Sustaining transit with real-time information and disruption management

By Joseph Saporita

Investment in technology is no longer a luxury – for transit agencies to remain viable they absolutely must find ways to invest in technology solutions that make them competitive.

Today’s transit riders have alternative options that are often perceived to be more convenient. Rideshare options like Lyft and Uber all offer desirable, advantageous features.  For transit to be “sustainable” and competitive, agencies must consider that their customers do have other options and find ways to make riding public transportation just as convenient.

Providing real-time information has long been considered a pathway to improving the overall transit experience. The theory is, if a passenger has all the information they need all along their journey – even when there is an unexpected circumstance – they are more likely to leverage public transportation.

But implementing real time solutions can be costly and cash-strapped agencies have struggled to keep pace with technology enhancements causing some to fall short of passenger expectations.

There are notable examples of small-to-midsized agencies who have succeeded in updating their fleets with modern, RTPI solutions using a phased approach to deployment. The Alexandria Transit Company (DASH), Alexandria, VA, has, over a seven-year period, gradually modernized its 86-bus fleet with onboard and back office solutions that help them compete. “Technology is something that’s not really an option anymore,” says Josh Baker, CEO and general Manager at DASH. “It’s necessary to be a quality business – to be sustainable. And if we think about transit and sustainability as a business, we have to be adopting the best technology to make us efficient and effective at what we do,” says Baker.

But, perhaps there is another significant reason why it’s critical that transit remains a viable option. Increasingly, transit is playing a significant role in shaping local and regional economic competitiveness. According to the Economic Cost of Failing to Modernize Public Transportation, a recent report by the American Public Transportation Association, public transit is increasingly seen less as a staple to simply ensure mobility for segments of the workforce, but rather as a neighborhood and urban amenity necessary for places to compete for workers, conventions and other economic activities. As such, real-time passenger information is more important than ever.

Deploy real-time solutions

Solutions like CleverVision and BusTime® by Clever Devices tie together the entire experience for riders, so they always have the information they need to plan their journey.

With BusTime®, passengers get the real-time information they need so they no longer have to wonder when their bus will arrive. With real time information delivered to mobile devices and the agency web site, riders can see exactly when their bus will be at the designated stop, reducing the frustration they feel when delays happen. 

BusTime® can also deliver updated next stop information to onboard digital signage so riders already onboard know exactly what to expect. With CleverVision, an onboard digital signage solution that provides next-stop information, public service announcements and other useful information, as well as onboard advertising, passenger anxiety is reduced, and the overall experience is enhanced because riders know exactly what to expect.

Manage disruptions

Real-time information is critical in every circumstance particularly when the unexpected occurs. It happens every day. You publish a schedule, and some type of service disruption occurs that requires you to adjust it. Sometimes it is something big, like a major snowstorm that paralyzes your city or a water main break that clogs up a major roadway. However, often, it is just road congestion or a traffic accident that pushes your vehicles off schedule.

If your response process is manual and parts of your organization are not in the loop on the new plan of service, there can be confusion across departments. More importantly, when your customers do not know what’s going on; when they are waiting for a vehicle that doesn’t come or even worse, one passes them right by, they get frustrated and angry. Schedule changes not only create a customer service problem, in the age of social media it often creates a public relations problem.

Disruption management becomes key. Solutions like the Disruption Management Module for CleverCAD reduces the manual nature of the actions taken when a disruption happens and ensures that all systems get updated at the same time. Everyone from dispatchers, planners, and managers to drivers and riders have the same service information. The operation is unified, and everyone is aware of all the changes, as they occur, in real time.

With disruption management, riders are informed of service changes as they happen, guaranteeing that the information you provide to your customers is always in sync with your operations.

When you make a change to your schedule, the system automatically updates your onboard systems including your automated announcements and onboard signs. Digital wayside signage is also updated, so those waiting at a stop will know when a vehicle will arrive.

Just a few years ago, these elements were a luxury for many agencies. Now even the smallest agencies are finding that their passengers expect real-time information with as little disruption in service as possible. In a world where other transportation options exist, modernizing aging fleets and outfitting them with real-time passenger information solutions is critical to ensuring not only public transportation sustainability but local and regional economic growth as well.

Joseph Saporita serves as Senior Vice President of New Ventures for Clever Devices. Visit for more information.