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SMS rail link planned

FOR the past two few weeks Melbourne rail commuters have been receiving SMS messages to alert them of late or cancelled trains during peak hour. The good news for Perth commuters is the same service may be only eight months away.

In a joint venture between Melbourne railway firm Connex, Leo Burnett Digital, e-move Australia and wireless innovator Platypus, commuters who use three, six or 12-month passes will receive a text message alerting them if their train is more than 15 minutes late.

Work on the project began a year ago with Connex and Leo Burnett Digital looking to create a reward program for their customers. e-move was brought in to coordinate the trains and messaging, while Platypus developed the back end and database for the system.

Leo Burnett projects director Robb Hittner said 15 minutes was decided as the threshold for SMS messages because that was when it started to affect commuters’ choices.

“In peak hour in Melbourne trains run every 10 minutes, so if a train is six minutes late, the next train is only four minutes away,” Mr Hittner said.

“If it’s 15 minutes late and you receive the SMS message you can stop, maybe get a cup of coffee or call your partner and tell them you’ll be late. We wanted to give people that choice.”

He said the technology team originally looked at using WAP (wireless application protocol) to alert commuters, but instead decided to use SMS.

“We did look at using WAP early on. When we started this project last year WAP was the hype,” Mr Hittner said.

“But in Australia, WAP is very much stillborn and the amount of WAP-enabled phones that have been sold is dismal.

“We steered away from it, not just because not many people have WAP phones, but because SMS is so much easier. If you’ve got a digital mobile phone, you can receive a text message.”

According to a spokesperson for Transperth, a similar service for local bus and rail commuters could be implemented within eight months.

“SMS messages are definitely part of Transperth’s marketing plan and you could see them being used in eight or 12 months’ time,” the spokesperson said.

Transperth’s website will be overhauled, including the popular journey planner, and will include email alerts to commuters advising them of new routes and timetables.

“After that we plan to use SMS to target bus and train passengers on specific routes,” the spokesperson said.

Mr Hittner said the Melbourne initiative would soon be implemented in other cities on the east coast.

“I don’t think it comes down to population size or rail network, it comes down to consumers’ needs. It can be used in various sized markets and tailored to those markets,” he said.

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