In the second part of our fifth anniversary chat with Brian O’Rourke, we discuss public transit and what the perfect transit system might look like.
How did you first get interested in transit?
“What got me into transit was Alan (Farrelly, CitySwift co-founder) growing up in the industry. I went to school with Alan, and buses were definitely in his blood! His family started a bus company back in the 1980s – they started with one bus and built quite a successful business.
Whenever Alan and I got together, we’d discuss their family firm and - with my computing background - how technology, data and innovation could help solve some of its challenges. Those conversations were really the catalyst for CitySwift.”
"Whenever Alan and I got together, we’d discuss their family firm and - with my computing background - how technology, data and innovation could help solve some of its challenges.”
What are the key benefits of better public transit?
“Public transit offers huge societal, environmental and economic benefits. Affordable, reliable public transit can be a great leveler. Access to transportation enables inclusion, equality… Everybody has an equal opportunity to get to a place of education, or a place of work.
With climate change, we have to reverse the trend of increasing private car usage and unnecessary emissions. Public transit is the cleanest, most efficient, most sustainable way to move large volumes of people around the world’s towns and cities – it’s an essential part of any city’s infrastructure.
Finally, a good public transit infrastructure is key to economic recovery. Every Dollar invested into public transit results in a five to nine Dollar return to a city’s GDP.”
Are there any emerging themes or upcoming events in the transit and mobility space that you’re particularly excited about?
“There are lots of exciting things happening within the transit sector and smart cities in general. The core one for us is the movement to be data driven. When we first first set out on this journey five years ago, data wasn't a big thing, especially within public transit. The industry generates a huge amount of data and there’s now a real push to make better use of it – which is fantastic as it’s an area that can thrive from being more data-driven.
Other key themes are the electrification of public transit systems and an increase in government funding, with investment that might previously have been spent on private vehicle infrastructure instead being used to improve public transit and encourage people away from using their cars for every journey.”
"The industry generates a huge amount of data and there’s now a real push to make better use of it – which is fantastic as it’s an area that can thrive from being more data-driven."
What would the perfect public transit system look like?
“The perfect public transit system is one that more and more people choose to use. By being more data-driven, transit systems can become more efficient, more reliable and more joined-up with other mobility methods, which can only be a good thing for ridership numbers.
A perfect transit system also has to be sustainable – we’re getting there with more and more electric and hydrogen-powered buses, but these need to be implemented in the right way, with the right infrastructure around them.
And a perfect transit system should be dynamic. Most public transit systems are currently fixed. The timetable, the route and the vehicle type are all decided weeks in advance – then there’s an unexpected event - a car crash, a storm, a heatwave, even a pandemic - and transit networks take far too long to respond.
Finally, for a perfect public transit system to exist, we need to rethink our towns and cities, rethink how our roads are used… bus priority measures, pedestrianisation, car-free city centers… These things will all improve the efficiency of public transit and make towns and cities less congested, cleaner, nicer places to live.
I don’t think we’ve seen a perfect public transit system yet, anywhere in the world. But I think it will come... and soon. We want people to think ‘Why would I use my car when the quality of public transit is this good?’ When we get to that stage, then we’ve reached utopia.”
"I don’t think we’ve seen a perfect public transit system yet, anywhere in the world. But I think it will come... and soon."
What role will CitySwift play in achieving this?
“At CitySwift, we’re collecting and collating data that has never been used before. We’re taking unique data sources that were siloed away and bringing them together to make rich datasets that can inform decision making to make public transit networks better – more reliable, more efficient, cheaper to run. And as public transit gets better, more people will start to use it.
There are things in our product roadmap which I believe will become game-changers: real-time systems that will help public transit networks become much more dynamic. Smarter transportation needs to become a foundational cornerstone of smarter cities, and I’m very excited about the key role CitySwift will play in making that happen.”
"Smarter transportation needs to become a foundational cornerstone of smarter cities, and I’m very excited about the key role CitySwift will play in making that happen.”