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2018 Transit Trends from Around the Globe: North America

Jan 08, 2018
Last updated: Mar 02,2018
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Click on the colored regions to learn more about their perspective on the 2018 transit trends.

Another transit trends blog post?!

I know, I know, I get it. I mean we published one back in 2015, another one for 2017, and even had a follow-up post a couple of months ago to see if the transit trends were on track to become realities. It’s no secret that public transit is one of those industries that takes a long time to travel from point A to B. So how can there already be new trends for 2018?

Well, we asked industry experts across various fields and they think 2018 will bring new transit trends – so buckle up and get ready for transit’s biggest ride yet.

Transit Agencies’ Relations with TNCs Will Continue to be Rocky

“Public transit is in the midst of dramatic upheaval due to significant demographic changes and technological advances. In markets like Rochester, we have the opportunity to become the mobility leaders in our community. Remaining the preferred transportation choice for current customers requires more options and better customer service. TNCs present a new market of potential customers for public transit agencies. People, especially seniors and millennials, who have never been on a bus are starting to get out of their cars to try new mobility options. Making public transit convenient and flexible will draw some of TNCs’ customers to us once they start leaving their cars at home. It has been decades since our industry had such potential to impact our communities!”

“We'll likely continue to see reduced ridership on low-frequency bus routes as more passengers opt to use TNCs for more trips. At the same time, ridership will increase on central transit lines, as the population continues to increase along major transit lines in big cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Offsetting this trend, however, will be continued service problems related to bad weather and maintenance problems that may reduce overall ridership in a number of big cities. It’s probably too early to be a trend, but more private sector companies will start providing shared rides in private shuttles and cars. A few automated-bus pilot projects will open.”

“We’ll see large cities recovering from the shock of the TNC tsunami to create an increasingly cogent public policy to govern these businesses. Policy making is likely in the areas of data-sharing, curbside pick-up zones, wheelchair accessibility, and congestion or transit fees. Where policy affects trip prices, such as wages, some flattening of TNC volumes and transit ridership recovery may be seen. Expect London – which has staked out a very tough bargaining position – to lead. But watch the congestion pricing debate in New York as well.”

“TNCs have realized the value of partnering with transit agencies, especially for first- and last-mile service, microtransit, and paratransit. The models for these partnerships are not yet fixed, but some consensus will begin to emerge in 2018 as pilot projects are evaluated. However, they may pursue these partnerships on their own terms. TNCs have financial valuations as tech companies – they, therefore, avoid many things that make them look like traditional transportation companies.”

A Love-Hate Relationship between Paratransit Operations and TNCs Remains

“The use of app-based ridesharing models to enhance public transit and complementary ADA paratransit service specifically will be the biggest trend for 2018. The current, popular TNC models aren’t appropriate due to their lack of equity in serving people with disabilities, older adults, and people of lower income. Yet, the convenience and reliability of using an app-based platform that provides real-time information about dispatch and arrival times will prove beneficial for both transportation providers and customers alike. It has the potential to lessen anxiety about when the ride will arrive and reduce staff time spent responding to anxious, frustrated customers. This model has the potential to make same-day service work for everyone. There is much to be resolved, but pilots are already underway around the country and interest is high.”

“We will likely see an upward trend in the use of non-dedicated service providers as part of a comprehensive approach to delivering paratransit services as the demand and operational costs for them continuing to rise. Agencies that are using or planning to use non-dedicated service providers as part of their paratransit delivery solution should keep same day cancellations in mind. They create holes in the schedule which result in slack time, and that will incur costs to the agency. Agencies need to ensure they’re delivering the trip to non-dedicated service providers just in time to backfill slack time. It’ll help maintain productivity and prevent agencies from paying for the trip twice – an empty vehicle and non-dedicated provider cost.”

Autonomous Vehicles Will Still Be a Big Thing (And Get Bigger)

“2018 will bring autonomous vehicles into plain view although they’ll still be primarily used on closed-circuit routes and not on true public roads. This is because of the unpredictable nature of the traffic that they’ll be surrounded by and not because they’re unable to navigate safely. This is evident in the number of accidents that take place with standing objects such as rear-end collisions. Paratransit operations around the country will be turning more and more of their trips over to the TNCs as they continue to look for ways to reduce costs, handle more trips and, often, provide better service. Fixed route operations will continue to look for ways to avoid vehicle traffic by investing in bus-only lanes and signal priority.”

“Transit agencies will undoubtedly recognize the potential of autonomous vehicles to enable new mobility service models that bridge traditional transit service and personal mobility. In 2018, planning and strategy development must be top priorities at public transit agencies. The realm of personal transportation and public mobility can widen considerably to include various hybrid forms. Many agencies have already embraced a spectrum of services in order to reduce operating costs in lower-density metropolitan areas. Services in this spectrum, which fall between purely fixed-route and purely demand-responsive, can be described as “semi-flexible.” 

“In 2018, we are going to see the first robot shuttle services, whereby autonomous mini-vans are able to move people reliably and securely without a driver from specific pick-up and drop-off locations. These services will be available initially in cities with forgiving climates, where routes are easy to learn and easy to navigate for today’s self-driving cars. The key question is whether the human riders will find these services as simple, convenient and secure as they promise to be. If they do, then widespread adoption is both possible and likely.”

Microtransit Will Appear on the Scene

“Microtransit will begin to appear at scale to fill a critical gap between ride-hailing services (that many travelers can never afford to use) and fixed-route transit services (that most governments can no longer afford to provide). A key premise of microtransit is that it shouldn’t amount to ‘cherry picking’ ridership from the most successful fixed-route schedules. As it’ll be in direct conflict with transit agencies that have been operating under taxpayer subsidies for decades to preserve essential mobility resources for all citizens. Microtransit can and should only be successful if established as a public-private partnership. It should start with routes where conventional transit has yielded the lowest farebox recovery to operators and the worst service to passengers.” 

Disruptive Transit Technology Will Continue to Pave the Way

“The transportation industry has been building up to a big trend for 2018 – transformative and disruptive transportation. In Silicon Valley, we see firsthand the emergence of transformative and disruptive modes of transportation such as ride-hailing services as well as the advancement of automation moving into broader arenas in the transportation industry, including mass transit. Automation may allow us to craft new models of transit service delivery that could serve our existing markets better and allow us to create new market areas.”

“Public transit has offered the same options – bus and rail – for over half a century to approximately 50 million daily riders across North America. This approach is quickly changing as millennials flock to cities and ditch their cars. Technology enables new approaches to unify mobility options. Brand new transportation modes are being invented and quickly adopted which include shared ride services, self-driving cars and buses, and magnetic levitation technologies applied in potential high-speed rail and Hyperloop trains. These changes will only accelerate in the coming year, and transit agencies will begin to shift their role from monopolistic service provider to service broker/bundler.”

Critical Funding Needed to Move the Industry Forward

“Investment and public support for transit are waxing in many places around the U.S., but patronage is waning. Per capita ridership has generally been eroding for a decade and is down in absolute terms more recently. The factors behind this decline are many. Some – like fares and headways – are under the control of transit agencies while others – like minimum parking requirements and expanding MaaS – are controlled by policymakers more broadly, but not by transit agencies. Others – like rising auto ownership and comparatively low fuel prices – are largely beyond the reach of policymakers. Reversing declining patronage is the next big challenge for transit, and one that is going to require concerted action by more than transit agencies and their traditional stakeholders.”

“2018 will bring a period of uncertainty as the federal budget process is delayed and pushed back with continuing resolutions. This will make it difficult for transit planners and project managers to effectively and efficiently manage small, medium, or large transit projects. Communities that continue to invest in public transit through expanded operations or capital improvement or expansion will outperform communities that don't invest. They will see stronger economic activity thanks to the creation of new businesses and the expansion of existing ones. Also as mobility and the environment improves, there will be growth in well-paying jobs and reduced community stress!”  

Connecting with Riders Will Be Vital for Customer Retention

“Transit riders in the digital age have come to expect near-immediate access to individualized information. 2018 will provide substantial opportunities for transit agencies to improve the manner and speed in which they communicate with their riders. Whether it be personalized delay information or push notifications based on geographic location, improvements to the ways transit providers communicate with their riders will likely be a significant focus for the upcoming year. Real-time information, upgraded trip planning services, and consistent reporting will contribute to adaptive operations while enhancing the overall transit experience. Increased digitalization will enable greater visibility, on-time performance, intra-agency collaboration, and dynamic service development.”

“The near-term focus for transit is to connect with its users. Transit is an anonymous experience in a social setting. By tapping into individual and group behaviors and needs – easy trip-planning, easy fare payment, tracking the bus or rail car – we allow people to overcome the barriers to riding transit and choose mass transit over more expensive options like ride-sharing. We have to win our customers over with information that fits their needs.”

New Payment Methods Are Here to Stay

“The introduction of new payment and ticketing technologies will be the biggest trend for transit in 2018. It’s analogous to what we’ve seen in retail, where businesses are staying competitive by supporting new technologies for payments and loyalty such as contactless chip cards and mobile apps. The transit industry will follow suit in 2018 by introducing changes to how riders access public transportation, starting with widespread adoption of contactless bank card readers and mobile ticketing apps to compliment, and in some cases replace older paper ticketing and fare cards systems.”

Being Resourceful with Existing Resources to Help with Daily Operations

“The biggest trend in 2018 would be to increase technician productivity as we’re facing a shortage of qualified technicians despite better financial incentives and benefits. We’ve been trying to make the best out of our current resources – one of our administrative staff who used to do data entry now analyzes our work to see how we can avoid problems – thanks to the Trapeze Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) software which freed up her time. Hopefully, through additional training and measures such as leveraging the EAM software, improving the preventive maintenance program, and better understanding repetitive maintenance, we’ll be able to grow our fleet without necessarily adding technician headcount.”

State of Good Repair (SGR) Will Be a Top Priority for Transit Agencies

“The industry chatter about SGR has built to a crescendo in 2018. After years of build-up, this is the first year that transit agencies need to officially comply with FTA’s new Final Rule for Transit Asset Management (TAM). The initial focus for most is on asset inventory reporting – that starts this fall – and developing a TAM plan to define the people, tools, and processes to manage SGR data which includes assets, conditions, and capital projects.  Many are investing in new asset management systems and processes to manage their infrastructure’s lifecycles better and to ease the reporting of this additional data to the FTA.” 

“2018 will be the year of FTA compliance, with SGR Final Rule outlining due dates for key deliverables. Although the FTA has been preparing the transit industry for their requirements, some key changes were outlined in Final Rule along with required due dates, and many agencies will be scrambling to understand the changes and make deadlines. Key requirements due in 2018 include reporting asset inventory module – there are many new asset category requirements for NTD reporting; asset condition ratings and useful life ratings; performance measure targets for 2019.”

Where to Go From Here

Was that a crazy trip or what? I don’t know about you, but that was a lot to take in – it might seem daunting or even paralyzing to think about what your next steps should be. Especially when your agency already has long-range plans outlined.

But are you not in this industry because you know your daily operational actions and decisions, whether big or small, will impact millions of riders? Are you not putting in the hours, day in and day out, because you know you are creating a more optimal and sustainable transit system for not only this generation but the generations after us? Are you not reading this blog series – including trends from our global counterparts in APAC, UK, Central Europe, and Northern Europe – because you’re proactive and want to prepare as much as you can for the future?

As Peter Thiel has said before, “how can you achieve your 10-year plan in the next 6 months?” It’s time to rewire how you and the rest of the industry approach the pressing issues and technological disruptions. It’s time we shake things up within the system because the clock is ticking. It’s time.

Are you ready? 


Disclaimer: Please note that the quotes in this blog post only reflect the contributor’s views and opinions. Quotes do not necessarily reflect the blog author’s nor Trapeze’s views and opinions. 

Michelle Hsu is the Marketing Engagement Coordinator at Trapeze Group where she focuses on content, social media, and marketing operations. She's worked for B2B and B2C startups in various sectors - FinTech, EdTech, and CSR. She recently graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the Rotman Commerce program at the University of Toronto.
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