By Ken Ranger, Chief Operating Officer, BAI Communications UK
Passengers increasingly expect connectivity to keep them informed, productive and in touch with family and friends throughout their public transit journeys.
As smart communities evolve around transit systems, this expectation will only rise. Driving increasing demand for value-added services or applications that make the passenger experience safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable from start to finish.
One of the most important benefits connectivity across transit networks offers is safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened expectations that services should proactively protect people’s wellbeing. In an environment as dynamic and fluid as public transit, passengers want (and expect) to receive updates in real-time. Including notifications related to trip delays, security incidents and other shifting conditions, with clear guidance on what they should do next.
How does a transit authority meet those expectations? Having the right network in place is key. With intelligent connectivity, sensors and insights-driven data analytics, transit authorities can push real-time alerts directly to passengers’ mobile devices. Helping them make informed decisions to avoid overcrowded stations and/or plan alternate routes.
People want to stay connected
With smartphones being a cornerstone feature of modern life, people expect to stay connected everywhere they go. Transit systems that offer public Wi-Fi can help meet that expectation with their existing networks. Having the supporting platform already in place makes it easy to integrate add on ‘connected capabilities’ to enrich the passenger experience.
Take ticketing, for example. A mobile app can help passengers calculate fares accurately for a route on the spot, improving trip planning. Smart biometric barriers could eliminate the need for swipe cards, tickets or tokens, allowing passengers to move seamlessly through stations and board vehicles, with fares deducted automatically through Wi-Fi.
Beyond the point of payment, transit authorities in Auckland, London, Paris and Calgary are experimenting with — or have implemented — zone-based pricing. With the use of digital connectivity, they can adjust fares automatically according to time of day, distance traveled or other parameters. This not only provides an opportunity to boost revenues in peak periods but also to stimulate ridership and optimize usage patterns by incentivizing off-peak or alternate route travel. Applying data analytics to monitor flows would allow authorities to fine-tune consistently the movement of passengers through the system — and enhance the passenger experience at the same time.
Connectivity also enables digital and interactive help points, on-board vehicles or in stations, that can update in real-time to deliver responsive navigational information to passengers. In Barcelona, for example, interactive billboards and signage keep riders current on timetable changes and congestion. This same connectivity is leveraged during emergency situations, where their operations teams synchronize signage with in-station lighting to facilitate passenger way-finding.
In Vienna, where the transit system has the reputation of being among the world’s best. Authorities use multi-sensory guidance systems, out-of-order notices and custom-designed route planners to help people with hearing and visual impairments navigate the transit system easily.
Protecting passenger privacy
While there are rich opportunities to leverage passenger data to enhance the commuting experience, transit authorities need to implement safeguards to protect their riders’ information. Adherence to privacy legislation, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is critical.
Fortunately, the value in transit network data can be gained from anonymized device associations that do not contain any personally identifiable information. The Connectivity outlook report 2020 found that 80 percent of passengers are comfortable with transit authorities using their data anonymously to improve the transit experience.
With anonymized device data, transit authorities can help passengers monitor their preferred routes for service changes or nudge them toward alternate routes when volumes are high. In Toronto, authorities implemented an application that leverages this type of data to optimize passenger flows and identify overcrowding before conditions become hazardous. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this solution was quickly adapted to facilitate safe social distancing protocols on station platforms.
Ready for growth
Tapping into the enhanced data insights of authorities’ networks can shift to a proactive transit planning approach, enabling the most efficient use of resources. This is going to become increasingly important as cities continue to grow — and from New Delhi to Dhaka, that’s the forecast for many years to come. By 2050, the United Nations estimates nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will in cities — up from 55 percent today. As urban planners think about increasing demands on their infrastructure, transit authorities can leverage insights derived from their transit networks to support planning efforts and position themselves to meet passengers’ evolving expectations.
The transit of the future will bring exciting new possibilities to respond to the demands of the connected passenger experience to make services safer, more personal, and easier to use. In our next post, we will look at how these developments will help operations teams achieve greater efficiency.