Management & Operations

How can public transport be more resilient to pandemics?

Posted on March 31, 2020 by Urša Hribernik

Photo of coronavirus cells via CDC

Regardless of the crisis management plans you had in place, it’s fair to say that nothing could have prepared us for the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While it sweeps the globe, the impact is being universally felt regardless of the level of threat currently faced in your country.

Public transport systems are highly vulnerable to disease outbreaks, but they are also essential for daily mobility. Depending on the status of coronavirus in your city, you will be working to minimize complex risks so that everyone working in and using public transport is safe.

Here, we talk about how modern transit technology can help agencies to provide a safer service during these challenging times.

Public transport in the wake of coronavirus (COVID-19)

It’s unlikely that coronavirus will be completely eradicated soon. This means that extra precautions against the spread will remain a high priority, even when "business as usual" gradually resumes. Looking ahead, when social distancing is behind us, attention will be given to lessen the impact of any future novel contagions. It’s possible that some countries will introduce legislation, requiring proactive disease prevention measures to implemented.

There is no doubt that this will change life as we know it.

The pandemic has happened so quickly and the authorities have had to act rapidly to protect our society. Likewise useful resources have already been produced to help public transport operators manage the impact, including the UITP Factsheet and The Shenzhen Bus Group Report. They offer valuable recommendations on preparedness for public transport networks.

While there is great emphasis on personal hygiene and sanitizing fleets, reducing contact and social distancing is also imperative to minimizing the risks. Some of these recommendations can be quickly and easily implemented if you have the right technology systems in place.

Rreal-time monitoring and management of your public transport fleet operations is crucial now more than ever.
St. Louis Metro
Rreal-time monitoring and management of your public transport fleet operations is crucial now more than ever.
St. Louis Metro

How the right technology can protect public transport from disease outbreaks

If you are operating in crisis management mode, it is quite likely that you will have set up an emergency operation team. Tasked with managing your response to the situation, the team will need to make the right decisions, quickly. This could be around controlling passenger flow, adapting services accordingly, customer communication, and revenue protection.

1. Managing operations and controlling demand

Fleet operations undoubtedly need to change. Bus operations should match passenger flow or be used to discourage unnecessary travel in accordance with government directives. This could involve controlling departures and reducing bus dispatch frequencies, as well as adjusting branch, peak and night routes, and suspending intercity bus services. You may also face the challenge of providing services with limited workforce due to absence.

This is where real-time monitoring and management of your public transport fleet operations become crucial. Automatic vehicle location (AVL) with a transit management system gives you city-wide visibility and control over every aspect of your operations. You can simulate resource, fleet, route, and schedule adjustments, then quickly implement any changes.

With an integrated transit management and passenger information system, any service adjustments can be automatically updated in your journey planning apps and passenger information displays.

These systems also increase performance and operational efficiency, enabling transport providers to deliver better services with less resources.

When providing to-the-minute service times, it’s important that real-time GTFS feeds use an ETA prediction engine with corrective algorithms for truly accurate arrivals.
Spokane Transit
When providing to-the-minute service times, it’s important that real-time GTFS feeds use an ETA prediction engine with corrective algorithms for truly accurate arrivals.
Spokane Transit

2. Managing passenger flow and decreasing waiting times

Operators can support social distancing measuring by avoiding crowds gathering at bus stations, terminals, and stops. Accurate real-time passenger information enables travelers to plan their trip in advance and time their arrival so that they do not take any unnecessary risks.

When providing to-the-minute service times, it’s important that real-time GTFS feeds use an ETA prediction engine with corrective algorithms for truly accurate arrivals. This data can be instantly delivered to your passengers on-the-go via your mobile journey planning app, along with a wide range of other service information.

Mobile apps can also be used to control passenger flow, providing notifications, or introducing measures to stagger ridership. Passenger counting devices and cameras can be installed in vehicles can be integrated with the transit management system, so you can keep track of 50% passenger load restrictions that have been implemented in some cities.

3. Regular and informative passenger communication

Communication with passengers during these times is vital for maintaining public confidence in transport services and dealing with the situation with complete transparency.

Authorities have a duty of care to share all potentially valuable information and news, as well as standards of conduct to reduce any risk associated with travel. There will also be service changes and restrictions. This should all be communicated in advance where possible or in real-time as it happens.

Operators can keep their passengers fully informed, simultaneously and consistently across a wide range of channels with a passenger information system. Before travel via the website and mobile apps, at the start of the journey with screens at stations and solar powered digital bus stops, and during the journey on displays in the buses.

Aside from the wider benefits of contactless ticketing and automatic fare payment systems, it immediately removes the need for cash to change hands.
Visa
Aside from the wider benefits of contactless ticketing and automatic fare payment systems, it immediately removes the need for cash to change hands.
Visa

4. Avoid cash handling with contactless payments

A quick Google on cash handling and the coronavirus paints the picture as to why transport workers have voiced their concerns around cash handling, and why many operators have enforced contactless payment only, where possible.

Aside from the wider benefits of contactless ticketing and automatic fare payment systems, it immediately removes the need for cash to change hands. It also eliminates any contact between passengers and ticket kiosks, drivers or ticket inspectors. Contactless ticketing comes in the form of:

  • Contactless card payment cEMV (contactless Europay, Mastercard and Visa)
  • cEMV mobile payment using NFC tags (Near Field Communication)
  • Mobile device QR codes (Quick Response)
  • Account based ticketing using pre-charged smart cards

Ticketing apps could also be used to control passenger flow, by introducing measures to stagger ridership.

5. Enhance operation resilience with modern cloud-based systems

Advances in technology has enabled the public transport sector to operate in a dynamic digital world. This is largely a result of cloud-based transit platforms offering ready-made solutions that can accelerate time to market.

These platforms also offer greater resilience by enabling workplace mobility. This means your operations to continue in the event of a crisis like we are experiencing right now. They are accessible from any internet connected device, which means controllers and dispatchers can still run the transport system without being physically present in the company premises.

The software is offered as a service (SaaS) giving operators the flexibility to introduce new tools and scale with pay-as-you-grow subscription packages that fit any budget. No longer does it take a year to implement a new tool... but weeks or at most months. They also offer leading-edge capabilities as well as analytics, enabling operators to learn and adjust their models almost in real time.

These "transit systems as a service" offer the fastest, most flexible path to implementing advanced transit management capabilities.

Urša Hribernik is Head of Mobility at LIT Transit

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