By Justin Berger Chief Strategy Officer, BAI Communications

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Train stations and connectivity: the future is here already

As technology continues to evolve, city officials are leveraging a plethora of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions driven by the availability of data to make their cities even smarter. In the transit space, BAI Communications is working with transit authorities to do the same, deploying technologies to create the ‘station of the future’.

By using IoT and data-driven solutions, transit authorities are discovering they can enhance the passenger experience, strengthen their operational capabilities and help prepare for new technologies (such as the introduction of 5G). Such measures will be even more important in a post-COVID world.

As the station of the future evolves, we, at BAI Communications, are already seeing the benefits emerge.  We have delivered robust communications infrastructure inside some of the world’s busiest subway systems, which allows for the delivery of Wi-Fi, IP and cellular connectivity. Now we are building on this infrastructure to deliver additional value to our customers, enabling a new application: data-driven transit operations management.

Smart ticketing

In busy stations, increased public transport patronage can lead to station congestion, especially at peak travel times. Fare gates can become bottlenecks, and fare evasion can be a constant concern for transit authorities.

Smart ticketing systems can assist with solving both these problems. By combining biometric ticket barriers, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other technologies to remove physical barriers, customers can walk in and out of stations freely. This can help reduce congestion, make it easier to deter fare evasion and, most importantly, manage passenger volumes and social distancing as commuters return to their offices as we recover from the COVID pandemic.

The technology needed to make this a reality is already in use, bringing the large-scale adoption of smart ticketing closer. We are already seeing similar technology being used by Amazon for their walk-in, walk-out storefronts. Two public transport rollouts are imminent. In Australia, the New South Wales (NSW) state government is planning to make biometrics a central part of its future transport plans, with passengers being scanned by facial recognition systems for automatic payments. In Japan, the Osaka Metro started testing smart ticketing technology in January.

Smart security

Commuters need to feel safe as they travel, and transit authorities want to ensure their safety at all times. However, continually monitoring trains and stations in all areas at all times can be incredibly difficult.

When deployed with care, and with full regard to privacy and data security, smart security cameras are a practical, cost-effective solution. Transit authorities can use biometric data (such as face or voice recognition) and artificial intelligence to identify risks and proactively organise responses. Staff can then be stationed in areas of potential risk (for example, in response to cameras detecting suspicious movements or behaviours), to further improve passenger safety and optimise incident response times.

But these benefits are just the beginning. Smart, connected cameras and security systems can also:

  • identify and secure lost items
  • assist lost travellers, such as a child that has become separated from its parents
  • coordinate emergency responders (for example, directing ambulance staff to the right platform to help a passenger suffering a health problem).

Transit authorities are already moving in this direction, with biometric security cameras successfully trialled in Berlin transit stations.

Asset monitoring

Subway systems are large entities, with track, platforms, team members and rolling stock spread over large areas. Knowing where assets and staff are at any given time can be mission-critical, but without connected systems, is very tough.

Deploying IoT sensors on operational assets (mobile and otherwise) creates a steady data flow that can solve practical problems. For example, staff can be provided with IoT tags to monitor their safety. If they’re doing technical work, IoT-connected cameras and sensors can enable them to remotely connect with experts and technical information to help them complete their jobs.

Physical assets – from rolling stock to escalators to network hardware – can be monitored and scheduled for preventative maintenance before service interruptions and costly repairs are required. Their locations can be tracked in real-time, to assist with daily operations and keep customers informed about arrival and departure times. Other assets can provide data about their condition and operational status.

Around the world, asset monitoring systems are already delivering benefits. At Singapore’s Changi Airport, ‘big belly’ smart bins send alerts as they fill up, ensuring they never overflow. In Germany, Deutsche Bahn tracks its rolling stock by GPS, as does Transport for NSW in Australia.

Data-driven transit

Alone or in combination – but ideally in combination – the technologies mentioned above contribute to creating a data-driven transit system. Using data from sensors to feed analytics and AI, operations can become predictive and proactive. Transit authorities can use them to build stations of the future, modelling different operational scenarios, forecasting staff and service schedules, optimising passenger movements and planning better station, platform and even network configurations.

We already see data-driven transit solutions in use. In Toronto, BAI presented a data analytics solution to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) that would give their operations team access to BAI’s device association data. The applications, developed by BAI, provide insights into:

  • foot traffic at stations
  • crowding conditions
  • origin-destination patterns through the system.

The greater the TTC’s ability is to analyse, understand and act on data related to passenger flow, the more flexible and efficient it can be in meeting customer needs. Augmenting BAI’s device association data with IoT systems can help bolster the solution’s accuracy and effectiveness.

In Japan, JR West Rail is testing an AI-based system to determine staff and train schedules, while in the Netherlands, NS Rail is trialling AI to predict train driving and inspection scenarios.

Connectivity offers so much more than ‘just’ internet access for staff and travellers. As we tease out its possibilities, we realise its potential to dramatically transform – and improve – public transport operations, safety and efficiency. We’re excited to be building this future.


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