Digital transformation of public transport

Smart solutions are changing public transport, says Mickael Ghossein of Orange Business Services

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Digital transformation of public transport Ghossein: Smart public transport is reliant on the combination of physical metro lines and digital networks.
By  Mickael Ghossein Published  July 21, 2015

The quality of public transport is one of the major criteria in assessing the quality of life in a city; Dubai performs very strongly and the public transport services of Dubai were rated higher than 14 other established metropolises around the world, in a recent study commissioned by Simon-Kucher and Partners Co. which looked at characteristics such as quality, durability, safety, speed, luxury, cleanliness and on-time journeys. Dubai also scores highly on passenger information, smart technologies such as smart apps enabling public transport users to pre-plan their journeys.

The landscape of Dubai is shifting with the advent of Dubai Smart City, free access to Wi-Fi across the city and along the beaches, and the extension of Dubai Metro to the World Expo 2020 site, adding another 15km to the Red Line. Some of the most important changes in the landscape cannot be seen and are part of the digital landscape that is emerging alongside public transport — physical metro lines and digital networks are being woven together to create smart public transport.

Public transport is set to be a main artery of the world’s smartest city which aims to improve the quality of life of citizens, residents and visitors, whilst supporting economic development and attracting business and knowledge workers. As Dubai knows, for a public transport strategy to be effective, smooth, and reliable public transport systems are essential.

Mobile technologies are a key component of more efficient public transit systems. In a recent Economist Intelligence Unit report, Clearing The Way For More Liveable Cities(EIU, December 2014) 83% of transport executives say that integrating mobile technologies is their top strategic or a strategic priority.Such technologies contribute in three crucial areas: routing and flow management, payment and ticketing systems, and the provision of information to the public.

Routing and Flow Management

Public transport systems need to run on time and be efficient. Automatic passenger counting systems can count people boarding and alighting 24 hours a day. When combined with geolocation data from GPS the resulting data can be used to help transit operators manage routes and timetables. Data can be sent to servers for analysis in real time and experimental alterations to routes and timetables can be assessed quickly and easily.

Transit operators need to minimize costs and ensure their stock operates efficiently. Technology can be used to monitor driver behaviour and provide support for improving driver efficiency. Doing so can reduce energy use and emissions, lower maintenance costs and improve efficiency.

Delays are inevitable in public transport because of unforeseen circumstances. They can, though, be managed and mitigated, and their effects smoothed out. Real-time information flows, including geolocation data, from public transit vehicles to a control centre can give operatives vital information for rerouting or rescheduling before the point of congestion is reached.

Public transit operators see that we are still only beginning to understand the benefits and deploy solutions on a wide scale. The EIU report says that 55% of private transportation operators worldwide say mobile devices will help them improve network or on-time performance.

Payment and Ticketing Systems

Cashless ticketing has many advantages both for passengers and transportation providers. Passengers don’t need to carry money, and with cards that can top themselves up automatically there is no need to add pre-payments to card. Cheaper fares with pre-pay and contactless solutions are an incentive to take-up, as is multiple transit system validity and cards’ ability to calculate and charge the cheapest possible fares.

For transit operators the advantages include dispensing with printing physical tickets and operate ticket offices, freeing up staff for other roles. Meanwhile the data that cards can provide gives improved insights into journey patterns, including multimodal public transit use.

Using technology for mobile payments is not new. In 2004 the Seoul Metropolitan City Government launched T-Money, a venture part-owned by LG. T-Money is a cashless payment system for use on public transit and in some shops. The model has been adopted in many countries, and in London the Oystercard prepay system has expanded to include contactless payments embracing the city’s tube, overground rail, tram, bus and Docklands Light Railway transit systems. The system supports more than 65,000 journeys a day.

Companies have been active in this sector for more than ten years, but progress has been hampered by multiple factors including data interoperability and buy-in from transit operators and the public. The confluence of the development of appropriate technologies, data interoperability, collaboration between transit operators and payment providers, the realization that there are real savings to be made, and crucially, growing public acceptance all mean that cashless payment and ticketing is on a growth curve globally.

One of many developments helping to open up the sector is the intersection of the increasing prevalence of near field communication (NFC) and the ability to use smartphones as part of the cashless payment mix. Orange has launched a number of NFC-based transit projects, including an initiative in Valencia in 2014 which allows people to pay for transit tickets using a smartphone equipped with NFC.

Public Information Provision

No public transit system will gain public support if it is unreliable. People simply won’t use a system if timetables are not adhered to, frequency does not meet demand, stock is not clean and reliable, and information about changes and alterations to timetables not widespread.

In recent years there has been an explosion of the availability of services for checking transit schedules and booking tickets. Often these are aimed at users on the move and delivered via smartphone apps. Open access data can be crucial here: operators such as Transport for London, which makes a vast amount of information available as open data, are pump-priming this sector whose apps proliferate on smartphones.

The box is open: there’s no way back

Once transit operators start providing users with up-to-the-minute information about services and with cashless payment systems, once they start using automatic routing and other fleet management technologies, there is no way back.

Ticketing and payment via NFC equipped smartphones could develop across the burgeoning wearables sector, other contactless payment systems such as Apple Pay could be game changing. In-transit data gathering systems can become more widespread and more refined. The more transit providers understand patterns of movement, the better these can be catered for. Real-time information is crucial here, and for those organisations and entities who collect, transmit, collate, interpret and understand data there is all to play for. Dubai leads the way as it fulfils its aim to be the smartest — and happiest — city.

Mickael Ghossein is senior vice president — Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, at Orange Business Services.

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