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Transit Technology's 'Next Big Thing': Industry Leaders Assess Future
Public transportation has a long history of adopting, adapting and maximizing new technology, from replacing horse-drawn vehicles with steam engines in the mid-1800s to swapping gas-powered motors for diesel engines in the 1960s to the highly complex, integrated, digital systems routine in many operations today.
What’s next? Autonomous vehicles? Widespread adoption of electric or hydrogen buses? The Internet of Things? Big data? ITS to connect it all? Or will the next transformation be driven by riders’ preferences and lifestyles?
All of the above, predict some industry experts. As APTA’s TransITech Conference begins, Passenger Transport asked a few industry leaders to look ahead and share their thoughts about transportation technology’s next big thing.
Technology’s Four Critical Impacts
Director of IT, Access Services
El Monte, CA
Chair, APTA Information Technology Committee
Member, APTA Board of Directors
Information technology has been a major driving force in stimulating global economic growth since the 1990s. Almost everyone and everything is influenced by the Tech Four—Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon—in a dramatic way, as described by renowned tech columnist Walt Mossberg.
The APTA Information Technology Committee’s mission is to share resources and introduce new technologies, which are increasingly critical as the industry balances its focus on day-to-day operations, safety and security and rolling stock with a constant commitment to the future. We really need to ask ourselves, “What’s really coming in the technology pipeline that will change the transit landscape as we are moving forward?”
Here are a few of the “next big things” coming to transit, which are in line with this year’s TransITech Conference presentation sessions:
* Multimodal User Centric Mobile Solutions: This is not your traditional mobile trip planner or mobile ticketing app or combination of the two. It is a solution to provide all modes of transportation at users’ fingertips when they need to make their own transportation decisions. It also provides a single payment method for the mode(s) they have chosen.
* Automated Vehicles: This trend describes not only connected vehicles, but also autonomous vehicles and hyperloop. It will dramatically change the transportation landscape, including the role of public transit agencies in providing transportation solutions.
* IoT (Internet of Things) with AI (Artificial Intelligence): This advance is no longer a typical big data analytic activity. IoT in the future will quickly collect massive amounts of data (measured in such sizes as petabyte, exabyte, zettabyte or even yottabyte quantities). Machine learning with AI on IoT data will quickly transform travel patterns and transportation usage of the future, not to mention business opportunities for the private sector.
* 5G Infrastructure: All of the above trends need reliable, secured communication networks to cover the transmission of structured and unstructured data simultaneously. 5G, along with higher cybersecurity requirements in the standard setting, will lead the way in mobile communications to fulfill the future data communications requirements.
Tsuei is the former chief technology officer, Valley Metro, Phoenix.Fare collection systems should be intuitive, user friendly and allow for seamless mobility across all transport modes. As mobility options become more connected, we want systems that will make the user experience pleasant and convenient.
Seamless Fare Collection for Mobility Management
Elk Grove Village, IL
Secretary-Treasurer, APTA Executive Committee
At Genfare, we believe that fare collection technology can enhance the public perception of transit by delivering the simplest and easiest to use rider experience for the fairest price possible.
An important aspect of the rider experience today is for the agency to provide mixed fare options for its passengers. Customer convenience can be one of the key factors in retaining riders and ridership growth.
By embracing the new technologies available in fare collection systems, including mixed fare options, an agency can guarantee that it will be able to provide the most convenient and economical fare options for its passengers. By allowing fare payment by smartcards, mobile phones, magnetic stripe cards/tickets or cash, agencies can ensure that they have the right fare product offerings for all of their diverse riders.
Different fare payment options appeal to different ridership groups. By offering multiple payment options, agencies make it easy and convenient for their customers to pay their fares. Public transportation is competing with more and different types of mobility options—transit must make sure it stays at the forefront of technology.
We think fare collection will change dramatically as public transit agencies move from bus and train operators to mobility managers. The future holds great promise for a much more connected mobility platform with a variety of options and choices available to the riding public. Fare collection systems can unite all forms of mobility management and give the user the greatest number of alternatives to meet their travel needs. That’s where Genfare is headed.
Data Delivery Is the Thread
Karl P. Gnadt
Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (IL)
Member, Information Technology Committee
Predicting the next big thing seems to be the next big thing. The rapid pace that technology is changing has created a whole new playing field for prognosticating the future.
Whether it’s the new gimmick from Google or new app from Apple, the rapidity of change is astounding. Relative to transportation and public transit specifically, new technologies are cropping up faster than agencies can fund them. EXPO will once again this year highlight new ways to track our vehicles, share our rides, buy our fares and deliver our data. Bingo.
Deliver our data. The one thread that weaves its way through all those other means and methods of technology growth is the data that we can provide those technology outputs. Simply tracking our buses and delivering real-time information to our customers will soon not be enough. Remember when that was so cutting edge 10-15 years ago? That was so yesterday. Now it’s just expected. Everybody better be doing it—it’s as basic as providing seats.
So what’s next on the data delivery front? Can we tell our passengers how many people are on the bus? Or how many bicycle racks are open on the train? Can we deliver data to Uber and Lyft so that their services can seamlessly be integrated into ours? And what else hasn’t been thought of yet?
And if we’re just delivering the data, can we foster a culture where the creatives can develop their own open-source products to utilize and share our data? Fostering that culture means we have to participate in the conversation and engage in conversations with vendors and academics and, most of all, our customers.
The mind boggles at the wide-open frontier ahead of us. I suspect that data delivery will be the bullet train that carries public transit through that landscape.
Vehicle to Infrastructure Connections
Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC)
Member, APTA Board of Directors
The RTC recently introduced several new updates to our transit system that are enhancing the travel experience of our residents and visitors. We implemented new touch-screen TVMs, a mobile-ticketing app and complimentary Wi-Fi on all fixed-route vehicles. These upgrades allow transit riders to stay connected and enable us to provide customers with close to real-time bus location information.
Additionally, Southern Nevada recently became the first region in the U.S. to implement Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) technology by connecting our traffic signal network to vehicles thanks to a partnership with Audi and its “Time to Green” technology.
This technology provides real-time information to the driver, including when green lights will occur, and ultimately connects the car with the RTC’s traffic management center.
This data will help our traffic management center improve mobility and better manage congestion. This precedent-setting partnership has established the foundation for how local governments and auto manufacturers can develop meaningful polices, build infrastructure and connect our systems to accommodate V2I technology that improves mobility, increases safety and reduces congestion.
While no one knows what the future holds, we are certainly planning for it. The RTC actively seeks out innovative ways to overlay new technologies and services with our current transportation network in order to continue to improve the overall system.
As an example, we are currently in the process of launching a pilot program aimed at enhancing the customer experience while also creating a more cost-effective transportation model by partnering with TNCs and taxi companies to offer same-day, on-demand paratransit and senior and transportation options. We will also study new emerging technologies and their short- and long-term impacts on transportation planning and infrastructure.
Bottom line—we are embracing innovation and working toward creating a smart community. New technologies, paired with several long-range plans aimed at moving more people safer, quicker and more efficiently, will help ensure that Southern Nevada is ready for what the future holds.
Automation and Connectivity
President & CEO
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
Member, APTA Board of Directors
Like many large urbanized areas, Houston faces complex mobility challenges. On any given day, our regional transportation system must move five million people on a roadway network that is at capacity.
Providing 110 million passenger trips per year, Houston METRO is a critical variable in this equation. Technology has provided many solutions to regional mobility challenges and continues to transform the way people interact with transportation systems.
METRO believes that the next driver of change will come from the automotive industry’s global research involving automation and connectivity. Public transit has the opportunity to leverage these technologies to improve public safety, increase operational efficiency and maximize mobility. As near-term applications, METRO is interested in bus platooning and automated shuttles.
METRO owns and operates more than 100 miles of dedicated high-occupancy vehicle/high-occupancy toll lanes and believes that these corridors could be used to deploy platooned buses. Platooned buses operate similarly to trains with close following distances and autonomously controlled braking and accelerating. Platooning may increase operational efficiencies by increasing fuel economy and increasing high-capacity transit without additional infrastructure.
METRO also focuses on automated shuttles for campuses, medical centers and other geographically defined areas where vehicles can operate safely at slow speeds in mixed traffic. Imagine a shuttle that would operate both on-demand (summoned by customers through their smartphones) and at various pre-defined locations. In both scenarios, customers would be fed into transit hubs to bridge first/last mile connections.
Texas’ recent designation by U.S. DOT as an Automated Vehicle Proving Ground sends a strong signal that our state is open for innovation. We are excited to test these technologies in living lab environments in Houston.