The Benefits and Challenges of IoT in Public Transportation

Posted on April 25, 2017 by Chris Koeneman - Also by this author

Smart cities rely heavily on the Internet of Things (IoT). In 2017, nearly 60% of all installed IoT devices in smart cities were used in smart commercial buildings and transportation. By 2020, smart cities will use 1.39 billion connected things to deliver sustainability and accomplish climate change goals.

However, the environment isn’t the only beneficiary of this digital transformation. IoT devices can help the public transportation industry reduce costs in significant ways. Consider these four ways IoT is impacting the transportation industry’s bottom line:

Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) solutions
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is exploring the use of Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communications to reduce traffic accidents and increase overall safety. Current V2V technology is designed to avoid accidents and warn drivers of impending crashes. Additional V2V solutions include Left Turn Assist, which warns drivers not to turn left in front of oncoming traffic, and Intersection Movement Assist, which warns drivers not to enter an intersection because the probability of colliding with another vehicle is high. When combined, Left Turn Assist and Intersection Movement Assist prevent up to 592,000 crashes per year.

Real-time vehicle location information and data
Via mobile application, location-enabled IoT devices can alert waiting passengers with real-time vehicle location information and data, estimated trip times, and notifications when they should leave their current locations to catch a bus or train. These IoT devices also allow transit officials to analyze and improve routes and options based on aggregated data.

Predictive, preventive maintenance
IoT sensors allow administrators to monitor the health of a fleet from any connected device. Predictive maintenance utilizes IoT to assess the condition of vehicles and foresee failures before they occur. Condition-based maintenance can prevent failures, extend vehicle life, and improve the reliability of monitored vehicles. The ability to set up alerts for low battery, check engine, oil change, coolant temperature, inspection reminders, and more, allows vehicles to run safely and stay on the road longer.

Safety compliance
Federal and state regulations dictate everything from the maximum amount of time a driver can be on the road without rest, to bus and train size, weight, and signage limitations. IoT devices can ensure drivers are adhering to established industry and/or employer guidelines. Organizations can track how fast vehicles are moving, how long they remain idle, and enable Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to know exactly where any fleet vehicle is at any point in time. The aggregated IoT solution data can help transit authorities identify operation areas with high risk and develop new safety measures to keep workers and passengers safe.

Like any other newly implemented technology, IoT solutions do bring some challenges to the public transportation industry:

Security breaches
As the number of network-connected devices and sensors continues to grow exponentially, measures must be taken to protect sensitive data and networks. Ensuring that all IoT devices are compliant with an organization’s security policies and enrolled in an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution is a great starting point. Other considerations include data transmission encryption, user access control, and device authentication.

Extended network infrastructure
The proliferation of IoT devices will make it necessary for organizations to work with larger data capacity and manage more IP addresses, increasing the workload for Information Technology (IT) teams. The network infrastructure supporting an IoT solution must be able to handle the constant communication and collection of data from sensors and IoT devices. Most IoT solutions’ data outputs grow as more automated workflows and controls are added to each program. So, it is important that networks have the capacity to easily scale as organization and program needs evolve.

Increase in investment
The adoption of IoT technology is expected to result in savings and operational optimizations for most organizations, but it can require a significant investment. Some of the costs associated with an IoT solution deployment include network infrastructure; implementation downtime; retrofitting vehicles or machines to be directly connected to an IoT device; customization, configuration, and training; security; and the cost to plan, implement, and manage the IoT solution.  
It is worth noting that the success of IoT in public transportation — or any industry for that matter — depends largely on the ability to successfully monitor, collect data, and garner insights from a constantly growing set of IoT devices. There are many cloud-based solutions that can track IoT assets and report on their basic characteristics. However, there are very few solutions that also manage and optimize a significant cost element in IoT — mobile carrier data usage.

Fortunately, there is a well-developed solution that can be used in IoT: a Mobility Management Platform (MMP) in conjunction with Managed Mobility Services (MMS). An MMP is a software-first solution that empowers enterprises by centralizing all connected device data in one platform. Through expense management, an MMP optimizes the use of mobile carrier networks for smartphones and can also perform the same function for IoT devices. Additional platform features that are applicable to implementing IoT solutions include device, program, and workflow management.

The key is having one location from where IoT program administrators can manage, monitor, and safeguard all IoT devices, software, and data to provide their organizations with the business intelligence to make more impactful decisions.

Chris Koeneman is the sr. VP of MOBI, a provider of software and services to management mobility (

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