With the Chicago metropolitan region providing nearly two million bus and rail rides a day, local operators are increasingly relying on innovation to maximize the use of public transit, improve efficiency, fight congestion, expand access, and serve residents more effectively.
That was the takeaway of a Sept. 30 forum at the 2013 APTA Annual Meeting titled “Leveraging Innovation in Transportation Investments.” Hosted by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the panel was moderated by Carole L. Brown, former CTA chair and Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) board member, and managing director, Barclays Capital.
CTA President Forrest Claypool outlined the modernization of his agency, which serves 1.7 million riders daily: for example, “We started the first open fare payment system at a major U.S. transit agency.” CTA has added 1,800 security cameras at its stations, making the systems safer and aiding the police in making 154 arrests, he said. The agency has also introduced electronic alerts that provide smart phone users with instant e-mail and Twitter alerts telling them when their vehicles will arrive.
A bike-sharing program—called “bike transit”—is now an extension of the CTA, according to Gabe Klein, commissioner, City of Chicago DOT. “We’re putting the bike stations in places where people work and live,” said Klein, who added that tourists also use the bicycles, providing revenue to the city. “We’re going to break even—even without a sponsor,” he said.
The bikes are not just going to the core of the city but will reach into the suburbs as well, Klein said, and he expects that programs like this will help get people moving back to the city.
Thomas (T.J.) Ross, P.E., executive director, Pace Suburban Bus, said his system has a completely self-sustainable vanpool program with 800 vehicles. He said Pace’s goal is to be a modern, integrated, coordinated, and innovative rapid transit system that serves the entire Chicago metropolitan region.
Metra commuter rail has introduced a new program that saves the system both fuel and money. Donald A. Orseno, interim executive director, explained that Metra’s “Start and Stop” program actually shuts down locomotives after a certain period if they are not being used.
The system is also experimenting with driverless vehicles for the first and last mile of its rides, said Orseno. “They have driverless vehicles in Shanghai,” he said, adding that this practice could easily be adapted to North America.
All the panelists agreed that new transportation technologies and programs that deliver a variety of mobility options provide benefits not only to riders, but also to the environment. They also increase accessibility and offer riders options. These approaches, he said, are paying palpable dividends for the city.
Lorenzo Simonelli, president and chief executive officer, GE Transportation, credited Chicago’s “tremendous public transportation system” as a reason why General Electric brought 1,385 jobs to the city recently, when it relocated one of its offices.
“Our employees need to get to the office, and Chicago is one of the few cities that has an integrated system that can provide us with the necessary employee bases,” he said. “Chicago really is at the forefront of leadership in innovation.”
TranSystems Corporation sponsored the session.
Speakers at the Host Forum, from left: moderator Carole L. Brown, Forrest Claypool, Gabe Klein, Thomas (T.J.) Ross, Donald A. Orseno, and Lorenzo Simonelli.