This definition of innovation you see above is quite apt. The idea seems simple enough – so simple in fact that the term innovation gets tossed around a lot. If you look at any company or agency, they are likely to say that they are innovators within their industry. We all want to be first. Whether it’s to the moon, to set new records, or just to claim to be the first.
Public transit is no different. The transit world is always trying to adapt to new needs. This could be rider trends and expectations, new regulations (Fast Act/SGR), or something that hasn’t been explored yet within the space currently associated with transit.
In two months, I’ll be attending the Smart Transit USA conference – this year, their theme is “driving transit technology forward.” I want to dive deeper into three major things that will drive transit forward and compel transit innovation, each of which I hope to explore further at the conference:
- Data and asset management
- Signalling, communications, and safety
- Ridership and mobility
There’s More to Asset Management than State of Good Repair
Something that has been talked about a lot since its passing is the FTA’s Final Rule and State of Good Repair (SGR). And yes, this is a huge topic that deserves its time in the spotlight. The first TAM plan completion date is approximately a year away and many agencies still have not fully considered how they are going to measure to see if your assets are in a State of Good Repair.
But, while understanding your asset’s lifecycle is important, there are other things developing within the industry that will optimize the use of your vehicles while still maintaining your understanding of their condition, things that haven’t gotten the same 15 minutes of fame as SGR has. For example, telematics can help you predict the maintenance needed on your vehicles (or other assets). It compiles a ton of data and computes it into a digestible form so that you can keep your assets maintained and use them to their utmost potential. In fact, my colleague, Brett Koenig, is going to talk more about this kind of innovation in asset management at the Smart Transit conference.
Communication Doesn’t Just Mean to the Riders
Most of the time, when the public thinks about transit communication, it means, “How are they going to properly tell me when my bus (or railcar) is going to arrive?” And while, this is important, and will be talked about a bit more below, there are lots of other types of communication that has to occur for you to effectively run a transit system.
In the new world of transit technology, communications are constantly being broadcast – whether it is with vehicles and dispatchers, real-time communication of maintenance issues, safety protocols in place regarding positive train control (PTC), or any other number of systems that are constantly talking. What’s important here is that these systems send the right information at the right time. Not only is it important for safety concerns (PTC), but it also helps with making sure your system is running at optimal levels (vehicle availability, workforce changes, etc.).
Riders' Needs Are Getting More Complex
With the advent of mobility as a service (MaaS), you need to make it easier for riders to choose the public transit service you provide. Riders today expect options that should include public transit at the core. Riders will choose between walking, bike sharing, TNCs, transit, car sharing, or a combination of them all based on the criteria that matters the most to them in each instance. In major city centers, this has become the challenge – how do you make your service easy to use and connect to the others? Depending on your city and scope of your agency’s mandate, many of these options are not within your control. So, you will want to think about how can you play a key role in providing technology that connects them all?
In less populated areas, these options may not be the talk of the town, but the ease of use still needs to be considered. In order to work with these disruptive technologies, the more information you can provide your riders, the more likely they will choose public transit as an option.
I mentioned above that communication isn’t always about the rider. While this is true, much of what you can do to enhance your rider’s experience is communicating to them. Does this mean that you need to have the best real-time communication? It would definitely help, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Having wayfinding signage or easy to follow information on your website is also a must, among other things.
What Does Smart Transit Mean to You?
These are just some of the many areas where we can innovate in transit – and truly move towards smart transit and smart cities. There may be others that are more concerning to you, but it would be hard to deny that these three aren’t on your radar.
Luckily, many conferences will be diving deeper into some of these topics, including our very own ThinkTransit Conference. We'd love to see you there.
As Director, Industry Solutions and Alliances, Jeff has a strong, proven ability in the management of large teams and complex technical implementations with emphasis on project efficiency and profitability. Jeff is particularly interested in thin client and cloud-based computing systems, and focuses his time on the successful deployment of software solutions for businesses.