The brains behind İstanbul’s transporation wonder: the Metrobus

İstanbul’s Metrobus central command is located in Kağıthane.

November 23, 2011, Wednesday/ 16:20:00

İstanbul's Metrobus network, on which hundreds of thousands of İstanbulites travel every day, is controlled centrally from a command center that looks little like a space station. This station opened its doors for the first time ever to the press, namely to Today's Zaman.

The Metrobus network is monitored remotely from here by hundreds of video cameras throughout the network. This allows any problems that arise to be responded to instantaneously. However, this central station was not planned only for the Metrobus system; from next year onwards, all of the observation and supervision of all the buses throughout the city will be monitored from here.

The Metrobus system is very popular with İstanbul residents for a variety of different reasons, especially that it runs on a dedicated bus lane and is not affected by traffic, it is speedy, has interconnecting routes, and has a good safety record. Of course, this doesn't mean some people don't have complaints about the system such as people sometimes feeling like they are packed in like sardines, or the occasional Metrobuses that break down.

There are some questions that people have, such as, “Don't the authorities see these problems?” or “Why aren't there more buses?” or even “Why are breakdowns not fixed immediately?” The truth of the matter is the Metrobuses on the road are being watched very closely from an almost space-station-like center. There are many authorities on duty, watching the buses on nearly 100 different screens and intervening when problems arise.

When we first visited the İETT Kağıthane Metrobus garage we didn't even know that the central command existed. All we had intended to do was have lunch with the workers at the garage, have a chat and learn about their work. But we ended up learning about the central command center and when we asked to see it, we were not denied our request. We headed over there to see all the operators hard at work and the impressive array of hundreds of screens on which the routes were being observed, not to mention operators constantly on the phone sorting out problems. This special command center was initially established to provide immediate visual images of the buses on their routes and follow them through the day as they traverse the city and to quickly intervene when problems arise to prevent blockages in the system following any breakdowns. The system is functioning smoothly these days, with teams of people organized specifically to ensure everything runs well.

AKYOLBİL to be directed from here

This command center was not only designed for Metrobuses but also for another, even larger, AkYolbil project. A first for Turkey, the AkYolbil project will allow for the real time observation of every vehicle in the city connected to the İstanbul Transportation Authority (İETT) network. In other words, the AkYolbil project will mean that the entire city bus system will be monitored from a single command center. The project is in testing stages and is expected to go be implemented in 2012.

İETT General Director Hayri Baraçlı believes that the AkYolbil project is very important for mass transportation in the city, as well as for bus management in general. “There is nothing else like this in Turkey. We are constantly developing this system. We are also using this system to allow for the transfer of smart data about bus stops. We can also monitor drivers and the speed of vehicles from here. In the next stage of this project, we will be able to even track how many passengers are on the Metrobuses. This center will also be responsible for maintaining archives of safety data. At this point, we are using this system for our Metrobuses, but from 2012 we will be using it for all city bus routes,” he said.

Immediate attention to suspicious packages and the like

During our visit to the command center we witnessed an unusual event when operators had to notify the police about a suspicious package left at a bus stop. At the same time, security officers at that bus stop kept passengers at a safe distance. When the police arrived, inspected the package, and found that it was not anything dangerous and passengers were allowed back at the stop. All of this was coordinated quickly with minimal disruption.

Call the center, tell the driver to slow down

AkYolbil is a project that will involve the participation of not just operators overseeing the system, but include the input of regular citizens as well. For example, let's say that a particular driver is driving the bus too fast, if he does not heed the request from passengers to slow down they can call the center to notify operators of about their concern. This will result in a warning being issued on the driver's screen to slow down immediately, and if necessary officials from the command center can directly contact the driver. The project will also have a feature of “smart” screens being installed at bus stops throughout İstanbul which will connect back to the central command.  This will allow passengers to access answers to questions such as “Where is my bus?” or “How late is my bus running?”

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