By Dave Roat, Strategy Manager at Cubic Transportation Systems
Travel would be so much simpler if access was centralised, with a one-stop solution granting passage from end-to-end, no matter the distance. Giant strides are being made in this area, with connectivity transforming public transit for commuters and tourists. Contactless device-based payment has become the new norm in London, and across Britain cities are growing smarter.
We are now on the brink of biometrics spilling out of sci-fi and into the subway. Our faces could soon serve as our travel pass, or you may be able to scan your palm as an alternative method of payment. There are still trials to be done, but the technological direction of travel is clear.
This proliferation of connectivity is largely a result of falling costs and increasing availability of sophisticated off-the-shelf components that can easily be integrated with any project. The tools now at our disposal mean an IoT solution exists for most applications. In ticketing, NFC readers have brought about one of the biggest revolutions transport has seen in decades, feeding back key data-driven insights that will propel Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) over the coming years.
Working smarter, not harder
Widespread adoption of smartphones is creating new possibilities for public transport operators. NFC has been the centre of attention in recent years as the premier contactless solution, but Bluetooth has been overlooked. The advancements in Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) components means this is set to change, making contactless solutions effective without even taking the device out of your pocket.
Another benefit that IoT will deliver is significant advancements in real-time monitoring that will result in greater efficiency.
The transport sector has embraced the drive for efficiency wholeheartedly. Smart cities must make use of IoT technologies. Without a means to monitor performance and usage, we cannot provide the reactive service that will define the cities of tomorrow. IoT is a means to connect hardware, but to make a smart city, introducing a layer that makes the collected data useful to the traveller and the city is required. Today that is done by mathematical algorithms, tomorrow it will be done by artificial intelligence.
As congestion threatens to strangle mobility, it is clear a push for more physical infrastructure will not be enough. It is not a time for brute-forcing the system in an attempt to outrun the population growth – transport doesn’t work that way. Instead, a focus on managing the existing infrastructure as cleverly as possible is needed.
It may be controversial to say, but there are enough trains, enough buses, and more than enough cars. What is missing is flexibility – people find themselves tied to a rigid nine-to-five, despite changing attitudes to work. In the domain of connectivity, the workplace is leagues ahead, and the number of people choosing to work from home is on the increase.
This expanding flexibility can be leveraged by informing commuters of any issues to their usual route, taking data from on-board sensors to convince those who are able to alter their schedules or work from home to do so. By providing objective information on overcrowding or delays, people will make the decision to travel later, filling unused capacity on off-peak services instead of running peak services over capacity.
Bringing IT all together
The simplest way to address the issue of overcrowding and delays is through a system that integrates live transport data across various modes of transport with an individual travel account. Whether this is tied to your face or your phone, the data collected at the point-of-authentication will contribute to a back-office database capable of analysing capacity in real-time.
At the device level, a single-purpose travel account would depend on a network of connected components to build a unified picture of the system. While facial recognition may eventually provide a promising solution for non-obstructive ticket checkpoints, the first iteration will likely be based on Bluetooth. Similarly, the first hands-free ticket authentication system will likely use BLE beacons: one at-a-distance in the station, to prompt devices to prepare for authentication, and one at close range on the barriers to detect the device’s approach.
The ability to retrofit microdevice systems, such as Bluetooth, to existing gate hardware exemplifies the huge potential for improving efficiency. On the reporting end, various sources of data will allow would-be travellers to pre-emptively avoid any delays on their route. This data will aggregate CCTV analysis of bus routes, bicycle hire availability, station gate or platform queues, and many other individual sensors across the system. Informing travellers allows them to make informed decisions about their travel plans for the day and organically reduce load on the system.
There are high expectations for the IoT and the promise that it will tease efficiency out of every aspect of daily life. Centralised data management will lay the groundwork for the IoT revolution in transport. Having that in place will allow travellers to make informed decisions, and grant access to whatever means of public transport suits them best.