By James Woodhams Chief Strategy Officer, BAI Communications

Commuters around the world have spoken: the number-one requirement for a ‘smart city’ is good public transport, and the number-one expectation of public transport is continuous connectivity.

These are just some of the findings from the Continuous connectivity research report. To produce this report, BAI Communications surveyed 2,538 rail users across five global cities (Hong Kong, London, New York, Sydney and Toronto) in early 2019 about their needs, experiences and expectations. Three key findings emerged:

  • 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 can transform cities, helping citizens to be happier and more productive, and organisations to innovate and prosper.

Innovative transport systems are the way forward

Expectations of public transport are high: 99% of respondents said they expect public transport to do more than just get them from ‘A to B’, while 83% nominated ‘innovative transport systems’ as a key feature of a ‘smart city’.

These include smart technologies (e.g. lighting, signage and waste management); e-governance (i.e. government services provided online); and intelligent transport systems (e.g. driverless trains).

BAI Communications understands the importance of providing innovative services to public transit providers and users. In Toronto, BAI’s fibre-based network drives a variety of modernisation initiatives taken on by their transit authority, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). A key example is PRESTO, the TTC’s new electronic fare-payment system. By utilising BAI’s existing communications infrastructure, PRESTO minimised the capital costs for the TTC associated with building their own network while simultaneously expediting the rollout of their fare-payment infrastructure across the subway.

More broadly, we have built wireless networks and connectivity solutions for underground rail systems in three of the five cities surveyed, which puts us at the forefront of the technological revolution that is expanding the possibilities for cities, travellers and transport alike.

Commuters want safe, connected and reliable service – and data can help

When asked what they wanted from their public transport systems, unsurprisingly, respondents were clear that they are looking for safety and reliability (79% and 78%, respectively).

They also want data-driven amenities like real-time service information, reduced station wait times, better connections with other services and to be able to use their travel time productively. These are all facilitated or improved by data and connectivity.

Safety is improved by real-time information and reliable, ‘from anywhere’ communications. The TTC launched the SafeTTC app in 2017, which is supported by BAI’s network and helps users report harassment by sending images silently to the authorities. This also supports the TTC’s efforts to reduce unnecessary use of alarms on trains.

BAI’s infrastructure also connects platforms, control rooms, help points and cameras to manage incidents and better direct emergency responders. It makes it possible for travellers to report incidents even when deep underground. This in turn makes it possible for operators to automatically identify the call’s physical location so responders can be routed to the next available station.

Reliability can be improved by real-time service information, end-user apps and camera feeds. These can be used to monitor passenger flows and numbers, with relevant data fed into systems to optimise services.

Similarly, by using the ‘countdown clocks’ recently installed by Transit Wireless (a majority-owned BAI Communications company) for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), passenger amenity can be significantly improved via real-time service updates. The clocks use the wireless network, Bluetooth receivers and the MTA’s cloud to monitor trains and provide passengers with accurate information about when their service will arrive.

Connectivity improves lives and builds cities

With 96% of respondents agreeing that transport innovation is an important part of modern cities, improving the daily travel experience is critical. But the benefits of implementing the connectivity required go beyond simply moving more people more efficiently.

Globally, 94% of respondents indicated they’d enjoy other benefits if their journey was improved. These include changes to working hours (56%), career improvement (46%) and location and housing changes (45%).

BAI Communications has long understood the broader benefits of enhanced connectivity. For example, in Hong Kong, rail lines are constructed with world-class digital infrastructure as standard, which has led to the development of significant housing corridors along the lines. With rail and data networks growing alongside each other, the city maintains its global competitiveness and makes it possible for citizens to enjoy the benefits of connectivity wherever they travel.

BAI Communications: Committed to connectivity

Just like our transit-authority partners, ultimately everything we do, we do for the passengers. BAI has a long history of partnerships with governments and public-service organisations, meaning we understand the ethos of public service and the value of providing good customer experiences.

Importantly, we’re willing to invest in the systems we build, freeing our partners from the costs and responsibilities of ownership and maintenance so they can concentrate on delivering great service.

Our survey made it clear that connectivity underpins the bulk of the service improvements that commuters want and expect. “Around the globe, BAI Communications is delivering transit authorities the connectivity they need to transform their operations, their customers’ travel experience and the cities they serve.”

To learn more about BAI’s approach to the technology that will provide commuters and transit authorities with the data, analytics and services they require, read our article on technology in transit (coming soon).