Digital transformation in public transit: an expert discussion

On 20 May 2020, LIT Transit hosted a webinar that took bus operators on a digital transformation journey. Urša Hribernik, Head of Mobility at LIT Transit, facilitated an expert discussion on topical digital transformation themes, featuring three different sized operators from different parts of the world:

Together they identified some of the essential elements that make for a successful path to digital transformation.

Moving at a pace suited to the environment, with a focus on achieving standardization, using data to understand trends and optimize operations, and embracing the opportunities of multi-modal travel are all part of the mix coupled with restrictions that corona brought to the table.

But the most important ingredient: technology.

We explore some of the key themes here. Hear the full discussion to discover new ideas and strategies on how to cope with digital challenges.

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The changing role of digital in transit

The last decade has seen the explosion of transit data standardization in the form of GTFS, SIRI and others, as well as the provision of real-time data for trip planning. However, according to Mike many smaller transit agencies got lost in the mix and all agencies really lack standard ways of processing the output AVL data:

“The Transit IT landscape moves at the speed of transit, that is about 11mph (18kmph)! We are making steady progress, but as an industry we are not maximizing the investments in technologies. We are at a unique point right now in that we have an unfortunate opportunity to pause and reshape the transit IT landscape. We are going to have to rethink the criticality of performance data as society slowly comes back to the new normal.”

The same challenges, different pace

The scale, scope and speed of the transformation in Cairo has been phenomenal. Tayssir points out that Egypt started later than its European counterparts with a lot of catching up to do – this is common of other countries with less organized transit infrastructure such as Nigeria, Mexico and India. But as Tayssir reiterated, you are dealing with the same concepts regardless of the locale:

“You need an operation room using an operation management system to dispatch and monitor buses, to see and control what is happening on the ground. You need a digital solution for ticketing and automated fare collection, to capture revenues. The priority for management is revenue and so we link the operation management and automated fare collection data to a business intelligence tool so we can track performance and increase revenue. In terms of day-to-day operations, to a large extent you can predict ridership demand and traffic patterns, and analyzed against revenue requirements you organize your operations around this.”

Unifying systems across a city or region

Mike says:

“Some Transdev sites are essentially a rolling museum of piecemeal legacy ITS technology solutions in use. Often with systems that are struggling to keep up with the times. Legacy systems can include anything from vehicle tracking systems to on-time performance technology, quite often shrouded in manual data management processes”.

How do you modernize and standardize, and bring everything together?

According to Borut, who was involved with several acquisitions of bus operators at Nomago, it can be challenging to bring everything into one master operations control and reporting structure, but you do not need to start from scratch:

“You need to carefully analyze the existing ecosystem to see what you can learn from it and what you can reuse. You also need to pay attention to various specifics and unify processes. And of course: experts with excellent IT, organizational and communication skills are mandatory.”

Transdev is implementing a telematics system as an extra overlay to the various legacy technologies, attempting to feed into a unitary data source and put on-time performance metrics into one platform.


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The opportunities of going multimodal

With the advent of new mobility providers, on-demand services and mobility as a service, bus operators need to be proactive in defining their role in this ecosystem.

“Fixed route and new mobility providers can co-exist, and the key is to view it as an opportunity, not a challenge. We are developing apps to allow people to book rides and offer travelers a seamless transition between fixed route and last mile options,” said Mike.

Nomago’s entire strategy is based around offering mobility solutions that are service orientated, like their Charter Platform and InterCity Platform, including multimodality:

“I believe that bus operators are a key ingredient of the ecosystem,” adds Borut.

Tayssir sees a huge opportunity in Cairo where metro, buses, minibuses, tuk-tuks and taxis co-exist to allow 20 million people to get from A to B.


Using technology to tap into new segments

With 100% mobile penetration in Egypt and the need to offer a decent service at an affordable price, Cairo changed underlying behavior patterns to attract more travelers. Besides changing the quality and comfort of the service, the city looked at how it could use its technology to increase ridership.

“Transit information on Google Maps in Cairo was non-existent, so we saw an opportunity to change that. We put the Metro data into Google for free along with the real-time data from the Mwasalat MISR system so passengers could plan their journeys from A-B. This resulted in millions of people being exposed to the bus service, where before they were not.”

This achievement has been coined as the middle-class paradox, where Cairo successfully opened bus services to the middle classes.

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How are operators responding to the pandemic?

Some operators have completely stopped during pandemic, on the other hand, New World First Bus and Citybus maintained carefully managed operations in Hong Kong, a city that effectively contained COVID-19 transmission. Emergency measures have been implemented to varying degrees across the sector, but one common theme is the need to keeping passengers fully informed about changes and restrictions.

Borut told us that: “We inform passengers in various ways – most of our info points are open and we also have a hotline, also online, with pictograms or video announcements, on the vehicles and on the Papercast e-paper displays on our bus stops”.

With regards to managing passenger loads, Transdev has added messages to the destination signs on the exterior of the bus:

“Sometimes the oldest technology is the most familiar. We are also attempting to monitor passenger loads with automatic passenger counting (APC) at a few locations, but the accuracy means it’s mostly useful for the operator to proactively check if vehicles are overloaded”.

Ideas for text-to-speech for getting messages out to customers about face-masks and distancing messages are new and take time for operators to adapt.


Final thoughts

The current situation presents an opportunity to reimagine the future of mobility in cities. Public transport has a tremendous role to play in rejuvenating societies as we emerge from the pandemic. Technology will empower cities to truly maximize these opportunities – from standardizing technology and unlocking performance data for truly optimized services, through to attracting previously untapped segments of society to use public transport or make the shift to sustainable multi-modal services.

This was an excellent discussion and we thank our industry experts – Mike, Borut and Tayssir – for their valuable insight, and our audience for joining the webinar. Hear the full discussion to discover new ideas and strategies on how to cope with digital challenges.

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Smart mobility technology from LIT Transit is the foundation of some of the advancements that have been made by our panelists, shared in the webinar and outlined here in this summary. If you would like to know how we could do that same for you, please get in contact.

Posted 22nd May 2020 By