people in a busy station - SYSTRA

The French anthropologist Marc Augé introduced the concept of ‘non-place’ in 1992, referring to public spaces designed to be experienced by people in transit: commuters, shoppers, tourists, workers.

Then, the infrastructure needed for the circulation of passengers such as railway interchanges and airports was considered as non-places as much as the means of transport themselves; places lacking in terms of identity and history, as a direct consequence of ‘supermodernity’.

Transport stations: from non-places to the design of a new identity

Since then many things have changed about the way bus and tram stops, interchanges and stations are designed, renewed and perceived by passengers. How do architecture, lighting, digital technologies, graphics and visual art enhance our everyday experiences of non-places? Are transport stations discovering a new identity?

Design and Technology applied with a holistic approach is providing more individually responsive, inclusive and innovative services to passengers. If it is true that stations are places where people temporarily pass by, it is also true that they are claiming back their identity and they are changing the way they appear and interact with passengers.

It is not just a matter of aesthetics but also a matter of safety and accessibility

Whether we are talking about a major transport hub or a single bus stop, unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour and crime within and around it must be avoided so that passengers feel safe. But rather than spending a lot of money on trying to fix the current problems, it would be better to take a closer look at the design of a public transport environment, as well as the surrounding public space, in order to make it safer and more accessible for everybody.

It is not just a matter of aesthetics. Plenty of studies have demonstrated how public transport environments influence passengers’ perception of security and behaviours. The security doesn't just rely on cameras, or any other focused action. Applying design and Technology to public transport environments is certainly not the only answer to all security problems and threats, but it is a sustainable, cost-effective starting point.

With varying levels of adjustments, a public transport area can be upgraded in such a way that the perception of safety is improved and in a way they can be made more comforting, safe and accessible for everybody.

Smart Station: a new SYSTRA branded concept

There is now a much greater awareness of how ambience contributes to the wellbeing of passengers. This concept is well exploited by the Smart Station concept designed by SYSTRA which in June 2016 won the Innovation Award at the European Mobility Exhibition in Paris.

Ambience can be designed according to the three following steps:

  • Identifying: the spaces and the associated usage of the station (e.g. entrance, ticketing area, corridors, platforms, etc);
  • Proposing: an ambience adapted and adaptable to each passenger’s activity;
  • Interacting: the design of the ambience within the station concept.

The station becomes a smart place where a harmonious environment is created and involves all travellers’ senses. This new concept is possible thanks to an accurate study of lighting, sound and interior design, and it allows the creation of a dynamic environment that can be adjusted in real time with the use of sensors located outside and inside the station, controlled in order to apply pre-defined scenarios to adjust light, sound and passenger displays to improve safety perception and comfort.

This demonstrates that, thanks to cutting edge technologies, it is possible to aspire to provide more comfortable and welcoming transport stations, where information is not simply ‘dispatched’ to improve the passenger experience and to facilitate multi-modal transportation. Passengers can also be ‘floating’ sensors of information that can be shared with the entire ecosystem and used to create advanced applications to provide new integrated services as an innovative answer to all passengers’ needs.

This is how a station can change and become an ecosystem tuned by people. An ecosystem that changes, learns and evolves.

Sustainable and innovative as well as conservative

It is possible to use technology to make transport stations more sustainable and to reduce operating and maintenance costs, as well as re-engineering relevant processes in a more efficient way. Design and Technology are becoming a powerful union able to change not only the appearance of transport stations but also the way they are lived and perceived by people and the way people interact between themselves and with the environment.

We certainly don’t want all the stations of the future looking alike, but the mobility of the future and all its infrastructures can -and must be- rethought exploiting all the innovative solutions on offer, without forgetting intrinsic and essential factors such as the history, the identity and the culture of the environment under consideration.