GIS Provides Customer Satisfaction for Hong Kong Bus Company

By Jim Baumann

Hong Kong is home to nearly 7 million people, who in many ways define the urban experience.The city's residential districts of Kowloon and New Territories are among those areas with the largest number of inhabitants in the world, while Central is the world's most densely populated commercial district, with almost twice as many jobs per square kilometer as Manhattan in New York City.

Due to the small portion of flat land suitable for construction, the city boasts a very concentrated high-rise environment.The more than 7,000 skyscrapers clustered in Hong Kong create a dynamic visual effect of energy and efficiency that accurately reflects the vitality of its residents.

Because of Hong Kong's dense concentration of inhabitants, the city's mass transit system is equally dynamic.The city provides a variety of public transportation alternatives with stations and stops that are within easy walking distance of most residential and commercial buildings.In addition, the various elements of the transit system are interconnected to allow easy and efficient transport from one part of the city to another.Hong Kong has also implemented an automated ticketing procedure known as the Octopus Interchange Scheme, which can be used for most of the modes of public transportation employed there.

For more than 25 years, Hong Kong has been developing its mass transit system, which has ultimately evolved into the primary means of transportation within the city.Components include subways, rail systems, ferryboats, taxis, trams, moving stairways and travelators, and a highly automated bus network that includes five different companies.Each day, more than 11 million trips are made on these various forms of transportation.

The Kowloon Motor Bus Company (1933) Limited (KMB), the largest of the five competing bus companies in Hong Kong, provides almost 30 percent of all daily public transportation trips.KMB serves more than 3 million passengers daily with a fleet of almost 4,400 buses.Its 30 Customer Service Hotline representatives handle as many as 100, 000 bus route information enquires each month.

KMB recently introduced a new information system called the Digital Map Passenger Enquiry System (DMPES), which is used to assist the hotline staff.It is based on ESRI's GIS software and technology and includes ArcSDE, ArcInfo, and Internet Map Server (IMS).DMPES optimizes the storage, retrieval and presentation of spatial information so that the hotline operators can quickly respond to customer queries.MapObjects IMS is used to geo-reference the starting and ending location of a passenger's proposed trip.Then, using an attribute search and a set of relationships, the system picks the most optimal route.

The screen layout of the Digital Map Passenger Enquiry System.The box in the upper left-hand corner of the screen constantly uploads real-time traffic news.Click image for larger view.
DMPES enables hotline operators to quickly determine the location of a caller and identify the optimal bus route for their trip in terms of the distance to the bus stop, cost, journey distance, fastest travel time, and so on.For example, if a passenger wants to know the nearest bus stop, the operator can quickly check the walking distances calculated by the system and guide the passenger to the appropriate stop.As a true point-to-point routing application, the system can automatically search for bus routes by linking the beginning and ending points of a trip.It then displays the routes, including bus stops and required transfers.Also displayed are route timetables and other relevant information such as the discounted fares available under the Octopus system.

Integrated into DMPES are more than 100,000 city features that are classified by 32 categories such as landmarks, hotels, shopping malls, sports facilities, cinemas, housing estates, banks, schools, and so on to enhance the efficiency and accuracy of the service.The system can alert the operators to inform passengers regarding the latest traffic news and information about rerouting and the relocation of bus stops.Because DMPES can display well-known features as three-dimensional images, operators can clearly describe the bus stop surroundings to the passenger.

The text label and the route map show the starting point of a bus route. 3-D images of well-known landmarks are also displayed.Click image for larger view.
The GIS-enhanced service has allowed the KMB hotline operators to not only provide a better quality of service, but to be fundamentally more efficient.Since its implementation, customer call times have been reduced, while the overall call center capacity has increased by around 30 percent.In addition, the time taken to train call centre staff has been reduced by more than 70 percent.A comparison of hotline service performance in August 2002 with the same period in 2001 indicates an increase of more than 100% in customer commendations for hotline operators.

The different colors of the route show the passenger where he has to change to another bus route.The routing map also shows the districts that the buses pass through.Click image for larger view.

The DMPES implementation has won a number of prestigious awards including: The Hong Kong Retail Management Association for Customer Service Grand Award, The Hong Kong Association for Customer Service Excellence Function Award, and The Hong Kong Computer Society's 2002 IT Excellence Award - Application Bronze Award.

Ms.P.Y.Chan, the Head of KMB's Customer Service Department said, "The introduction of the new Digital Map Passenger Enquiry System at our customer service hotline can significantly improve efficiency by halving the average time needed to search for route information.The handling time saved on each enquiry ranges from 30 seconds to one minute, thus raising the daily average number of passenger enquires handled by each operator by 30%.Since we no longer need to prepare photocopies of route information for our operators, they can save time checking printed records of bus route information, and save natural resources by reducing the consumption of paper."

Published Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

Written by Jim Baumann

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