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Cutting-Edge Technology Brings the Future of Public Transportation to Today

Dynamic new technologies are redefining the mission and means of public transportation—and at an exponential rate. From ride sharing to autonomous vehicles and the seamless marriage of the two, to artificial intelligence and the integration of mobile and cloud-based systems, public transit agencies can meet the ever-changing demands of passengers by delivering services more safely, reliably and responsively than ever before. Passenger Transport asked a broad cross-section of industry leaders to share their thoughts on the implications of emerging technologies in the mobility sphere in this one-question interview:

What technological innovations poised to impact public transportation are you most excited to further develop, and why?

Technology to Enable Passengers to Seamlessly Share Rides
Andrei Greenawalt
Vice President for Public Policy
Via Transportation Inc.

Via is excited to help cities extend the reach of their existing public transit infrastructure through dynamic first-mile, last-mile services; improving the efficiency of paratransit, dial-a-ride and underperforming bus routes; and complementing existing fixed-route services with on-demand microtransit.

Founded with the goal of offering efficient, affordable and sustainable shared rides to everyone, everywhere, Via’s technology—using advanced algorithms—enables multiple passengers headed in the same direction to seamlessly share their ride, with vehicles rerouted in real time in response to demand.

We will often license our technology to an agency with its own vehicles and drivers; in other partnerships, we operate the service. In each instance, we share actionable data to inform future transportation decisions. In Austin, TX, for example, we worked with Capital Metro to launch Pickup, a service providing on-demand, dynamically routed shuttles. The city uses Via’s technology to power its own wheelchair-accessible buses and drivers. Within days of its launch, ridership exceeded the previous dial-a-ride service and has since more than tripled.

Via is also partnering with governments in ­cities across the U.S. and around the world, including a project in Berlin that will be the largest public-sector deployment of on-demand shuttle service in the world.

We are working with Los Angeles Metro to provide a first-mile, last-mile solution to transit stops. The project is funded by FTA’s Mobility on Demand Sandbox grant competition as well as local funds. Riders will have the option to pay for their rides with their TAP (Transit Access Pass) account.

In Arlington, TX—which for many years was the largest U.S. city without public transit—we launched a comprehensive on-demand transit solution financed by FTA and local funds. With a fleet of vans from our strategic partner Mercedes-Benz, the service launched within weeks of the city’s approval. We have provided 5,000 rides in the first couple of months and have already expanded the zone of service with further expansion coming soon. In West Sacramento, CA, we will similarly provide an end-to-end turnkey solution beginning this spring.

We are excited about the implications of these partnerships for the future. We are also excited about positioning our technology to power autonomous vehicle fleets, as demonstrated in a recent integration with autonomous vehicle maker NAVYA. Such partnerships are not only improving mobility and lowering costs today but also represent building blocks for the eventual deployment of electric-powered autonomous vehicles as a shared, public resource.

Cubic: Bringing Many Modes Together

Jannet Walker Ford
Vice President & General Manager, Eastern Region, Americas
Cubic Transportation Systems

Cubic is identifying a wealth of technological opportunities that play to our strengths in integrated payment systems, providing the technologies required to merge multiple modes of transportation into one back-office system for transaction processing, as well as to deliver customers a platform for easy payment and management of their travel needs in one place. This type of account-based service is already happening today in our systems in Chicago and the United Kingdom and is only going to expand as more agencies fulfill their customer requirements.

Following recent major contract awards providing fare collection systems in New York City and Boston, Cubic is targeting Brisbane, Australia—a metro area with 2.4 million inhabitants—as well as a technology stronghold, the San Francisco Bay Area, for our next procurements. Together, these metro areas make up the “big four” technology opportunities in the last half of the 2010s.

Mobile technologies are another area where we are seeing growth because of the ultimate customer experience in convenience and simplicity. For example, Cubic has inked a contract with Los Angeles Metro to deliver traveler and merchant apps and we have similar projects in London and Miami. Our Germany team has also been at the forefront of mobile technologies with customers there for several years.

Where do we see additional technological opportunities moving forward? Toronto has one of the largest transit systems in North America and is an aging system. It is likely that it will upgrade its fare collection system in the coming years—as will such cities as Montreal, Houston and Detroit, which are all exploring modernization of their fare collection systems.

In addition to our large contracts, many of our clients are looking to upgrade their systems gradually. While the contract values are incrementally smaller, they are nevertheless just as significant to us. One example is an agreement we signed with the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works. This $33 million agreement includes an upgrade of the agency’s back-office technology, placement of its information technology infrastructure in the cloud and deployment of a mobile payment solution. It also includes preparation to expand the agency’s fare payment system to support open payments based on contactless bankcards and mobile phone payment technologies.

With governments not collecting as much in gas tax as they did in the past, due to the arrival of electric vehicles and more efficient gasoline engines, Cubic is also seeing potential demand for growth ahead in toll collection payment and back-office systems.

From Switzerland to North America: Introducing Autonomous ­Vehicles into Your Fleet
Jeff Moore
Director, Industry Solutions and Alliances
Trapeze Group NA

The future is exciting, especially with autonomous vehicles (AV) having the potential to redefine what it means to be mobile. But the challenge is to determine how to usher in AV to existing fleets while improving mobility, as well as retraining and redeploying operators.

As we move toward the smart city, AVs signify a major shift to create a more-connected future—one where AVs communicate with infrastructure and other vehicles, allowing for self-adjusting and a more responsive public transportation based on real-time traffic conditions and passenger demands.

AVs will change the way we move and how our cities interact. That’s why Trapeze Group is most excited about this technology for 2018. AVs can help alleviate congestion, reduce air pollution and improve access to public transportation networks. These benefits make this technology an ideal fit for many public transit agencies in North America and could address many of these agencies’ key priorities.

So, how do we actually get to this idealized future? This effort will take the whole transit community (agencies, governments, manufacturers, software providers, etc.) coming together to develop systems that allow AVs to operate safely and reliably. Trapeze Group intends to be at the forefront of helping public transit agencies adopt this new technology by integrating these vehicles into their existing transit technology stack.

Mixed (autonomous and traditional) fleets will be around for a long time, but using multiple command and control or dispatching systems would be cumbersome and cost prohibitive for transit agencies. The goal is for agencies to manage their transit service using the tools they have today with minimal retraining or disruption. In 2018, Trapeze is taking the next steps to make this a reality.

We are excited to be working with different authorities (agencies and governments) to oversee pilots of AVs and give input to others on how to set up such pilots. The Swiss Transit Lab at our Switzerland office, for example, will be running pilots later this year in Zurich and Neuhausen. Additionally, we are assisting Canadian governments (federal and provincial) on how autonomous pilots could operate in Canada. We’re providing thoughts on legislation, exceptions and considerations for running a pilot based on our knowledge and experience in Switzerland.

With these pilots, we will be tying our existing backend software into the various manufacturers’ backends so agencies can manage their daily operations from a single site, just as they do today, whether their fleet is mixed fleet or fully autonomous.

Our first major pilot, Route 12 in Neuhausen, Switzerland, goes live in March. And for us, that’s just the beginning.

Using New Technology to Respond to Safety and Security Issues

Henry Li
General Manager/CEO
Sacramento (CA) Regional Transit District

Safety and security issues are a top priority for public transportation agencies and customers. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT) is keen to share our technology journey to success.

At SacRT, we have taken a comprehensive and progressive approach to safety and security by modernizing technology that allows our team to respond quickly to developing situations. Our new approach to old challenges has been transformational, and our customers welcome the innovative changes.

We began our historic safety and security transformation two years ago with the implementation of a mobile safety application, known as Alert SacRT, that enables customers who see suspicious activities on our system to send pictures, text messages and six-second videos to police. Users can also call transit police directly with the app. The technology is already hugely successful and gives riders the comfort of knowing help is in the palm of their hands.

In June 2017, SacRT designated paid fare zones within all 52 light rail stations to allow fare inspection on station platforms to improve safety, security and fare collection. We also expanded the size of our safety and security team from 60 to more than 100 employees to effectively and efficiently manage our bus and light rail system 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

More recently, SacRT expanded its camera presence by adding 700 surveillance cameras inside the light rail fleet to stream live video into our Security Operations Center. We made this happen by installing mobile routers on light rail cars to coordinate with existing digital video recorders. SacRT’s IT team developed software in house to help manage the information effectively. Each light rail train is equipped with eight cameras: two located in the operator’s cab, four inside the passenger area and another two focused on the outside track. The live video is monitored 24/7 by SacRT security staff, who are in constant communication with transit agents who patrol every train on the system.

Within six months of transitioning to live-stream video cameras, SacRT’s IT team, recognizing the value of remote passenger communication, installed a public address (PA) system at each light rail station. Dubbed by many national news media as the “Voice of God,” the PA system is used by security staff to send a loud and clear message that light rail stations are under surveillance and the rules are being enforced. It’s a simple concept—when passengers violate basic station rules like no smoking or drinking alcohol, then SacRT security immediately use the new PA system to remotely communicate with the violator.

GIRO Inc.:  Making Integrated Mobility a Reality

David Fabi
General Manager–Development and Technologies

GIRO has close to 40 years’ experience in bringing to market new software solutions for optimizing public transportation, most recently in the fields of planning and mobility on demand. There are always new challenges to keep us stimulated, but there is one new technological opportunity that has got us truly excited: artificial intelligence (AI).

We have the advantage of being based in Montréal, which is expanding rapidly as a global hub for AI research. GIRO recently entered into a partnership with the Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO) to conduct research projects based on operations research and deep learning. IVADO brings together professionals from various industries with academic researchers to develop leading-edge expertise in operations research, data science and AI.

But what does AI mean for public transportation in real terms?

Analyzing and understanding big data will be key to the progression and improvement of public transportation. Vast amounts of data are being generated by automatic vehicle location, automatic passenger counting and automatic fare collection systems. Data also flows from newer sources, such as mobile devices or electric vehicles’ battery state-of-charge monitoring systems, and this also has great potential. The use of sophisticated big data algorithms could provide remarkable gains in efficiency, cost reduction and robustness, further improving punctuality and aligning service better with demand.

Deep learning is a subset of AI that can allow software to train itself to perform tasks—thereby enhancing its optimization capabilities. Research projects are already underway, and others are being planned to incorporate components of deep learning into optimization tools developed by GIRO.

Deep learning shows immense promise as a way of realizing benefits, not only for service planning, but also for transit scheduling and operations. We have started with research on a crew-scheduling optimizer, exploring how deep learning can improve the optimizer’s performance. In effect, the optimizer will teach itself which strategies perform best with particular datasets and produce the lowest-cost solutions.

Public transportation agencies have also identified forecasting run times and ridership volumes as key to optimizing on-time performance and meeting service demand. There is huge scope to apply deep learning to be able to predict travel times and travel demand so agencies can adapt scheduling to those predictions. Capabilities of reacting in real time to disruptions in planning, such as driver no-shows or traffic congestion, may also be greatly improved by applying deep learning to historical data on the events that cause those disruptions.

Overall, AI has the potential to accelerate transforming the mobility landscape and making integrated mobility a reality, opening up truly exciting perspectives in public transportation.

Investigating How New Technologies Will Enable Our Services
John Toone
Transit Innovation Program
Jean Paul Velez
Innovative Mobility Program
King County (WA) Metro Transit

As with many public transportation agencies, we at King County Metro are looking ahead at the role and impact automated vehicles (AV) will have on our agency. More immediately, we’re investigating how new technologies and concepts such as shared mobility and real-time system data will enable our services.

Our Innovative Mobility Program is taking a “learn by doing” approach on pilot projects that may well succeed or fail, and taking the successes to a steady state with several pilots in development related to first-mile, last-mile services and carpooling, among others.

Regarding on-demand, first-mile, last-mile services, we should have as many as three different pilots up and running by the end of the year. Our aim is to explore the pros and cons associated with different service concepts and different types of provider, etc., to develop a grounded understanding of the more efficient strategies to improve access to transit for our customers and deliver more full origin-to-destination mobility products.

Our carpooling pilot follows a similar approach. Rather than betting on a single carpool provider, we have created an “incentive fund” from which different qualified providers may draw funds to facilitate carpool matches. This will allow us to test different products at the same time—from the app experience, or the efficiency of the matching and routing algorithms, to the strength of the network of drivers and riders that each provider can summon. Throughout the program as a whole, Metro’s focus will increase in scope, advancing these and other innovative mobility services that complement our fixed-route services.

Another program connects subject-matter experts from different parts of the organization to take a strategic look forward. This group will consider the opportunities, risks and consequences of new and upcoming technologies. It is here that we’re thinking about how we can benefit from AV technologies and when to begin adoption—how will this impact our business and what are the risks; what do we need to do to be ready?

Bringing these together, AV operation means more than just self-driving buses. We’ll take what we learn from pilots and consider how to adapt them in an AV world. What is shared mobility like with shared AVs? The vehicles certainly fit into new “last-mile” solutions, but is that a PPP owned and operated by private providers or will there be a significant shift in our fleet type? We don’t have all the answers yet, but the precise point of the pilots we’re implementing is to create data points that direct better, more-informed strategic decisions.

Dahua’s Solutions Make Transporting People a Safer Experience
Steven Cruz
Senior Business Development Director, North America Strategic Transportation Solutions
Dahua Technology USA Inc.

Dahua Technology is at the cutting edge of the next major technology to disrupt the public transportation industry: artificial intelligence (AI).

Dahua’s DeepSense AI solution goes beyond passive detection to preemptive security by performing tasks that human beings find useful but may be difficult to accomplish. Any security system must improve ridership safety to be worth the investment; DeepSense also improves operational efficiency and asset security as well as ridership and employee safety.
Advanced AI and its impact on public transportation have been primarily limited to the development of autonomous vehicles, but AI technology offers much more. Networked high-definition cameras capture mountains of raw data, but analyzing this data to detect patterns can be tedious and time-consuming.

Traditional security systems installed in transportation arenas are passive solutions that issue alerts only after a security situation arises. These systems employ analytical algorithms to monitor a specific area for a specific security concern—an abandoned package or a tripwire violation, for example.

In contrast, DeepSense links specialized cameras with video recorders and data servers to deliver an intelligent security system that performs facial and body recognition to predict a person’s age, gender and demeanor; scans an area to determine crowd density and human behavior; and compiles data from multiple sources to calculate traffic-flow statistics and predict traffic congestion.

The DeepSense Smart Capture System installed in a train station can capture the faces, body positions and clothing of individuals and compare these images to known data points to make a prediction. For example, the system can flag, for deeper scrutiny by security personnel, individuals wearing dark clothes with a hood, carrying a large package and behaving erratically. This enhanced situational awareness is a leap toward minimizing risks and litigation for public transportation authorities while providing enhanced safety for passengers.

Another example of AI integration is traffic-flow analysis. DeepSense traffic cameras, installed in a parking area or along the highways and access ramps leading to a transportation hub, can capture vehicle traffic data and simultaneously provide information to the driver regarding infrastructure status such as parking, mobility and environmental conditions. Additionally, from a public safety perspective, DeepSense can search for vehicles of heightened interest to aid authorities during critical events, such as an active AMBER Alert, to potentially save lives.

A series of these cameras installed in a city center, for example, can constantly monitor traffic flow to predict traffic congestion and suggest new public transit routes. This type of AI integration can also detect a vehicle suddenly stopping and then alert command center personnel to a potential traffic incident or a possible security threat.

The impact of AI on the public transportation industry goes well beyond autonomous vehicles. Whether it’s a bustling train station or a congested city center, AI devices improve safety and efficiencies throughout a transportation ecosystem. Public transportation agencies can expect to create value with an increased sense of safety and security, increasing ridership and improving the bottom line.
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