Leveraging IoT to Modernize Small City Public Transit Systems

Posted on May 2, 2017 by Laetitia Gazel Anthoine - Also by this author

A CityBus shuttle on the Purdue University campus.
A CityBus shuttle on the Purdue University campus.
The international stereotype of America may be that it’s a country full of car lovers crowding the nation’s highways and city streets. But Americans shattered that stereotype last November by approving dozens of public transportation-related funding initiatives that allocate about $170 billion in public transit funding. This relatively new national attitude, the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) device ecosystem, and the spread of high-speed broadband internet access combine to offer cities of all sizes the opportunity to modernize their mass transit systems. Doing so will enable officials to accomplish two long-standing goals: drive up the usage of public transportation and spur local economic development.

Planning and personnel
The key to keeping budgets in line is to incorporate IoT and communications technologies into the initial planning process to ensure adequate funding is available not just for the IT systems, but also to hire the personnel with the expertise required to implement and manage these systems.

Consider the city of West Lafayette, Ind. (pop. 30,875), which the Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow reports has built a new downtown retail and entertainment sector with new stores and restaurants, a multiscreen theater, residential dwellings, a park, and a hotel. The mixed-use development connects the downtown business district to the nearby Purdue University campus and a riverfront area, via a multimodal bus and rail transportation center.

It sounds like an amazing project that will improve the lives of residents and help grow the local business community. How could it be made even better? By turning the bus stops, rail stations, and even the parking spaces and street lights, into an open, connected communications network that enables government agencies, local businesses, transportation applications, and residents to interact and share information in real time.

Tapping “dumb” resources
Turning these “dumb” resources into interactive points enable residents and visitors to receive hyper-contextualized, proximity-based, relevant notifications tied to proximity services and businesses, tourist, and cultural information in their mobile applications they use every day as they ride the bus or train, and walk along the streets. That’s the realization of every business owner/operator’s dream: gain the ability to engage with their customers in real-time right before they arrive at their doors.

The key to creating this network is deploying contactless technology beacons based on open standards such as NFC, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and QR codes. These beacons turn passive, urban assets into smart interaction points, which are able to initiate two-way communications with residents’ and visitors’ smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and other mobile devices. That may sound like science fiction, but cities across Europe and Asia are making that happen today.

Incorporating IoT technologies into communications networks based on open standards will help local businesses attract new customers, enable government officials to communicate in real time with residents, reduce traffic congestion, make roads safer, reduce the transportation infrastructure’s environmental impact, and, of course, continue to increase the ridership and use of public transit.

Laetitia Gazel Anthoine is the founder and CEO of Connecthings, a U.S.-European based technology and IoT enabling company. Connecthings implements contactless technologies into the public space to turn urban, passive physical assets into smart, connected objects.

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