Pioneering digital transformation to meet the demands of modern transit
Digital transformation quick fire Q&A with Mike Haynes of Transdev North America
Did you catch our recent webinar on digital transformation in public transit? Do not worry if you missed it! You can watch it on-demand here or catch the quick fire Q&A interviews with our panelists in a snappy 10 minute read.
Thanks for joining us Mike, please could you introduce yourself?
I started with Transdev one year ago after a 16-year career with the Chicago Transit Authority as Manager of IT Transit Systems Support. With a Masters in Transportation Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, I have been deep in the transportation field for some time but latched onto transit early on in my career.
Transdev is one of North America’s largest private operators. We work with about 150 different clients across airports, public and some private operations.
What is your priority right now?
I work with our field sites to make their lives easier. I help with legacy CAD/AVL systems, on-time performance, operational best practices and the often neglected but critical GTFS feed support. I went headfirst into the financial and operational data, and quickly realized we were poised for some key data transformations across the company.
Could you share the big picture at Transdev?
We have a digital transformation vision to take what we have and develop it to meet the demands of modern transit in the following ways:
TOM Vision: Our environment is formulated around this system which is our financial and KPI world – we are pumping much more of our analytics into PowerBI.
Vehicle Dispatch System (VDS): An in-house developed system for daily service operations and all aspects of resource management – this will remain the same as a core system.
Power BI: This is set up with safety metrics, operator efficiency ratios and recruitment trackers – it will evolve with enhanced, dynamic and drillable data and analytics.
CAD/AVL: We currently have a disparate rolling museum of CAL/AVL systems – we are consolidating with APIs to standardize and centralize our on-time performance metrics.
Excel: We are heavily reliant on Excel for both local and corporate management – our plan is to use it as an ad-hoc end user tool only.
The CAD/AVL transformation is near and dear to me, and what I am working on right now.
Could you elaborate on how you are tackling this?
Having spent 16 years with a large public operator, when I started at Transdev I was amazed at the piecemeal technology solutions out there – a rolling museum of Transit ITS.
I started by working up what technologies each site is using for on-time performance. A site survey enabled us to identify sites that do not have a valid GTFS or real-time feed, and which we could migrate to new standard technology. We often inherit legacy systems, but the technology remains under client control and we are often locked out of the administration side. Our internal system are struggling to keep up with the times.
What works for paratransit is different to what is needed for fixed route. In the US there is relatively good standardization for paratransit, everything is under just a few vendors, so it is solid and easier to manage.
Whereas fixed route is a disparate world of different vehicle tracking systems. How do we bring them all together? I have been working with LIT to take feeds from various systems into a consolidated reporting solution so we can bring on-time management together into a master operation reporting structure. We are piloting it with the intention of replicating it across our sites.
Can you tell us more about some of the work you are doing here?
We are working with LIT to consolidate pull out departure analysis in New Orleans. We now know exactly when buses break the gate – which is important to us as an operator – using virtual geofences. The data gives us valuable insights and better control over on-time performance.
LIT spun this up for us in a matter of 4-6 weeks and we are now finalizing a few process improvements and data flows. The vision is to set this up in New Orleans and replicate at our other sites where we have good quality API data: Fairfax, Virginia, Long Island Bus and we are starting to experiment in Los Angeles. This is just one example of some of the stuff we are doing.
How have you seen the role of digital change in the last 20 years? Where are we now?
While there are a lot of data sources available, we lack the full integration and actionability of the information available. 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, many smaller transit agencies got lost in the mix – they ran around putting AVL on the vehicles – and all agencies 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 we have made in these technologies yet. 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 a new normal.
Talking about the current situation with COVID-19, some operators completely stopped during pandemic. On the other hand, our customers from Hong Kong have maintained operations throughout. What is the current state of your operations?
There is a lot going on here! We have all states of operation in play. Most sites have gone fare-free, with rear-door boarding and masks required for drivers and customers. Many sites have added messages to the destination sign system on the exterior of the bus – sometimes the oldest technology is the most familiar and the go-to. Keeping up with changes to schedules is a huge challenge and extra mid-pick schedule changes!
We are attempting to monitor passenger loads with APCs at a few locations, but the accuracies lend it to mostly a proactive inquiry of the operator to check in if they are overloaded.
The larger concern is we used to have the concept of “Choice Riders” and now we are going to have “Choice Commuters”. Gone will be the days of higher ridership on a snow day as people will simply choose not to commute at all. We expect new trends such as lower ridership on Fridays and even Mondays as people will simply work from home. The news that Twitter will allow employees to work remotely “forever” is of great interest right now – will others follow?
Many agencies stopped or limited fare collection. Many are considering going contactless. What is your stance?
Some have gone fare-free and that is a challenge. Many agencies rely on the farebox and our private operator revenue is sometimes tied to it, and we also rely on it for ridership numbers! US agencies need to report their ridership to the Federal Transit Administration as part of funding calculations and the farebox is typically the ground truth. Ridership tracking right now is a huge challenge.
With the advent of new mobility providers and mobility as a service – how do you approach your role as a bus operator in this ecosystem?
I think that both fixed-route and new mobility providers can co-exist. There is a lot of talk about the last mile with a seamless transition for the passenger and a single source of payment. For example, integrating transit with bike sharing or autonomous vehicles in office parks or a university campus setting.
Transdev has done some great work in the MaaS space, essentially developing apps for booking rides and dispatch management. There are a lot of parallels between mobility as a service and paratransit booking so a lot can be learned from these experiences. We are also doing some autonomous vehicle work, both in the US and France.
How do you approach transformations at Transdev?
I can distill the process we take into 3 steps:
Understand: Through site surveys and collaboration using tools like MS Teams to gather and consolidate information on what is going on.
Data Team: Transdev North America formed a data team, a new group within IT tasked with consolidation and setting standards.
Start Small: Focus on some smaller things that will have an impact, like safety, on-time performance or gate departure. But DREAM BIG!
But do not lose sight of dreaming large. Try to figure out how you are going to bring all the pieces together for the long term.
A huge thank you to Mike for giving us a view into his world and for his valuable insight. Hear the full discussion to discover new ideas and strategies on how to cope with digital challenges – now available to watch here.
Smart mobility technology from LIT Transit is the foundation of some of the projects Mike has covered in his interview. If you would like to know how we could do that same for you, please get in contact.