Over the past 10 years, public transportation has made significant progress when it comes to the technology being used in the industry. With mobile ticketing, upgrades to reduce emissions, and even the creation of e-scooters, technology is making transit more accessible and appealing for users, while also reducing its environmental impact.
This past year, the pandemic presented new challenges for public transit, with restrictions limiting public interaction, and consumer hesitancy to handle physical cash — often opting for contactless payments instead. In 2021, we can expect to see a number of new ways that technology will play a role in improving public transit, especially now that the demand for contactless and distanced operations is becoming a norm.
The first innovation we can expect to see public transit authorities integrating in 2021 is mobile ticketing. This involves installing electronic fare validators on vehicles, which are then used to redeem tickets purchased through a mobile application. With Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology, these fares are redeemed without contact and completely remove the need to handle any physical cash or fares, and even limit the interaction needed with the driver.
This technology has already made its way to retail and other in-person commerce, including grocery stores and dining, and the trend is expected to stay in 2021.
It’s been found that physical money can carry the SARS-Cov-2 virus for up to three days, and by bypassing the need to purchase paper tickets and validate them, mobile ticketing can help reduce the transmission of the virus between riders and staff. An incredible byproduct of integrating this technology is also the impact it has on the environment, as physical tickets no longer need to be created, and the real-time insights gained on users can help optimize bus scheduling to avoid putting vehicles out on under-utilized routes.
Data Insights and Route Optimization
Data is already changing the world, and in 2021 it’s set to change public transportation. Utilizing the aggregated data that comes from smart technology such as mobile ticketing and fare collection can help transit workers create new efficiencies while increasing accessibility for users.
Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) is a great tool to utilize and gather this type of data. AVL uses computers and global positioning systems (GPS) to track transit vehicles and use real-time insights to monitor driver performance, increase communication, and reduce response time with operational problems. However, the efficiency doesn’t stop at the operational level. Transit agencies can save on their bottom line by implementing contactless technology that eliminates the need for costly cash fare collection boxes which can require a significant amount of upkeep. Whether it’s creating a better environment for boots on the ground, or improving costs behind the scenes, utilizing data is the next step in a more efficient industry.
Public transportation is transforming into a mobile capable operation, and with that comes the need for a streamlined and intuitive user interface and experience. Having a mobile application that provides the option to purchase and redeem fares on buses is one thing but having a mobile application that layers in parking ticketing, e-scooters, and rail is another.
With mobility-as-a-Service providers such as Uber and Lyft already blooming in the U.S., the door is open for new entrants to package together an entire city’s public transit system into a single application. From the user perspective, this means if you are travelling from A to B via public transit, you no longer need to purchase separate tickets from different vendors, you can simply open the single mobility application and plan your entire journey from there.
From the perspective of the transit authority, this means additional insights into travel patterns and transit usage within a network. Before, gaining insights such as these would require gathering separate data sets from different vendors, collating it into a useable format, and going from there. With one application handling all public transit, these insights become more accessible and actionable.
Account-based Fare Collection
Keeping the user in mind, public transit technology is moving toward creating a more personalized ridership experience. A shift in this space is Account-Based Automatic Fare Collection. Through this system, all travel history, documents, and account information for riders is gathered in a customizable dashboard.
With this technology, passengers can identify and participate with every available public service that is enabled for Account-based fare collection, making it far easier to use different modes of transportation, and save specific routes or journeys for use later. This also removes the hassle of having to manage multiple user accounts, payment methods, and receipt/billing information.
With an ongoing focus on sustainability and limiting the environmental impact of personal vehicles, many are looking to public transit as the solution. With an increased investment in technology, transit is already becoming greener, but to take the next step and have it become the “normal” mode of travel, it needs to become more accessible.
Younger generations are more likely to use public transportation if the process is convenient and the technology is intuitive. Millennials and Gen Z have already welcomed contactless technology into their lives, whether it’s paying for groceries or buying clothes. Implementing contactless on public transit will help push adoption rates of the technology even further, and as a result, empower younger generations to use transit as a convenient and accessible option.
Consider 2020 as an incubation year for public transit. A year that highlighted shortcomings in the industry and shone a light on the path forward for 2021. Now that demand for technology on public transit is more present, the move to make these changes should be met with acceptance and enthusiasm, especially if it allows more people to travel at once again. As we begin to see these technologies emerge, a snowball effect will soon take hold, starting with something as simple as an electronic validator to collect fares, and ending with a fully digital mobility platform for users.