BUSRide spoke with experts in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) about the importance of passenger communications in creating “smart cities” – and how innovations in technology will continue to shift passenger demands.
vice president of product management
industry solutions manager
intelligent transportation systems (ITS)
Please briefly describe your company’s expertise and capabilities in passenger communication.
Nick Ross: First, I think it is important to mention that passenger communications consist of getting information from a variety of mediums – wayside signage, call centers, web sites, mobile devices, and automated phone (IVR) systems, to name a few. At the core of all of these mediums is making sure that you are sharing accurate real-time information. Having this info allows for status updates and proper notifications in the advent of outages and other service anomalies.
Proper integration between traveler information and intelligent transportation systems is essential to make sure that, whatever the medium, this information is up-to-date. This integration allows for the change to occur in one system, which automatically makes changes everywhere else. So, let’s say a vehicle has an unexpected maintenance issue and breaks down on the side of the road. If your systems are integrated, then, in real-time, the bus stop signage updates, the website updates, your IVR system updates, your app updates, and so on.
Kirk Shore: Our solution is comprehensive for bus, rail, and paratransit. It leverages an on-board computer called Intelligent Vehicle Network Controller (IVN®) that provides real-time information about what the bus is doing. It then goes into a prediction engine we call BusTime®, which is our real-time passenger information system. It makes history-based predictions with real-time data, as well as historical running times.
We deliver the information in a variety of methodologies. Customers can sign up for service bulletins and notifications for vehicle arrival, which take the form of an SMS message or an email. We can also communicate this information to dynamic message signs, whether those are on LCD TV screens or LED. Onboard the vehicle we provide passengers information via our solution, Clever Vision, which can be configured to also include news, weather, and location-based advertising in addition to the predictive arrival information that gives passengers arrival information for the next 10 to 12 stops.
We provide transit authorities with a mobile application that they can brand as well as an open API that developers can use to access real-time arrival information they can use in their mobile apps and widgets.
What are the most significant advancements in passenger communications in the past few years?
Ross: Every year, more and more transit passengers are carrying a mobile phone and/or tablet. The ability to reach ridership wherever they are is at its highest point and continues to grow every day. The ability to accurately and intelligently communicate service notices, real-time trip status, and outages in an instant has significantly changed the game.
This is all made possible by agencies recognizing the demand and value in implementing ITS to ensure the most accurate information is transparently shared with their ridership. Ridership expectations have changed and implementation of real-time information across varying platforms will help increase passenger satisfaction. Integrating the flow of data across different departments is the best way to achieve accurate information and meet the new demands of passenger expectations.
Shore: The most important innovation, at least in our technology, is in what we call service recovery tools. That’s the ability for the transit authority to create, in real-time, a detour, a bus bridge, or to express a bus, or to cut a trip.
What makes our solution unique is that it is seamlessly integrated into the entire ITS enterprise. So, if you cut a route and detour it, it not only goes to the computer dispatch system and the historical reporting system, it also goes to the BusTime® real-time passenger information system. This notifies all passengers who are receiving notifications for the route that real time modification has occurred.
In what ways are passenger communication ITS vital to the “Smart City” concept?
Ross: The key to “Smart Cities” is the collection of accurate information and connectivity. Not just the connectivity between vehicles, components, and dispatch, but connectivity with the ridership as well. The flow of information needs to be vast within a smart city. At the heart of the matter, ITS allows this to be a reality within an agency’s daily operations. How that information then flows to the public and the success of the concept of mobility within a smart city is dependent on an Intelligent Transportation System.
So, in a “Smart City” when things unexpectedly change throughout a service day, agencies – and the city – have the ability to make everyone aware in an instant. The ability for the industry to utilize today’s communications avenues to deliver the flow of information to passengers efficiently and accurately is the core of a true “smart city.”
Shore: When you talk about attracting choice riders, the issue is convenience. You have riders in population- dense areas where there is gridlock. And when fuel prices go up we all know that ridership balloons. Real-time passenger information is critical to take the worry and the unknown out of transit. If you look at your watch and go, “Oh no it’s 3:01,” and the bus was supposed to be there at 3:00, is your watch a minute early or is it a minute late? These uncertainties are addressed by passenger information.
If you want people to use transit, and be in a true smart city, they must have highly accurate information about what’s happening; they have to be able to have a seamless experience and use it as a part of their regular commute.
What factors are driving innovation in this field?
Ross: The instant gratification expected today with the advent of new technologies has shifted the perspective of rider expectations. We live in a society where almost anything can be discovered or researched at a moment’s notice – a click of the mouse or a tap of the finger. As expectations change, riders’ demand of accurate information forms how the industry needs to evolve to maintain customer satisfaction.
Ultimately, this demand for accurate information is the driving force behind innovation in passenger communications. Combining this with the agency’s desire to keep their ridership informed every step of the way is the best way to create new ideas and technologies to push the boundaries of customer satisfaction.
Shore: If you look at the way society consumes information, it’s now through mobile devices and digital signage. So, demand is driving innovation in this field. If you want to change the way your agency is perceived, an outstanding implementation of real-time passenger information will absolutely give your agency a perception shift in your community. This is done by trying to deliver a boutique experience to the individual user in a way that’s easy for them to consume and navigate, while still having all the detailed information they need. We need users to have an emotional connection to the software and the technology, so that they can have an emotional connection with their transit service provider- a critical infrastructure to our cities.
What will the passenger communication “landscape” look like in five years? Ten years?
Ross: The exponential rate at which technology is evolving in our world makes it hard to predict what the landscape will look like in the future. That said, the focus will always be towards one of a fully integrated system that provides passengers with information and tools to make intelligent decisions along all points of their journey.
These technologies will inspire new tools (web and app-based) that focus on usability and providing information to riders as quickly as possible. These could be apps that are true multimodal decision- makers to get passengers from point A to B. Or a new, more agile and flexible passenger-facing tool that allows agencies to upgrade their communication systems more quickly in order to keep pace with the ever-evolving communication landscape.
Shore: More use of mobile devices – I think automatic passenger counting (APC) and passenger load is going to have a big impact on this. There will be autonomous vehicles for last mile and shuttle services. It will probably be more like 10 years when that happens.
There will be more optimization, less effort by the user, and a more proactive experience for the user, using voice response and push notifications. I also think we’re going to see a lot more intermodal prediction systems. We’re already doing some of that work right now. This, for example, is having the ability to make sure that your bus is still there when the train arrives. That sort of multimodal system coordination, you’re going to see a lot more of. Especially if you’re dealing with shuttle services that are autonomous for the last mile.