In Salt Lake City, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is discovering how intelligent transportation systems (ITS) can provide new answers for existing public transportation concerns. UTA has set in motion some technological innovations that are beginning to pay off, including changes in its fare collection procedures, safety techniques, and fuel efficiency.
Account-Based Fare Collection
For example, UTA is looking toward implementing account-based automated fare collection. The electronic farecards used by many other public transit agencies are part of a purse-type system: the passenger loads money onto the card and draws down from that balance, and the agency gains no information about the user.
In contrast, an account-based fare system uses a contactless card—or a specially equipped cell phone—to identify the rider but accesses a linked checking account or credit card to pay the fare. Because the system registers both the point of entry and the point of departure (“tap on, tap off”), it charges according to the length of the trip on both bus and rail.
By using a distance-based approach, we can see the rider’s patterns and can make individual marketing decisions about the person’s use of service. This system eliminates the need for passes or other fare media and allows an agency to charge a lower fare for traveling a short distance than for a longer one. Increased awareness of the individual user’s needs—such as graduated fares for different trip lengths—could help public transit agencies adapt better to a changing transportation market.
Public transit agencies also need a mechanism to recognize passengers who have some kind of social service condition that calls for a change in fare: for example, in Salt Lake City, welfare recipients can charge their transit fares to the state’s food stamp program. If the system is going to set up an account-based fare collection program, it must make an effort to include people who have been defined by a social service agency or state to be eligible for this kind of help.
Technology is being developed that can help avoid collisions by connecting individual motor vehicles in a specific external environment. For example, if one vehicle is moving too fast while approaching a stop sign and may not be able to stop in time, this ability to connect vehicles could inform another vehicle on the cross street of the first vehicle’s approach. Remedial actions also can be built in to avoid a likely accident.
While much of this technology already exists, it can only work through the creation of a large network of connected vehicles—which would also include buses.
This vehicle connection technology is comparable to the current use of traffic signal prioritization in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). UTA operates BRT service in a single exclusive lane, which operates like single-track light rail and allows passengers to escape all road congestion and arrive 25 percent faster than traditional bus service.
UTA’s operators also have the ability to look at an in-vehicle radio screen, which we designed and developed at the agency. The screen shows if the vehicle is running late or early, not time point by time point but stop by stop. This way, the driver can adjust his or her speed to keep the vehicle on time through the entire process.
Electric Power Innovations
The internal combustion engine may still be the standard, but ultimately electric propulsion systems will take precedence. This shift depends on ways to induce an electric charge safely without exposed electrodes or other points of contact.
UTA has received a federal Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction grant to operate electric buses across the University of Utah campus and plans to begin service in six to nine months. Recent research has led to a way to induce the charge from a coil buried in the roadway across a 10-inch gap to the vehicle, and provide sufficient power to operate a shuttle bus.
This technology will change the nature of battery-operated vehicles: for example, a vehicle that does not have to carry its fuel on the roof will be notably lighter. Future advancements in electric switching technology could lead to trolleys and trolleybuses that operate without overhead wires.
The issue is, ultimately, what’s the most efficient way to distribute power and energy to the things we need to do. We can operate a vehicle with this technology and the savings in energy costs alone will offset both the cost of installation and the cost of power itself.