As part of his role as Head of Product, Solutions and Innovation, Chris Burchett oversees BAI’s connected transit product strategy, including the development of our next generation connected transport solutions. As part of our ‘World of connectivity – in celebration of World Wi-Fi Day’ series, we asked Chris to tell us more about bringing connectivity onboard and what this means for operators.

Taking a holistic approach to network deployments is critical to realising their full value. While many transit authorities already offer passenger Wi-Fi, it’s important that these networks are leveraged for the operational enhancements they can support as well. For this part of our World Wi-Fi Day series, we’ll explore the incredible capabilities of connected vehicles, and how they offer far more than just passenger Wi-Fi.

Transport systems of the future need to expand connectivity to their fleets to realise the full potential of their wireless networks. A connected vehicle, leveraging a wireless data link, can support more intelligent, interoperable applications than connectivity deployed to only stationary segments of systems, like stops, stations, or depots. Without this seamless network footprint, all the benefits connectivity offers – improved operations, enhanced monitoring, and better passenger experiences – end at the edge of the station platform.

Bringing connectivity onboard not only helps keep passengers connected and entertained, but also raises opportunities to glean powerful, real-time data on vehicle telemetry, health, location, and route usage. These insights allow operators to take advantage of many public-facing and operational benefits, which are becoming increasingly more important as we return to a post-pandemic ‘new normal’.

Connected vehicles help meet rising rider expectations

As pandemic-related restrictions ease globally, many are back on the move, and with that comes heightened passenger expectations that their transport systems do more than get them from A to B. Our latest Connectivity Outlook Report shows that riders around the world expect to receive timely information about arrival times, crowding, service status and connections. A robust network onboard transport fleets can help operators meet, and even exceed, those amplified expectations.

Real-time vehicle tracking has traditionally been challenging for transport systems with large fleets that cover expansive areas. Onboard connectivity can support enhanced monitoring systems to offer operators visibility into vehicle service status, location, and crowding. With this comprehensive view, operators can create more effective route schedules, or make service adjustments on the fly to prevent vehicle bunching or onboard crowding. The data feed can also be used to send automated alerts when unexpected delays occur, and even push alternate routing information to passengers. Communicating trip delays proactively would help alleviate the frustrations that inevitably come with unexpected commuting issues, helping maintain rider satisfaction. As post-pandemic travel is poised to rapidly expand, connectivity-driven solutions and insights will prove key to meeting passenger needs.

Onboard network data can also offer operators passenger flow information across their systems. These insights can help keep crowding at bay and facilitate social distancing measures, maximising public safety and re-instilling commuter confidence in public transport. Operators can use historical passenger flow data to ascertain peak times, seasonality or determine route usage across stops, helping them make better informed decisions about routing and service scheduling.

Combining onboard passenger flow data with external sources on population growth and density projections would offer operators a more finely tuned ability to identify and plan for month-over-month or year-over-year variations in passenger volumes — adjusting fares, routes, schedules, or capacity to relieve congestion and make trips more efficient.

We are already witnessing the powerful impact passenger flow data has on transport operations, with the crowding detection solution we are delivering to our Toronto transport partner, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Device association data captured from our Wi-Fi network helps operators manage and monitor crowding conditions at subway stations in real-time, enabling them to make service adjustments before overcrowding occurs. Using this network data not only helps improve subway operations, but also creates a sense of security for commuters. Bringing this monitoring capability onboard transport vehicles would give operators greater visibility into passenger flows throughout their systems, helping them better understand route connections and usage.

Enhanced insights to advance operations

Deploying onboard connectivity effectively converts fleets of vehicles into mobile digital hubs, opening up a wealth of insights and opportunities to improve operations. Onboard networks can support live monitoring of a vehicle’s status and alarms, as well as provide longer-term trends and actionable insights.

Vehicle health monitoring systems, supported by the same infrastructure that provides passenger connectivity, can give operators a clear picture into day-to-day vehicle conditions. Should a piece of equipment onboard malfunction or take longer to respond than expected, operators can leverage connected monitoring systems to remotely identify the issue before it causes costly downtime or disrupts commutes.

Historical vehicle health data could be stored in the cloud to provide the basis for longer-term analysis, forming an empirical fact base for proactive and predictive maintenance scheduling. Vehicle data such as axle temperature, vibration and alignment could be correlated with factors like equipment age and external sources, such as weather reports, to further predict equipment reliability for efficient maintenance and spares management. These monitoring systems could even be configured to track usage, mileage, driving behaviour, fuel efficiency and vehicle assets such as doors and windows, helping keep fleets, and therefore passengers, moving as much as possible.

Embark on a connected commute

There’s no doubt that connected vehicles play a vital role in strengthening links across communities, removing barriers to the spaces where we live, work and play. By leveraging connectivity to introduce more automation, gain new insights and streamline operations, public transport systems can enable greater access to the economic and social opportunities that shape our lives. For those who rely on public transport in their daily lives, improving access to these opportunities is particularly significant.

So the decisions operators make are about more than service scheduling and route planning; they ultimately help foster greater social equity and reduce social disparities for all. With high-capacity onboard networks making services faster, safer, more enjoyable, and easier to use, transit systems can become even greater catalysts for economic growth and social well-being.

Read more in our series: 

A world of connectivity – celebrating World Wi-Fi Day

Celebrating World Wi-Fi Day – connecting Sunderland