31 October is World Cities Day, an occasion to promote global interest in urbanisation and its sustainable development. BAI Communications designs, builds and operates smart infrastructure in cities around the globe, so we asked some of our leading minds to discuss urbanisation’s future, opportunities, and challenges. For the final article in our series, we asked Dion Cunningham, a senior program manager in our Toronto office, how BAI Communications has contributed to World Cities Day’s theme of ‘Better City, Better Life’.

We all know the world is becoming more urbanised, and with good reason. Urban centres offer expanded economic opportunities, including better access to infrastructure, public services, jobs and education. By 2007, more than half of the world’s population was living in cities. The UN estimates that by 2050, that number will increase to more than two-thirds.

Toronto has a population of more than 3 million in the metropolitan area and more than 5.9 million in the greater Toronto area, making it the fourth-largest city in North America.

Torontonians on the move

As city populations grow, so do demands on infrastructure and services like public transport and data networks. It won’t surprise you to learn that a large, dense population in an expansive, modern city requires an efficient and robust public transport network.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operates bus, paratransit (Wheel-Trans), streetcar and subway services across the city. The network includes four subway transit lines (comprised of 75 stations), 11 streetcar lines and more than 140 bus routes. It’s a busy system, carrying more than 500 million passengers annually.

BAI Communications designed, funded, built and operates the Toronto subway’s cellular, Wi-Fi and fibre optic network. On an average weekday, we provide 1.7 million passengers with connectivity across all TTC stations, with the network’s fibre footprint spanning more than 75 kilometres.

Why does subway connectivity matter? It offers more than just access to passenger devices. It also helps support Smart City initiatives, creating a ‘halo’ of benefits around safety and transport operations.

The need for connectivity

Our recent ‘Continuous Connectivity’ research report surveyed commuters in Toronto, as well as Hong Kong, London, New York and Sydney about smart cities, public transport, and connectivity.

At a high level, the report came to three conclusions:

  • innovative transport systems are a defining feature of smart, world-class cities
  • commuters require continuous connectivity to realise the benefits of living in a Smart City
  • continuous connectivity transforms cities, helping citizens be happier and more productive, whilst helping organisations be more innovative and prosperous.

More specifically, its findings confirmed what we’ve observed about Toronto commuters. They universally expect transit services to be safe, reliable and on-time. Similarly, they expect seamless connectivity above and below ground when travelling, and most of the commuting activities they enjoy require or are enhanced by digital connectivity.

When the report dug deeper into what connectivity means to commuters and how it could improve their lives – it revealed some interesting insights.

In total, 80 per cent of Torontonians surveyed said they’d benefit from connectivity while commuting. These benefits include changes to working hours (50 per cent); career improvements (47 per cent) and location and housing changes (43 per cent).

Likewise, PwC’s Rethinking Smart Futures report presents a similar vision, noting that smart cities will:

  • help address societal changes
  • have a social inclusion agenda
  • embrace digital innovation
  • develop an iconic brand
  • prioritise transport.

Smart City technologies, including connectivity and transport, can lead to a qualitatively better life for the individuals concerned. Our technology partner Cisco is also aligned with this view. In fact, Cisco has committed to digitally transforming rail connectivity by investing in reliable trackside fibre technology for regional transport.

Toronto lights at Nathan Phillips Square with City Hall and city skyline

Powering transit experiences

Launched in 2017 and supported by our network, the SafeTTC app is a great example of how connectivity enhances operations and public safety in transit. The mobile app allows users to discretely report safety concerns or suspicious activity directly to the TTC’s Transit Control Centre. This also reduces the use of alarms that cause service delays.

PRESTO, the TTC’s fare card system, uses our IP connection at station entrance gates, providing a fast and convenient way to pay for a journey. The system speeds up station entry and can help reduce fare evasion. The PRESTO card will soon become the only method of fare payment.

Furthermore, the TTC’s platform digital screens provide real-time information to passengers about arrival times and service status, allowing them to plan their trips and alert friends and family to any unexpected delays or diversions. Likewise, these screens are connected to BAI’s network.

At BAI, we’re proud to have helped Toronto’s transit commuters realise these benefits, but the advantages don’t stop there.

Smart transit for a smart city

Indeed, the TTC has seen further operational benefits from its improved connectivity. We provide fibre backhaul to wireless carriers (ensuring reliable service), and our private network means operational groups can use Wi-Fi for secure and cost-effective internet connections. BAI can also leverage IoT sensors to assist the TTC with asset monitoring, preventive maintenance, security and environmental monitoring.

Device association data gathered and analysed in near real-time across the network provides the TTC insights to help ensure better transit planning. Automated, accurate passenger counts help the TTC make better informed planning decisions and provide a complete view of the subway’s day-to-day usage.

Moreover, the data helps identify station overcrowding conditions, leading to better incident response times and increased passenger safety. These insights will help the TTC manage disruptions more effectively and enable it to allocate resources appropriately, before conditions become hazardous. Understanding travel patterns enables TTC to offer commuters better information to help them plan their journeys and avoid congestion.

In a growing city such as Toronto, innovative IoT applications and more robust connectivity will become increasingly relied upon. While our focus is on modernising the city’s transit ecosystem, BAI is proud to play a part in Toronto’s smart city evolution.

Read more 

In this three-part series, we discuss urbanisation’s future, opportunities, and challenges in the context of World Cities Day.