Tokachi Bus operates various bus routes in the Tokachi, Hokkaido area but, as with other bus companies, faced the issue of declining ridership. After extensive surveys, they learned that customers weren’t riding buses due to lack of convenience, uncertain bus schedules, and lack of familiarity with bus routes and destinations. They realized they had to digitize their systems to ease customers’ concerns, and thus partnered with UNITRAND. The result was Mokuiku, a mobile application designed to ease rider’s scheduling concerns by providing location & arrival times of buses.
Tokachi Bus currently operates 130 buses, each equipped with a GPS-enabled smartphone installed adjacent to the driver’s seat. This device sends GPS data to a cloud server every five seconds. This information is then analyzed on the cloud and checked against bus timetables and routes to manage bus operations in real time. With this data they were able to let users search for bus stops based on their destination and receive notifications for arrival times of their desired bus. The service was well-received, but as they added more buses, data costs mushroomed.
SORACOM Air was used in smartphones to broadcast GPS coordinates. At testing, we found that the network was not just stable on all operated bus routes, but also offered a high quality of communications.
SORACOM Air costs 300 JPY monthly (base rate) and a metered rate for actual data usage, so we only pay for what is used. There are four plans based on data speed. Our system handles a small set of bus GPS coordinates but sent frequently, for which the most inexpensive plan was more than enough. Once we deployed SORACOM Air, our monthly data rates dropped to 1/10th of what they once were.
It’s also convenient to order more SIMs, and we can initiate or suspend them ourselves right from the web console. Soracom allows ordering of new SIMs in increments as small as one, which we then pop into the smartphones to quickly set them up and get them running. It’s easy to turn them on or off or cancel them when required. This ease of use greatly reduces the workload on administrators.
Railroads have embraced technology, but ground transit systems lag behind. Tokachi Bus hopes to get the whole bus industry online and allow customers to see the bus grid throughout Japan in an integrated fashion, even if there are different bus operators running different routes. Their hope is that bus operators nationwide can use this bus location system to engage more passengers to increase bus ridership.