Navigate the smart city with ITS

BUSRide spoke with Nick Ross, industry solutions manager, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) at Trapeze Group, about the “smart” transit ecosystem and what role transportation will play in the “smart city” of the future.

Nick Ross

Please describe your company’s expertise and capabilities in relation to ITS and the “smart city.”

Trapeze Group is a provider of several robust transportation-specific solutions — including scheduling and planning, CAD/AVL, asset management, demand response, trip planning and traveler information, business intelligence, and more. Trapeze Group can assist your “smart city” by having a complete ITS offering.

We aim to provide innovative services relating to multiple modes of transport and traffic management. With our solutions in place, we enable a transit agency’s personnel to be best informed to make safer, better coordinated and ‘smarter’ use of their transport networks. A “Smart City” cannot exist without “smart transit.”

What, in your estimation, makes a city “smart”?

Successful “smart cities” are forward-thinking and always looking to be better than they were yesterday. The “Big Three” — safety, efficiency, and reliability — are what the people demand. These three elements combine to form a complex system that can be used to increase productivity and passenger satisfaction. But it’s the connection between these elements that is the most important.

A “smart city” really means a connected city, and with this connectivity, we can increase the sharing of vital information throughout multiple systems. This enables key decision makers to use that information to gain better insight into how to approach future improvements in solutions like an intelligent transportation system. That will make way for innovative ways to ensure the “Big Three” are always achieved.

To what degree do proprietary systems and, conversely, open systems play in a smart city powered by transit ITS?

Systems that are more open are the future. In the past, proprietary systems were the norm, and today you’ll see many of them still in operation. We’re seeing open systems gain popularity simply because the industry is demanding that we all start moving in that direction. Open systems tie right into the “smart city” concept which, at its core, thrives off of the robust connectivity of many systems and increased sharing of information.

The one caveat is that proprietary and intellectual property concerns are evident when dealing with an open system. So there needs to be a certain decorum, legislation or some other means to govern the use of an open platform properly. It’s definitely the easiest way to help form a “smart city,” but there are still many items that need to be addressed before we fully embrace this reality.

In what measurable ways are predictive analytics improving transit reliability and service? How does “Big Data” factor into a modern “smart city”?

It’s easy to collect data, but it’s what you do with that data that’s the difficult part. The industry has come a long way in finding useful ways to analyze collected data and make it meaningful for end-users. Once you can make it meaningful, “Big Data” is critical in identifying those trends and thresholds to provide a “smart city” with impactful recommendations backed by real data. This ensures they are staying in front of issues before they arise and can efficiently head them off at the pass.

If you look at places like Denver or St. Louis, they’ve implemented programs that give them a better understanding of their asset condition and lifecycles. Most of this is based on creating a proper maintenance program and using predictive analytics. And when you have a better understanding of your working assets, you can have larger mean time between failure miles, increasing the productivity of your asset and providing a more reliable service. And buy-in from the public for a “smart city” and “smart transit” will only happen if reliability is a constant.

What best practices would you offer to cities and municipalities looking to upgrade ITS, i.e. preliminary steps to make it happen?

My recommendation is to be open to external sources of information. Invite solution providers and industry experts to your city and discuss with them what your vision for the future is. Look for funding opportunities to make it happen and get out to industry-specific conferences and see what’s available to you to achieve your goals.

I would also suggest assessing your entire software and hardware topology from the ground up. Collect the inputs and feedback from all departments within your agency. Once you have a good understanding of what you have currently —and have collectively brainstormed on where you want to be in the future, then you’re ready to move forward. Never stop asking “What’s next?”

What is the biggest development on the horizon related to smart transit and ITS?

The biggest buzz right now, and arguably the most exciting development, is around autonomous shuttles and buses. With projections that we’ll have 10 million self-driving consumer cars on the roads by 2020, public transportation will be no different. We already see autonomous shuttles and buses popping up in cities throughout North America and Europe. We’re seeing solution providers, both new and old, that are solely focused on the driverless public transit experience.

The “Big Three” are key here because if we can integrate these vehicles into our existing systems and maintain safe and efficient operations, we can fundamentally change how we discuss transit, city developments and infrastructure, and life and mobility needs. And ITS solution providers can be the bridge to share the data needed to make “smart cities,” “smart transit” and this change a reality. So, that’s where we need to focus our attention to ensure your “smart city” is a success.