Intelligent connectivity – taking transit into the future

The sensors, analytics and pervasive connectivity transforming many sectors have vast potential to make transit safer, more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective —across an entire transit system, above and below ground.

By providing fine-grained, real-time control over every aspect of transit operations, virtualised network communications enable a wide range of applications and solutions that benefit transit authorities, passengers, as well as other municipal stakeholders.

Safer for everyone, everywhere

Most transit systems protect passengers and property with on-site security staff and closed-circuit television (CCTV). But security teams are largely reactive and CCTV on its own is always passive.

Injecting data analytics into transit operations can increase safety and strengthen security, enabling CCTV systems to actively notify security teams when unauthorised personnel enter off-limit areas or maintenance crews are onsite without mandatory safety gear. It also allows staff and emergency personnel to respond more efficiently when help is needed and make on-the-fly service adjustments, as required. Push notifications can then be used to inform passengers and recommend alternate routes to prevent station overcrowding. In Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) developed a solution to measure passenger volumes based on anonymised association data from the Wi-Fi network. This application has been configured to generate alerts when platform conditions indicate overcrowding. This solution was further adapted to support physical distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic – giving TTC operators the information needed to make safer trip planning decisions.

Seamless flow with minimal downtime

Even with regularly scheduled maintenance, equipment can fail without warning, causing costly and time-consuming breakdowns that congest platforms and frustrate passengers. Intelligent connectivity makes it possible to integrate systems and deploy smart sensors to monitor vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure, in real-time.

This proactive maintenance approach not only minimises downtime but also helps extend asset lifecycles for a longer, better return on investment. Smart monitoring has applications beyond maintenance that enhances every aspect of transit operations. It can be used to connect transit control, maintenance management facilities and vehicles to generate comprehensive real-time operational insights to keep things running smoothly.

In Tokyo, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are combined with advanced data analytics to help identify weaknesses, forecast failures and schedules repairs – to keep its 34 million weekly passengers moving around the city. This use of ‘condition-based maintenance’ reduces the need for maintenance-related closures and allows the operators to pivot from inefficient periodical maintenance system to intelligent scheduling.

Sustainable environmentally and financially

System-wide connectivity also gives transit authorities new tools to manage environmental impacts while controlling costs and boosting ridership. Sensors to monitor passenger counts in stations and on vehicles make it possible to adjust temperature controls dynamically — conserving energy while improving passenger comfort. The greener, cleaner, and more comfortable the rider experience, the more it will appeal to passengers. Barcelona is capitalising on this trend with a city-wide smart strategy that includes hybrid buses and smart bus shelters with solar-powered digital screens that show waiting times.

Smart technologies can also help make system operations more financially sustainable. The legacy approach of investing in one-off ‘point’ solutions often ends up requiring duplicate, parallel technology infrastructures or equipment for individual capabilities, adding costs instead of streamlining. Using a converged network enables multiple applications at once, creating opportunities to consolidate infrastructure and gain long-term efficiencies.

Leveraging anonymised aggregated data gathered from the network can help transit authorities plan more effectively for the future by correlating ridership trends, fare revenue, operational expenses, and hardware depreciation. This helps operators gain an integrated, accurate, predictive picture of where investments will deliver the biggest returns to improve system performance and passenger experience.

The good news is that many transit authorities already have the building blocks for this future transit vision through their deployments of wireless network technologies. The opportunity now is to turn those building blocks into a sustainable platform for evolution.

In our next blogs, we will delve further into how ‘transit of the future’ can improve the passenger experience, digitising transit operations and mobility as a service.