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Emerging Technologies Changing Transit's Landscape

A panel discussion on the use of emerging technologies in the public transportation sector offered a glimpse of three different approaches to improved customer service—Berlin, ­Germany; Newark, NJ; and Phoenix.

William Tsuei, chief technology officer, Valley Metro, and chair, APTA’s Information Technology Committee, introduced the three presenters.

Frank Scholz, chief information officer of Deutsche Bahn’s DB Regio Group, the largest railway enterprise in Germany, explained how integrated, automated IT systems can save costs in IT and operations and improve efficiency.

By employing a leaner and less differentiated IT landscape, he said, DB Regio Group has reduced the need for small and expensive specialized solutions, focused on more versatile market products, automated more business workflows and reduced the number of application program interfaces.

Using the shift sign-in process for engine drivers as an example, Scholz showed how digital transformation has reduced cycle times and the number of people involved. The company’s next goal is to automate the actual shift confirmation directly to the accounting office.

Robert James, director of customer communications technology at New Jersey Transit Corporation, discussed the wide range of ways new technologies help public transit systems communicate with customers. Referring to employees as “our ambassadors,” he said technology can help workers provide a seamless experience for riders.

James cited point-of-sale initiatives, such mobile ticketing, trip planners, real-time station-to-station schedules, web ticketing for special events and banknote recyclers that dispense bills rather than dollar coins.

Other communications technologies James discussed were passenger Wi-Fi and social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), which offer real-time, two-way exchanges with customers as well as a way to monitor comments, market promotional offers and educate the ­public.

He also cited advances in digital audio for public address systems, station communications to manage information for customers system-wide and dynamic signage.

Jay Yenerick, manager of design for Valley Metro, talked about how the success of Phoenix’s light rail system depends on coordinated, pre-emptive and predictive priority control of traffic signals and said engineering departments in the participating cities worked together to develop a system that would maintain the most efficient schedule for trains and traffic.

By adopting technologies that can sequence events—from receiving a signal from an LRT train at an upstream interaction to predicting its arrival time at a downstream intersection, extending or reducing the phase split time, moving the train through the intersection and returning to normal coordinated operation—Valley Metro is able to reduce traffic congestion and ensure safe interactions between trains and cars.

Speakers said the pace of emerging technologies will require public transportation systems to prepare for a future of “full automation.” Mobile apps for right-of-way workers, door-to-door transit services and PTC development are changing business processes, communications, costs and safety. The result: smarter, safer, more efficient operations.

Panelists were, from left, Frank Scholz, moderator William Tsuei, Robert James and Jay Yenerick.

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