 2007, the then-transport management authority – the RTA – used PTIPS to align traffic lights with bus locations, meaning some services would always have green lights. But it was ditched soon after https://www.smh.com.au/national/priority-bus-green-lights-scrapped-20070412-gdpw5d.html.
The state government allocated $15.8 million in Tuesday’s budget to upgrade the technology, which was one of the recommendations https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/it-s-a-100-000-job-but-nobody-wants-it-and-it-s-making-you-late-a-lot-20230907-p5e2yg.html of the taskforce report.
“This investment will make sure that phenomenon of a ghost bus is ended,” Haylen said. “When you’re standing at a bus stop, sometimes it feels like dog years. But if you know the bus is coming and that that app information is reliable, it’ll mean that more people feel confident to catch public transport.
Buses are being cancelled because of the driver shortage but details of the trips are not being removed from travel apps.
Buses are being cancelled because of the driver shortage but details of the trips are not being removed from travel apps.Credit: James Brickwood
“Unfortunately, the former government knew about this problem and hasn’t upgraded that technology since 2015.”
But the investment comes with a warning: a more accurate reporting system means more reports of cancelled buses on apps. And the only way to stop cancellations is by plugging the city’s extreme bus driver shortage https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/it-s-a-100-000-job-but-nobody-wants-it-and-it-s-making-you-late-a-lot-20230907-p5e2yg.html.