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The 9 Transit Trends that will Move Us in 2017

Dec 23, 2016
Last updated: Dec 18, 2017
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It’s been a crazy ride for the public transit industry in 2016. From the public’s increased use of TNCs, rapid adoption of transit apps, and a plethora of other new trends just around the corner, transit agencies have a lot on their plate. It’s then crucial to be proactive rather than reactive if the industry is to come out on top in this hyper-connected world.

Given that, we asked experts from various fields (academia, transit associations, venture capitalists – to name a few) to weigh in on what is the trend that you’ll have to watch out and prepare for in 2017. 


Human-Centered Designs will be here to Stay

“From a service planning and scheduling standpoint, instead of transit system service design reviews focusing on incremental change, transit systems will look at complete system redesign. The goal will be to find ways to better serve existing riders, attract new riders by providing more frequent service in heavily used corridors, expand service coverage to meet demographic changes, and find creative ways to serve less dense areas, which do not warrant regularly scheduled transit service. Since most agencies budgets are flat or decreasing, this effort needs to be achieved without increasing operating cost. This is a difficult task but can be achieved by using the data and technology available to most agencies, along with a vast public outreach effort.”

– Charlie Carson, Director of Planning and Scheduling, Connecticut Transit


"The bus may not be sexy, but it's incredibly useful and liberating if networks are well designed. Many cities are rethinking their bus services from scratch. Confusing tangles of infrequent service, often designed in response to overly specific customer demands, are being replaced by rational frequent networks that maximize usefulness for as many people as possible. The 2015 redesign of Houston's network has helped many other cities see the need to be sure their bus network is right for the city of today."

Jarrett Walker, International Consultant in Public Transit Network Design and Author of Human Transit


IoT will be Incorporated into Future Transit Assets

“2017 and beyond is a great time to be in public transit. Technology to improve the way we move people is ever changing and new vehicle technology and autonomous buses are the buzz words today. 

In my opinion, a fully autonomous bus is years away; however, a further intelligent “connected” bus is right around the corner. Connected buses and vehicles are those that communicate with the road network and other vehicles to help drivers and controllers understand the prevailing congestion and traffic conditions in their service area that affects service reliability and on-time performance. Improvements in this technology will help controllers predict issues in advance and allow them to implement effective resolution strategies to keep service moving before the service deteriorates.”

Dave Fulton, Industry Solutions Manager – Planning, Scheduling, and Operations, Trapeze Group


Mobility as a Service (MaaS) will Become the Norm

"I believe 2017 will be the year public transport adapts autonomous vehicle technology for its own use. We expect a sharp increase in pilot programmes offering public transport with autonomous vehicles. We will also see the intensification of efforts – including through the development of MaaS – to integrate the shared use of autonomous vehicles in the sustainable urban mobility system of the future."

Sylvain Haon, Director Knowledge and Membership Services, Union Internationale des Transports Publics (UITP)


 “MaaS is a concept where consumers are provided with flexible mobility packages through a single app. It can be a paradigm change in transport because it carries the potential of providing the same level of service as a privately owned vehicle. Transport is known to have many silos and breaking those barriers is the toughest task for the next few years. No mode can take on the task of providing a complete set of mobility. In order to be better than owning a car, an individual needs all modes. Being a mobility operator is not just taking our customers from A to B. It’s about going from any A to any B at any time. We have to be able to increase the freedom of mobility for our customers.”

Sampo Hietanen, CEO and Founder, MaaS Global Ltd


“With any luck, 2017 will be the year public transport strikes back. Residents of Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta voted overwhelmingly to fund billions of dollars in new transit, which will hopefully mean investments in MaaS, too. It would be deliciously ironic if Los Angeles leads the way in creating last-mile services that finally tempt Angelenos out of their cars.”

Greg Lindsay, Senior Fellow, New Cities Foundation


“Much focus should be placed on moving paratransit scheduling from advanced reservations to on demand (same day). Customer reservation systems should also be app-based and on open platforms able to integrate, linking all mobility services. With the introduction of TNCs and the new wave of on-demand transportation services, mobility as a service should be in place for ALL customers, not just those traveling on fixed-route. Currently, legacy transit technology vendors have very limiting scheduling systems.”

Brandon Policicchio, Chief Customer and Business Development Officer, Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority (GDRTA)


New and Unexpected Markets will Help Improve Ridership

"Public transit markets are becoming more volatile as Millennials move towards adulthood. New segments of users are emerging in public transit markets such as ‘captive by choice’ riders (individuals who can afford to purchase a vehicle but choose not to do so and use public transit). As new market segments emerge, so do new challenges for transit agencies, which must strategize to serve new user groups as well as other previously identified groups such as captive riders (those with no choice but to use transit) and choice riders (those who have other options but chose transit). Ridership will increase in 2017 only in regions that can understand the dynamics of the new markets and provide tailored service that increases satisfaction and loyalty among all user groups. Agencies that fail to understand the needs and desires of new markets are expected to notice a decline in ridership."

Ahmed El-Geneidy, Associate Professor, and Dea van Lierop, PhD Candidate, School of Urban Planning at McGill University 


“Demand response platforms such as Uber or FLEX routing will become the new norm as supplementary components to small or medium-sized transit agencies and may emerge as the model of how to construct or grow an established agency from the grassroots level.”

William Mozal, Scheduler II: Paratransit & Flex - Van Operations, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART)


“Transit agencies are utilizing TNCs (i.e. Uber, Lyft) to increase ‘choice ridership’ for conventional transit. This demand response service is convenient but comes at a price. Mobility on demand fares, paid for or heavily subsidized by the transit agency, can cost $6-$10 per one-way transit trip. Financially, the long-term sustainability of this model is questionable. But, for 2017, it’s a hot topic.”

Jeff Zarr, Industry Solutions Manager – Demand Response, Trapeze Group


Advanced Technologies will Reshape Public Transit

“With a new and ambitious 10-year transit funding plan in Canada, we will see an important shift in the way municipalities and transit agencies design and implement transformative transit and integrated urban mobility solutions. This long-range funding will require the sector to be innovative and forward-looking, leverage incremental and disruptive innovation, adapt quickly to the fast-changing environment, establish partnerships with new business models and mobility providers and steadily focus on customers in establishing priorities.”

Patrick Leclerc, President and CEO, Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA)


“Many transit agencies are embracing new technology and new business models such as TNCs, bike-share, and car-share to support public transit fixed route and paratransit services. 2017 will see increased partnerships and deployment of new technologies. This will include pilot and demonstration programs as both the technology providers and agencies seek to identify changes that benefit the customers, transit agencies, and the technology providers. These initiatives will help pave the way for understanding how to leverage technology to the benefit of all.

The path forward will not be without risks and challenges. Transit agencies will need to ensure they have adequate technical support, ensure procurement and risk treatment are appropriately handled, and help employees and customers learn to use and accept these new technologies and business models. These technologies are exciting and offer promise but the bottom line will be the extent to which they can help provide affordable safe mobility.”

Steven Polzin, Director of Mobility Research, University of South Florida


“Auto makers, private mobility operators, and public transit will continue to implement advanced technologies and partnerships to deploy flexible route and on-demand mobility services that increase consumer convenience and reduce operational costs. Ultimately, these changes will reshape public transport and our relationship with private vehicles.”

Susan Shaheen, Adjunct Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UC Berkeley


Skip the Glitz and Focus on the Core

“Technology is moving faster than regulations can keep up and companies around the globe are testing various autonomous vehicles. While those advancements will impact public transportation and how it serves its communities, there’s been a push from transit advocates that the core service is what remains most important to provide the best mobility options and improve congestion and the environment: frequency and reliability.”

Leah Harnack, Executive Editor, Mass Transit Magazine


Zero Cost and Zero Emission will be the Future of Public Transit

“I predict that 2017 will see the debut of a new trend in public transit – zero cost, zero emissions. Electrification of transportation is happening fastest within public transit, and this is poised to accelerate, given the fundamental economic advantage of electric drive in high utilization vehicles.

Couple this advantage with the growing challenge globally, from Paris to Stuttgart to Beijing, of toxic urban air pollution, and cities will increasingly ask the question – what does it cost us NOT to offer free, zero emission, mass transit to our citizens?”

Brook Porter, Partner in Green Growth Fund (GGF), Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB)


Big Data will Help Refine Connected Mobility

“Automated data collection methodologies and devices from onboard equipment which measure vibrations and/or forces to drones and geometry cars have been around and or under development for a long time in the rail industry. Now that we’ve figured much of this out, and have a variety of toys to prove it, what to do with the terabytes of information collected?

A continuing trend in the rail industry in 2017 will be to improve ways of turning ‘big data’ into useful data to be shared between relevant software tools through integration, distributed to all individuals who need and want to know, and most importantly to automatically drive flags, work, activities, and remedial action. Finding defects in track before it’s too late and better understanding rail rolling stock behavior could vastly improve timely response and with this, safety for all.”

Marcelo Bravo, Industry Solutions Manager - Rail, Trapeze Group


Real-Time Technology will become a Necessity for Passengers

“The biggest transit trend for 2017 will be flexible, user-friendly technology that allows customers to plan their trips in real time. Riders will be looking for apps that directly connect them with information about their trip—is my bus running on time, and how far away is it from my stop? Real-time technology will give customers more options to quickly develop alternative plans if service is diverted or delayed. Real-time tracking for buses and trains will improve on-time performance by helping agencies to manage smarter and develop solutions to improve running times and minimize delays through more efficient service planning. And apps that allow transit users to connect to last-mile solutions like TNCs and bike-share stations through interactive trip planners will make transit a more attractive commuting option.”

Paul Comfort, CEO and Administrator, Maryland Transit Administration (MTA)


“2017 is the year of integration! The new year brings a continued focus on ease of use and two-way data sharing among all critical operational tools. One consistent source of information shared across all aspects of your agency ensures that you and your teams have the proper data metrics needed to provide the best in service and reliable future decision-making. This key focus will continue to ensure that we do not stay stagnate in 2017, but rather, we as partners will continue to keep improving your agency response times and service performance, saving your agency both time and overall operational costs.”

Nick Ross, Industry Solutions Manager – ITS, Trapeze Group


New Destination for Public Transit in 2017

From MaaS to IoT, it’s clear that we can all learn how to better leverage existing and upcoming technologies to provide an optimal transit system for the public. Because at the end of the day that’s the common thread for all of these upcoming trends. The question now becomes which trend will your agency capitalize on and how are you going to make it a reality within the next few years? 

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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