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Transit Technology: What Do IT Professionals Really Want?

Oct 31, 2017
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APIs. Cloud offerings. Data integration.

These terms definitely made my mind spin – in a bad way since IT speak isn’t my forte. After some research and reaching out to transit IT professionals, the same people who provided their insights on what software providers should understand about transit agencies, the fog in my mind cleared up.

They were asked to identify the top three tech integrations they wish existed and can make their day-to-day work life easier. The responses turned into a bigger conversation about what they really wanted from software vendors overall. There were a couple overlaps but the majority of responses contrasted from each other. Despite the differences, the responses revolved around the following three themes:

1. Customization

Steve Young, Vice President of Information Technology at VIA Metropolitan Transit, mentioned the need for “a simple process to roll out and configure software as having to stand up lots of servers, configure for weeks, test for months, amongst other thing, it eats up far too much staff time and is time we would rather spend on innovation or clearing the project backlog.” He also stated that “transit software need open APIs as that would make it much easier for us to integrate systems and leverage technologies from multiple vendors to create a system that works for our agency.”

Kerry Kinkade, Chief Information Officer at Metro Transit – St. Louis, resonated with Young’s comment about APIs as he expressed the need for “APIs that assist with data extraction and sharing.” Kinkade also noted the wish to have “truly customizable reporting that can be accomplished by end users.”

Share this wish? Their comments made me think about the three different types of business intelligence – descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive. It’s prescriptive that we all strive towards –  find out how it can take you from “what happened” to “what could happen and what should we do about it” in this eBook (I recommend page three especially).


2. User-friendly interfaces

Craig Gosselin, System Manager at TARC, suggested to have “one single tab at the top of the interface with all the software that an agency owns” as well as to “integrate smart bus with easy to use and access data head” while Kinkade mentioned the need for “standardization of browsers so that Java and plug-in battles can stop.”

Share this wish? I loved reading about how this one agency moved to a new user-friendly interface in order to decrease their paratransit no-shows. 


3. Comprehensive desktop, mobile, and web apps  

Gary Miskell, Chief Information Officer at VTA, suggested “common processes in our light rail and bus divisions. To do this would require one true product suite or application that interfaces both bus and light rail transit operations.” He further noted “a comprehensive data integration into a transit enterprise database” as well as “auto-detection and collection of travel patterns that could be exported into a transit enterprise database.” Young, on the other hand, stated that “increasingly, we are favoring the simplicity and ease of upgrades that cloud offerings have. The more vendors that can help us make this move would allow both parties to be more nimble. Supporting agencies with tens of servers and apps also has to be very expensive for vendors, whose time would be better spent adding features to cloud offerings.”

Gosselin focused more on the external application for the public as he suggested “one mobile or web application for the rider where they can access everything related to the transit agency such as schedules, maps, alerts, and the likes.”

Share this wish? We definitely have ways to go as an industry, but some of these things do exist! Gosselin’s comment reminded me of how riders are already telling us what they want – now we have to act on it. You might not believe it but riders are okay with delays as long as you communicate with them about it (more details on that here).


Speaking with these IT gurus really puts into perspective what IT professionals from various transit agencies think and what they would like from the software vendors. When we minimize the communication barrier and go beyond a vendor-client relationship, we start moving the industry forward. And, ultimately, providing a public transit infrastructure that’s optimal and sustainable is what’s going to benefit everyone at the end of the day.


If you liked this post, you’ll like these other posts geared towards transit IT professionals:

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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