Rail users around the world want data-driven services, such as safety information and real-time trip updates, to improve their commutes. They want governments and transit authorities to invest in these services and see the value of leveraging anonymized data to support them.

BAI Communications’ 2020 Connectivity outlook report surveyed more than 2,400 rail users across five global cities (Hong Kong, London, New York, Sydney and Toronto) about their needs, experiences and expectations of public transport.

From a technology point of view, the report had three key findings: that personalized, data-based services are in high demand; that the call for 5G wireless is strong and growing; and that the public is ready for connectivity to be available throughout public spaces.

We conducted our survey in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its findings offer valuable insights for public transport operators. Specifically, the demand for safe and secure public transport has grown, on the back of data-driven operational enhancements and personalized information services.

Data-driven services are in demand

Advanced mobile networks and smart technology will be critical for renewing confidence in the post-pandemic world.

One of the report’s findings was that transit riders today want a smarter and safer travel experience. Ninety-five per cent of rail users said they’d be more likely to use their city’s transport network if it implemented technology-driven solutions. By leveraging existing connectivity to modernize legacy systems, such as signalling and service scheduling, operators gain an enhanced view of real-time conditions throughout their transit system. Integrating systems and data feeds can maximize those gains by optimizing resource allocation and service reliability. Riders therefore benefit from a smoother commuting experience. So it’s no surprise that three quarters (75%) of commuters believe an evolved rail network would provide them with benefits to their well-being.

Transport systems are data-rich environments, and people understand the benefits this can offer to enhance transport services in terms of reliability and safety. According to the report, four in five rail users (81%) are at least somewhat comfortable with transport operators using their anonymized data to improve transport systems. In Toronto, BAI developed a solution that leverages anonymized device data to develop insights into station foot traffic and overcrowding conditions. Ensuring that riders understand how aggregate data is being used and how it optimizes operations, is crucial in establishing trust.

By investing in smart city solutions, such as smart notifications, transport operators can also deliver data-driven improvements using Internet of Things (IoT): 91% of rail users are at least somewhat comfortable with the idea of receiving customized alerts about problems or delays along their regular route. The impact of personalizing existing notification systems can create a cascading, positive effect for operators and transit riders. Relevant trip information allows transit riders to make better informed decisions about their journey. Operators can also use smart notifications to ‘nudge’ riders towards alternate routes – proactively relieving congestion before it becomes an issue.

Enabling analytics-backed operations

Capturing continuous streams of information and data from trackside networks and platforms has many benefits for transport operators. When fed to a machine learning system, anonymized data can drive better decision-making – reducing train delays, optimizing schedules and providing people with real-time information and service updates.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) also has applications in security and surveillance, helping keep transit riders safe when it comes to issues such as managing overcrowding and social distancing on platforms and on trains.

Future applications to support current and emerging use cases will require ingesting and analyzing vast amounts of data in real-time. 5G is the optimal infrastructure option to handle data at the scale and speed required.

Building the stations of the future

Now is the time to invest in 5G infrastructure to support data analytics and AI.

Seizing the opportunities that this investment will provide will position government, businesses and transport authorities to deliver numerous public and private benefits, with improved safety and security just the beginning. Further benefits include creating new business opportunities, facilitating innovation, transforming public spaces and providing opportunities for citizens to improve their personal and professional wellbeing.

Additional solutions such as smart ticketing, smart security and asset monitoring can combine to enable data-driven transit operations and ‘stations of the future’. Transport operators can enhance public safety with real-time crowding and passenger number management. Live service updates and analytics-based strategic plans can improve service. And transit riders can enjoy a transformed experience with fast, reliable and pervasive connectivity.