Optimising Northern Ireland’s Public Transport Network: how Translink is using Podaris

In 2020, Northern Ireland’s primary public transport provider, Translink, selected Podaris to support the planning, analysis, and optimisation of its 80 million passenger trips per year – including working with Belfast City Council’s "Bolder Vision" to create a more accessible, safe and vibrant Belfast.

In 2020, Translink, Northern Ireland’s public transport provider, selected Podaris to provide a fully-hosted, cloud-based public transport planning platform to plan, analyse, and optimise their combined bus and train fleet of 1,400 vehicles, responsible for delivering over 80 million journeys each year. 

Podaris – a collaborative transport planning tool that enables stakeholder engagement – has enabled Translink to undertake the development of a public transport network that is more responsive to the needs of communities, and share these plans with stakeholders for their feedback, all within a unified platform.

Supporting the Bolder Vision

Belfast City Council's 'Bolder Vision', developed jointly with the Department for Communities and the Department for Infrastructure, is the city's blueprint for reimagining space to be more attractive, accessible, safe and vibrant – providing support for more efficient access to public transport, ending car dominance and prioritising more sustainable forms of transport.

One aspect of the Vision is to create the Civic Spine corridor – a north-south route connecting the main attractions and destinations in the centre of Belfast, such as the Ulster University, the City Hall, the Botanic Gardens and the Queen's University.

Civic Spine

To ensure the Civic Spine corridor is integrated with bus services and facilitated more access to sustainable transport, Translink used Podaris’ corridor frequency analysis for showcasing:

  • The current level of public transport access to the city centre.
  • The number of vehicles per hour on given route segments.
  • Corresponding charts and heat maps to appraise the overall usage and strategic importance of the Civic Spine corridor.
Exploring vehicle per hour statistics along route segments with corridor frequency analysis

Encouraging walking and public transport use with isochrone accessibility analysis

The Bolder Vision also considers pedestrianising parts of the city centre. To understand how different pedestrianisation scenarios would impact walking distances to routes and stops, and how these compare against public recommendations, Translink used Podaris to conduct accessibility analysis, helping to ensure its bus services remained accessible.

The use of isochrones to perform accessibility analysis has also been used to build business cases for Park and Ride projects, such as Comber in County Down.

By importing demographic datasets – including population densities and vehicle ownership data – Translink could understand the potential for modal shift, and estimate the number of car park spaces, bus service capacity requirements, and related operational costs. Podaris removed the technical burden associated with complex GIS tools, empowering Translink to generate these sort of metrics in only a few clicks.

Podaris walking access isochrone
Walking access to stops to a maximum of 5 minutes

Empowering Analysis with the Podaris Platform

Podaris has been used to support a wide range of use cases for Translink, profoundly accelerating network analysis, and surfacing insights about various interventions. With Podaris, Translink could easily import timetables and schedules, explore their network visually, and generate a wide variety of metrics including:

  • Network revenue distance and mileage
  • Service frequencies by the time of day
  • Departures per hour for specific stops

These capabilities enable Translink to understand the impact of proposed improvement and regeneration schemes – for example, providing evidence to the Department for Infrastructure regarding potential conflict points at bus stops with high frequency services, where new cycle lane infrastructure is being designed.

Overview of departures per hour at different times of day for different services at a stop
Overview of departures per hour at different times of day for different services at a stop

What's next?

At a time when public transport optimisation – particularly for buses – is a dynamic issue across the United Kingdom, Podaris is providing critical capabilities for assessing how changes in operations, planning, and even passenger behaviour can impact services. Translink’s planners can now understand their network, its connections with the wider context, and its future possibilities, in a more agile, holistic, and accurate fashion. 

Podaris continues to support Translink in its mission to create a public transport network which connects people and communities, enhances the economy, and improves the environment and public health.

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