Well, I'm sure everyone's seen the new FlexiBus ads on TV by now. Unfortunately, I doubt FlexiBus will be all it's hyped up to be (well, by my standards).
So, I decided to propose an improved system: FlexiBus Extreme.
Here's how it works:
For Scheduled Passengers:
This is intended for passengers who know when they want to get on a bus, about 30 minutes before they actually do (i.e., the organised ones who know exactly where they are heading -- supermarket, shops, library, etc).
You log into the FlexiBus Extreme website with your mobile number (everyone has one now, right?).
You pick the route you want to ride on, and drill down till you get to a map resembling the one below.
You're presented with this map, complete with bus stops, and when other passengers want to get on at a particular stop.
You pick the stop you want to get on at, and enter the time you want to get on at.
The FlexiBus Extreme system then does some funky calculations, and schedules the optimum route, as close to passenger's boarding time as possible. The system sends you an SMS when the bus will be at your nominated stop, 10 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive there.
For Unscheduled Passengers:
These are the passengers who just "want to hop on a bus". These passengers will probably not have Internet Access.
Each bus stop will be assigned a unique ID (I believe they already have one.) The passenger will call ACTION (i.e., 13 17 10), and tell them what stop theyre at. The operator will check current bus schedules along that route and inform the passenger when the next bus will pass. The operator will also add a scheduling point (as above) in the system, with the current time.
If there is no bus scheduled to pass the bus stop the passenger is at within 30 minutes, the operator will add a scheduling point in the system, and the system will generate a new route as appropriate.
The main problem with this idea is communication. Communication is often annoying, and often expensive.
Communication with Passengers
Do you really want to pester a passenger via SMS to tell them the bus will be one minute late? An even better idea would be to have an LED/LCD display at bus stops saying when the next bus is arriving, and a button a passenger can push so the system knows there's someone there who wants to get on... But then you have to deal with dickhead kids who press the button and run off...
Busses should have Transponders.
The scheduling system will always be up to date. It will know where every bus is, when every passenger wants to get on, etc. The system will likely need some way to communicate route updates to bus drivers.
I know, it probably won't happen for another 10 years, but hey, I can dream....