Portsmouth uses Wi-Fi for urban transport and reducing communications costs

I love writing about applications for citywide wireless networks. At Portsmouth (UK) they have managed to use Wi-Fi to address their traffic problems AND reduce telecommunications costs. How cool is that? I love writing about applications for citywide wireless networks. At Portsmouth (UK) they have managed to use Wi-Fi to address their traffic problems AND reduce telecommunications costs. How cool is that?

Portsmouth (UK) is rolling out the PORTAL project which combines real time bus passenger information delivered via Wi-Fi, with touch screen information and Internet services integrated within bus shelters, providing a range of great travel services for the 41,000 or so daily passengers across the city. The project cost £3.5m (partly funded by a £1.5m of grant from the Department for Transport). It aims to dramatically improve confidence and awareness in public transport for a land-locked, mainly island city struggling to cope with 1.5 million car journeys a week.

Portsmouth has a university and when school is out, they have 180,000 residents. When the students come back, that number goes up to 215,000. It is also a popular tourist destination (seven million visitors per year). I spent a couple of days there with my brother visiting the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard which is home to the HMS Victory (Admiral Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar against Napoleon’s fleet), the Mary Rose (built between 1510 and 1511, lost in 1545 but raised from its watery grave in 1982, it was King Henry VIII’s favorite warship; alas it sank on a fine summer day during a battle against – who else – the French) and the Royal Navy Museum which provides a fascinating glimpse into British naval history, the important battles such as Trafalgar and the lives of people like Admiral Nelson. The link to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s website is http://www.flagship.org.uk/welcome.html.

Given that it is a tourist destination and a university town, they’ve got serious traffic problems. Since there are few major roads in and out of the city, they encourage people to take public transportation by making it easy to find bus and train info, reducing waiting times for buses, etc.

Here’s what their new system looks like:

– a wireless broadband network connected to a satellite-based bus tracking system ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ the first application of its type in the world – providing not only predicted arrival times, but current locations for all scheduled bus services in the city;

– bus shelters with the very latest in real-time information display screens and fully integrated information touch screens providing up to the minute bus arrival times, timetables, free email and a broad range of useful services like journey planning, train departure information, BBC news and local job vacancies. The unique print facility providing copies of maps and other service print-outs, will soon be adapted to provide travel cards;

– an accurate, low cost fleet management and scheduling service for bus operators. Working on the wireless broadband network, the system costs a fraction of the current GPRS technology to operate. It delivers real time tracking, two way communication, data gathering for effective management and, critically, gives the driver and passenger accurate estimated time of arrival, which allows travellers to plan their journey with considerable confidence.

Here’s another terrific use of the Wi-Fi network: Portsmouth will switch its urban traffic control data from fixed line networks over to the wireless network, saving the Council over ¬¨¬£70,000 a year in telephony charges alone (with nary a GPRS in sight).

Councillor Alex Bentley, Portsmouth’s Executive Member for Traffic and Transportation, says: “Portal will give travellers the confidence to use the bus services in the full knowledge of when their bus will arrive. It will allow bus operators to modify their schedules to accurately reflect the variation in journey times gathered by the system at different times of the day – providing a more reliable service to passengers.”

“Nobody has a system like this in the world, let alone the UK,” says John Domblides, team leader for the Intelligent Transport Systems Group at Portsmouth City Council. (Note: John Domblides was on my panel at the Wireless Internet and Municipal Public Safety Conference in San Mateo last June – my conference notes are here.)

There are two bus companies operating in Portsmouth now fully on the network, First Group and Stagecoach, which together run some 308 buses on 47 routes with over 100 bus trips per route, per day.

PORTAL is run by a Portsmouth City Council (PCC) led consortium, which includes Stagecoach, First Group, Cityspace, Adshel, Telenor, Siemens Traffic Controls Ltd, NOW International and Mott MacDonald. The project also includes other key stakeholder groups of the Department of Transport, Southampton City and Hampshire County Council.


  1. I know Portsmouth mainly as a transit point to the Isle of Wight. WiFi-delivered Information would come in extremely handy at the FastCat terminal so you know whether you have to run or not to catch the next boat. It is impossible to see whether you are in good time or not when you arrive by train.

    And why not install a hotspot in the terminal while you wait? Surely the “portal” network could allow the odd public node.

  2. Portsmouth will always have a traffic problem and knowing the buses are going to be late wont help them run on time. Fortunately the bus services within the city will always be sort of on time because first bus are running lots of service. I live near the hub of the bus routes, could I use the WI-Fi network to access the information?

  3. Shahid Anwer Baig says

    I am working on a “Urban transport monitoring and tracking System” a pilot project for 1000 buses and vans for route management and monitoring. It seems that u have done alike project in your country. Can u share ur experience and guide me for getting useful links of the partners and vendors on commercial basis.
    Thanx and the best regards

    128-C, Faisal Town
    Lahore- Pakistan