Public transport officials in London are experimenting with bus stop timetable signs using electronic paper. The idea is to blend the benefits of paper and electronic screens.
Most bus stops in the city have printed paper displays for timetables and route information. That brings two main disadvantages. Firstly, the sheer hassle of printing new sheets and replacing all the displays is one of the reasons timetable changes are usually done only a few times a year. Secondly, the paper displays are no help if routes have to be delayed or temporarily suspended.
One answer to this is to communicate directly with customers, whether that be through apps, websites, social media posts or a simple system of customers sending a text message with a code relating to the specific bus stop and getting an automated reply. However, all of these are dependent on the customer having a suitable device and connection.
Some stops already use electronic displays that can be remotely updated, though the power demands involved normally mean these are restricted to crude “dot-matrix” style displays which simply list destinations and expected times for the next few buses. The type of high-resolution display needed to replicate a full printed timetable and route guide would be expensive to install and power.
The idea is that the e-paper display would make it possible to show all the data from a printed document but with the ability to quickly update it over a 3G connection. As with electronic readers, the static display itself doesn’t use power; instead power is only needed to change the content, which would only be once every few minutes even on a page showing the next bus to arrive.
The theory is that the power demand would be so low that a small solar panel and battery would provide enough electricity without the need for a wired power connection as a back-up, even with the unpredictable British skies. Like e-readers, the screens also have the advantage of being readily legible even if bright sunlight should emerge.
Those behind the scheme have also cited the ease with which miscreants can deface or damage printed paper displays as a benefit of the e-paper screens. It doesn’t seem like it would be too hard for a determined vandal to wreck the new screens, so its noticeable that the first four test locations are all in parts of the city which would seem less vulnerable to such actions.