Transit isn't 'smart' unless it's equitable

Posted on July 3, 2019 by Donna Amato - Also by this author

Cap Metro’s aim is to increase ridership by optimizing efficiency in this new transit center with sustainable, easy-to-read, real-time bus arrival, passenger information displays.
Cap Metro’s aim is to increase ridership by optimizing efficiency in this new transit center with sustainable, easy-to-read, real-time bus arrival, passenger information displays.

In the past couple of years there’s been an encouraging movement among cities and transit agencies to become technologically “Smart.” They are upgrading or implementing a digital ecosystem to improve communications and mobility for their customers. We all love new technologies that make our lives easier to navigate daily but we must not forget the human factor. If vital information is not available to all citizens, then how can a city truly call itself smart.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, “By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18,” — let that sink in. The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple of decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first-time in U.S. history. How does that affect transit? Excluding self-driving cars, microtransit and rideshare mobility services, seniors in their 70’s and 80’s will rely on buses and trains for transportation more than ever. Keeping transit easily accessible, efficient and economical is key.

We all love new technologies that make our lives easier to navigate daily, but we must not forget the human factor.

TransitCenter states that 73% of riders 65 and older want real-time bus arrival information at the bus stop in addition to a mobile app. Why? It’s not because they aren’t mobile savvy, it’s a discerning income concern — smartphone plans are just too costly on a fixed income. In 2018 only 46% of 65 years and older owned a smartphone. (Pew Research) Seniors in suburban and urban areas say they would find transit more appealing if there were lower costs, and more real-time information about transit options, arrivals and departures.

Integrated, real-time, transportation information delivered by digital signage is becoming the new standard demanded by customers. But, even with this technology, let’s also keep in mind the human factor. There are hundreds of digital signage companies, choose wisely. Choose a digital signage company that has transit and wayfinding expertise. The spatial problem-solving behind expert wayfinding comes from years of critical, transit thinking.

For transit agencies considering how to deploy digital signage at transit stops, some of the questions agencies should start with is:

  • Where should it be deployed?
  • Can the signage be solar-powered so that it is not dependent on expensive electrical infrastructure?
  • Is the signage and remote software resilient so that it can continue to operate during power outages?
  • What will it cost?
  • How will it be supported?
  • Can the signs be supported remotely with a single content management system and offer flexibility so that an individual or groups of signs can be programmed with specific messages?

These questions can help transit agencies define a product specification that increases their customers’ satisfaction and safety and increases the resiliency of their infrastructure. Offering digital signage is an integral strategy for cities and transit agencies that can increase the equity of their digital investments and offer more convenient and effective delivery of transit information to their residents and riders.

Donna Amato is the director of marketing for Connectpoint Inc.

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