“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
There seemed to be a common thread emerging from UITP Global Summit in Montreal: working together as an industry to push the functionality of public transit forward is the only way to effectively meet the future needs of all of our riders.
Joining forces with our global brethren is a great way to learn from the challenges others around the world are facing. These are great opportunities to understand how everyone else copes with the difficulties of a particular issue and prepares for the challenges yet to come. Not only did Trapeze get to bring all of their partners together from Trapeze business units around the world, the transit industry came together to embrace change, showcase new technologies, and try to develop new strategies to make public transit the number one choice to get riders from point A to Z.
So what were the buzzwords that UITP attendees were talking about? Some of the most common issues that surfaced were:
The debate is ongoing whether Uber (and other transportation network companies) is the evil entity public transit thinks it is. However, riders and public transit agencies are seeing the need for a complete multimodal service. This could be with ride sharing, bike sharing, public transit, walking, or the next futuristic tech to disrupt the industry. In some places, this has already started with the first mile, last mile mentality.
Outright stating that some of these entities are troublesome might not be the best approach. They may not be the entire solution, but they are solving some of the issues riders want fixed. The goal is to move people. Let’s, as an industry, figure out the best way to do that, whatever partnerships that require.
Ridesharing is unlikely to completely cannibalize public transit’s ridership. Will there be some people who exclusively use these modes? Sure. But, they are few and far between. Most people are looking for the cheapest, easiest way to get from their front door to their destination. Imagine what could be accomplished if everyone was working together to move people.
Autonomous vehicles are in the forefront of everyone’s mind lately. The questions surrounding this topic are seemingly endless. How long will it take to become standard practice? Will they take over? Is this the end of public transit as we know it?
While we never know what the future will hold, the word around UITP, summarized by Kim Emerson (Chief Marketing Officer, Volaris Group) was that, “autonomous vehicle pilots are proliferating but they are seen as a complementary service for the future, not a replacement to existing services.”
Just a glimpse from our booth of people talking multimodal solutions, autonomous vehicles, challenges in increasing ridership, and the best ticketing methods across the industry.
Some of the major differences noticed was that ridership trends vary greatly from North America compared to the rest of the world. While Europe, South America and Asia have seen an increase in ridership, North America is facing the challenge of a declining ridership.
So, what’s the difference between these regions that can explain the discrepancy? Honestly, it seems to still be in debate. However, some of the reasons shared at UITP could be the limited options for mobility in rural regions. The densely populated areas (Europe and Asia) allow for more frequent vehicle schedules and demand investment to keep up with the growing infrastructure.
It’s also possible that the perception of public transit changes depending on where you are located – which could shift the ultimate goals of what public transit is intended to do: Move people.
The industry (and even society) isn’t at a place where cash can be forgotten. For how much the world wants to move into our ideal future (the one with flying cars, transporters, and where everything you purchase is paid for with a chip in your body), we just aren’t there yet. And we may never be there.
Nevertheless, is there a better way for the industry to collect fares? Is there a better way we can use our smartphones? Can we just go ahead and use our credit cards? Will public (or society for that matter) ever become a cashless system?
These challenges are trying to be solved as you read this, and were definitely debated at UITP, but the answer is still in the wait and see phase.
The Hackathon seemed to be the talk of the show because of the unique ideas, technologies and developments that went into each new application. The youth are the future of transit and this event got everyone to change their mindsets a little by seeing the perspective of the people that will one day take over the public transit industry. And if they keep developing products like these, then public transit will be in good hands.
Whatever issues surround public transit, there is strength in numbers. Leaning on your fellow agencies – your next-door neighbors or the ones abroad – will help accomplish the daunting tasks of building a system that works for everyone. Learning from your peers (agencies, vendors, newbie programmers, industry experts, etc.) is the power of these conferences. Let’s change the industry together.
“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” – James Cash Penney