By Ken Ranger Chief Operating Officer, BAI Communications UK

Connectivity and COVID: how networks can help rebuild trust in public transport

As the world adapts to the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, communications networks play an important part in rebuilding commuter confidence in mass transport services. Access to real-time information can make it easier for rail networks to operate safely and efficiently. It will also help commuters to trust that new safety measures, like passenger limits, will be implemented.

As economies around the world begin to recover, ridership numbers will steadily rebound, and new work patterns will emerge for rail operators. Agile, responsive, and data-driven public transport services can help restore travellers’ confidence in three ways:

  • Real-time monitoring and alerts will provide operational support and keep customers informed about their services.
  • Agile systems will allow operators to respond quickly to emerging or unexpected situations.
  • Flexible planning will ensure contingency measures are backed by objective data and rigorous analytics.

Monitoring and alerts

Rail passengers expect timely information about crowding, service status and connections, and even weather and traffic notifications.

Communications infrastructure with robust data management platforms allow transport operators to monitor station conditions and service status to keep commuters updated with relevant information. It is important for transport authorities to evolve their apps on all devices, so they include passenger flow information to help with social distancing measures.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is using BAI Communications’ anonymised Wi-Fi device association data to help operators manage and monitor overcrowding conditions and inform commuters of service adjustments in near real-time. Not only does this help improve operational efficiencies but it also creates a sense of security for commuters.

Agile operations

When transport operators demonstrate that they can monitor and respond quickly to unexpected events, commuters can feel more secure in using public transport. Whether it is a delayed train, a passenger in need or an unexpected load on the system, a fast and effective response helps strengthen public trust.

One example we have seen globally is Sydney Trains staff, and their use of an occupancy reporting app. It combines staff-entered passenger number estimates with data collected from rolling stock to pre-empt crowding and keep passengers safe.

Such systems rely heavily on fast and secure data flows from mobile apps as well as from fixed and mobile sensors (on ticket gates, rolling stock and other infrastructure). Newer technologies, such as 5G wireless and Wi-Fi 6, will provide significant performance and reliability increases. These in turn will allow operators to improve their speed and quality of response to emerging situations.

Flexible planning

Access to network data allows transport authorities to create contingency plans, schedule additional services, deploy them as needed and communicate adjusted services or schedules to customers as changes take place.

Every public transport operator plans for weekday morning and afternoon peaks as workers travel to and from their jobs. But what happens when unexpected peaks occur? Access to network data can help transit operators anticipate and manage large influxes of commuter traffic, as seen last year (2019), when the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA basketball championship.

With millions of fans surging into the city for the championship celebrations, the TTC had to quickly rise to the challenge of facilitating movement for Raptors fans and residents alike. Trends identified through BAI’s network data could have helped transit authorities make faster, better informed decisions during celebrations and guide resource allocation for the future. These insights can assist efforts to harmonise transport and other services across the city.

Leveraging the power of transport communications networks

In today’s challenging times, rebuilding commuter confidence, and increasing ridership is largely a matter of trust. For rail operators, real-time system monitoring, agile responses, and data-based transport plans are the building blocks of public trust and confidence. If transport authorities can optimise services using the information available, commuters can feel more comfortable using public transportation.

Now, more than ever, agility, adaptability, and active information sharing, supported by a robust communications network, will be the foundation of ridership recovery efforts for transport authorities.

What is the station of the future?

By partnering with BAI Communications, transit authorities can become the catalyst for creating connected cities; enabling connectivity and economic growth through the provision of a high-capacity, high-availability, multi-use communications network.

Take a walk through our ‘station of the future,’ and see how the support of IoT and data-driven solutions can further benefit the passenger experience, strengthen your operational capability, and help you prepare for the introduction of 5G.