Visualising Public Transport Networks

With the increasingly widespread availability of transport data, we can now visualise and explore new dynamic geographies of urban transport flows and networks. In this post, I show detailed animations of UK multi-modal public transport networks using timetable data. This data will form the basis of the public transport modelling in the Simulacra projects, and be used for analyses of accessibility, network structure and resilience.

The first movie maps train, coach, metro (tram and tube), ferry and air trips for England, Scotland and Wales over a typical weekday in 2009. Different modes of transport are assigned different colours, and time is represented by the clock at the top left. The animation clearly highlights the complexity of the networks, the distinct transport geographies of the UK’s cities and regions, and the daily peaks of activity.

When the day starts at 12am, London is pretty much the only city ‘awake’ with few tubes, trains, coaches and ferries running. They disappear quite quickly up to a point where there are mainly few coaches travelling around London (particularly to airports). From about 4:30am onwards, coaches first start their trips from the south-west of England and Wales into London and then trains start to crowd the whole of the UK. Metros around UK also start their services around 5:30am and by 6:30am they can be identified in London, Manchester and Newcastle.

It is also around 6:30am that planes start their trips, between Scotland to the south of UK. By 8:30am, much of the national rail network is clearly defined. Also, ferries can be spotted in Scotland and Cornwall. From then onwards, the public transport service reduces its service frequency even though this is not quite noticeable on the visualisation. The PM peak starts around 4pm and it peaks at about 6pm. The level of service decreases slowly afterwards with multimodal corridors slowly disappearing from the visualisation until the day ends.

In the second movie bus trips for the same region are displayed. Cities with noticeable night services are London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Around 4:30am, other major cities bus services start to operate progressively. At about 6:30am, smaller cities bus transport also starts to operate. The am peak is at 8am when around 30000 bus trips are operating in the region. The service then decays not noticeably until about 9am and then is sustained until the pm peak starts around 3pm. The pm peak occurs at about 4pm, and then onwards the service level decreases.

In the final movie we zoom in detail on Greater London, which features the UK’s most dense and complex multimodal networks. Individual vehicles are more obvious in this animation due to the smaller size of the area as compared to the previous one. It is interesting to visualise the bus network transition from night to day, the steady ‘pulse’ of the tube network throughout its service and the Stansted-Heathrow-Gatwick connection defined by the coach network.

Previous efforts on public transport visualisations which pushed me to do something similar can be seen here (from another CASA member, Anil Bawa-Cavia) and here.

These clips have been generated using OpenGL. The data used to produce them is from the UK Department for Transport and is available here and here. Vehicle trajectories in the animations use straight lines between stops. Waiting time in a public transport stop is defined in the dataset and so is also taken into account in the animation. Air travel data in the dataset is only available for Scotland.

The Simulacra team and particularly Duncan Smith have given very valuable advice to improve all visualisations. More animations and the application of these techniques to land use transport modelling will be posted here in the coming weeks.

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