Senior figures around the world have said that the global economy must ensure a ‘green recovery’ that helps tackle climate change. Mass transit should be at the forefront of this.
When lockdown restrictions ease around the world, our industry must ensure a smooth recovery and a safe return to mass transit. Data should be at the heart of the process, to ensure the right decisions are made at the right time.
Incremental changes to timetables
Having rapidly scaled back timetables ahead of and during lockdowns, transit operators will need to scale up their operations again. They will be expected to meet demand while enabling passengers to maintain physical distancing. This will be a considerable challenge, especially at peak times.
New timetables will need to reflect a world where the pattern of demand has changed. Transit operators have always had to respond to changes in their environment, but when has so much changed in such a short period? For example, many people will be able to continue working at home for the foreseeable future and for some this may be a permanent transition. Indeed, research released by Transport Focus throughout the pandemic has found that increasing numbers of people expect to be working from home more often in the future. By early June this had reached 49% of the 2,000 people polled by the watchdog. Additionally, grocery market share figures from Kantar show that food shoppers are purchasing their groceries closer to home.
These changes will need to be reflected in timetables and data will provide valuable insights into how demand has changed and how mass transit networks should cater for it. Those who fail to properly harness the power of data risk wasting resources where they are not needed at a time when they must be more efficient than ever before.
Data will provide valuable insights into how demand has changed and how mass transit networks should cater for it.
Real-time and predictive passenger data
Smartphone apps with real-time arrival data are often the first step when making a journey. They are therefore a key tool in helping to reduce the number of people waiting at bus stops and stations during peak hours. It is also possible to share load-factor information, to aid riders’ decision-making about which bus to catch.
Technology should also be used to reassure passengers about their own personal safety and wellbeing. Many travel apps already provide information such as the registration plate of the vehicle operating the service they are waiting for. Technology firm Passenger has worked to expand this information to include not only information about whether the vehicle is equipped with features such as free Wi-Fi and charging points, but when it was last cleaned and information about the operator’s cleaning regime. This is obviously a potentially valuable tool in breaking down negative perceptions about vehicle cleanliness and boosting passenger confidence.
Go-Ahead has rolled out an innovative ‘When2Travel’ tool for bus passengers. Along with physical distancing, wearing face coverings, enhanced cleaning and hygiene, it aims to give confidence to use buses as customers return to work and school.
Designed in collaboration with CitySwift, it provides timetables with dynamic color-coded bus capacity predictions to help passengers plan safe, physically-distanced journeys. Using artificial intelligence and algorithms that learn from recorded passenger use, the data updates dynamically to provide a level of detail that includes point-to-point within each timetabled journey.
Using artificial intelligence and algorithms that learn from recorded passenger use, the data updates dynamically to provide a level of detail that includes point-to-point within each timetabled journey.
First Bus is launching an update to its mobile app that will enable customers to live track not only the location of their next bus but also its available capacity, as part of its efforts to enable its customers physical distance onboard its services. Meanwhile, Transdev Blazefield has launched a similar crowd-sourced innovation on its website and mobile app that allows riders to see how many people are already on board the bus they plan to use.
Data is the key
We have seen how quickly governments, companies, and individuals have been able to adapt their traditional habits over recent weeks to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Data will be the key to enabling transit operators to adapt to changes required of it in the weeks, months, and years ahead.