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A HI-TECH Metro initiative allowing commuters to use their smartphones to scan a train to check its destination and available seating has been spruiked at a transport conference.
But the rail operator is now retreating from the futuristic plan, which was showcased in a slick video.
A former senior Metro executive told the international conference it had been a key factor in negotiations to win the operator its $5.5 billion contract to operate Melbourne’s trains for the next seven years.
But Metro and the state government are now downplaying it, saying while some elements of the vision could one day become a reality, it was never a part of contract negotiations.
Metro and the state government are now downplaying an initiative allowing passengers to use their smartphones to scan a train to check its destination.Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen said Metro should focus on running more trains on time rather than dreaming of pie-in-the-sky technology.
“It’s good to look ahead to the possibilities of future technology, but this sounds like it’s stopping all stations to dreamland,” Mr Bowen said.
Robin Barlass, until recently the director of corporate services for Metro, presented the video at the Intelligent Transport Systems summit in Brisbane late last month.
Passengers were shown using mobile phones to scan approaching trains to check their destinations, how many people were in carriages, and what the scheduled stops were.
Many in the 1000-strong audience scoffed at what they were seeing.
But Mr Barlass boasted to the international audience that the video had been shown to Public Transport Victoria “in the middle of commercial negotiations on a new contract”.
Metro, which just last month was awarded the contract to operate Melbourne’s train network for another seven years, has refused to show the Herald Sun the video.
And it would not reveal what such a plan would cost, saying it was simply a glimpse into a possible future.
Metro Trains’ Sammie Black said the video had been intended only for internal use and had not formed part of contract negotiations.
She said: “The video was developed as an aspirational tool for our employees to visualise what railway technology could look like.”
Nicholas White, on behalf of the government’s Public Transport Victoria, admitted it had seen parts of the video, and elements of technology showcased by Metro could form part of planning.
“We’re investigating additional contactless technology, including the ability for passengers to touch on and off with their credit card or smartphone,” he said.
Mr Bowen said: “Myki certainly needs upgrades, but this is clearly the responsibility of the state government, not the train operator. For one thing, any changes need to work across trams and buses as well.
“There is scope for better technology … but for now, just getting trains to correctly announce the next station would be a big step forward.”
Rail Tram and Bus Union branch secretary Luba Grigorovitch said it was important for rail operators to focus on the basics of fewer cancellations and greater punctuality “rather than gimmicky tech add-ons that distract from the core business of delivering a critical transport service”.
A source who attended the summit said the audience had been sceptical.
“There were some chuckles when some of the claims were made,” they said.
“People said there would be a lot of bruised knees if they tried to implement that technology now because it isn’t available and won’t be for a very long time.”
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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