The use of digital technologies in the public transport sector is gaining traction worldwide.

This includes high-capacity transit communication networks that enable connected vehicles, smart stations, and digitised, data-driven transit operations. These networks support intelligent applications that can make public transport more efficient, affordable, and safe, for both operators and passengers. With authorities eager to recover their ridership post-pandemic, the effective use of these technologies can help meet the urgent need for enhanced public transit systems.

Connected public transport – a foundation of smart communities

Today’s public transport systems must do more than move passengers from place to place. They should make cities more environmentally sustainable for people (instead of cars) and stay on track with meeting riders’ expectations. In this context, connected transport is shaping the future of mobility.

A recent World Bank report highlights the importance of a seamless public transport experience. It describes the availability of 5G network connectivity as a ‘revolutionary opportunity’ for urban mobility. It points to predictions that connectivity will allow cities to improve public operations, introduce dynamic transport planning, and generate revenue through the increased use of public transport.

Residents understand this opportunity well. As revealed in BAI’s Connectivity Outlook Report, over 90% of passengers believe continuous mobile coverage above and below ground is a feature of a world-class city. Similarly, 93% favour government investment in wireless and fibre optic networks for transport.

Deploying the proper infrastructure for smart, connected transport is the first step towards a network ecosystem that meets the full range of commuters’ needs. When these needs are met, transport use is maximised. As a result, cities become more traversable, with reduced vehicle congestion and greater accessibility to economic and social opportunities for residents.

Connected transport and the possibilities of real-time information

Residents, city managers and businesses of several global cities are already benefitting from connected transport technology and the real-time data it provides. Authorities invested in building smart cities are solving various municipal challenges by gleaning real-time data from their networks.

In Sunderland, UK, the City Council is working hard to solve the economic costs of congestion using smart technology. They plan to use data from their city-wide network to manage and predict traffic flow, refine air quality, and improve road safety. Other examples include San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit District’s digital network, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s public safety broadband network, and Transport for London’s Underground mobile connectivity network.

When real-time public transit information is complemented with user-friendly apps, the possibilities extend to making travel easier, safer and more convenient for commuters. With accurate, instantaneous information on vehicle arrival times, route congestion and delays, passengers can make informed choices about their commutes, including adjusting the route to be taken with information about departure and arrival times. Smart parking apps can direct drivers to available spots – no more time wasted on circling city blocks.

How connected transport meets passenger expectations

Investment in smart cities is all about making it easier, safer, and better to live in these cities, and connected transport is key to this. It allows city managers to focus on meeting passenger expectations with digital technology that helps both riders and transport operators.

Some commuter expectations are evergreen: safety, cleanliness, efficiency and affordability. More recent is the need to stay connected, which requires continuous mobile coverage above and below ground. This is especially relevant in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and our widespread work-from-anywhere culture. The technology to serve this need is available, underpinned by 5G network connectivity.

Some of these benefits (and more) are already a reality in cities such as San Francisco, London, Toronto, New York and Hong Kong. Public transport users in these cities can – or soon will – enjoy onboard entertainment, information displays, smart ticketing, personalised services and enhanced safety. These commuters are more productive when they travel and their journeys are better, making their lives simpler and more enjoyable.

Safety is a primary concern for passengers. About 74% of passengers rank safety as their top priority for public transport systems. Similarly, 68% want to see connectivity-related safety features, such as smart monitoring and surveillance systems that help operators manage hazards, intrusions, railway crossings, and driver and passenger behaviour. Real-time CCTV video analytics can assess and report problems such as overcrowding, trespassing and abnormal behaviour. In addition, audio sensors can detect and send alerts on unexpected sounds such as breaking glass or vocally distressed passengers.

Improving operational safety starts with connected vehicles. Connectivity makes it possible to track equipment performance and identify potential issues such as slow-closing doors, defective brakes or over-temperature axle bearing before they become a safety hazard. These predictive maintenance measures, trend analyses and real-time alerts assist with determining when to take proactive, preventative action, helping to reduce costs and minimise downtime.

Efficiency expectations can be met with data-driven operations management. This uses the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide predictive operational scenarios to optimise efficiency. These scenarios offer forecasts for staff and train schedules, station crowd management, and station layout planning. For passengers, interactive displays connected to real-time data sources provide easily accessible help points. Also, before commuters step aboard, smart ticket systems linked to apps and biometric ticket barriers can facilitate accurate, seamless fare calculation at entry and exit.

And what about affordability? In the same report, the World Bank is optimistic that connected transport’s operational efficiency will attract more riders and revenue, while reducing operating costs. In turn, these benefits could ‘reduce tariffs and increase affordability for low-income users, who would benefit from improved monitoring and control systems for smart cards … and the ability of public transport agencies to better target the subsidies for public transport users …’, the report states.

Smart cities with connected (and interconnected) transport options make local travel more convenient, efficient, sustainable, and safe. When these transport networks are combined with connected communities  and venues, the foundations for a smart city are in place. This foundation offers dynamic networks across cities and spaces, enabling the creation of engaged, thriving communities.

In our next blog in this ‘Building the smart cities of the future’ series, we’ll look at connected venues and their role in building smart communities.

You can read the other blogs in the series here:

  1. Building the smart cities of the future
  2. How connected communities enable smart cities