Most dense cities in advanced economies have subway or light rail systems built decades ago. Many have become overburdened over time—and adding new lines or additional cars is an expensive proposition. In New York, for example, almost half of all commuters take the subway to school or work. But the system is showing its age. Delays have been worsening in recent years due to breakdowns, deferred maintenance, and the sheer time it takes to load and unload passengers at every stop.
Smart city technologies can stretch transit investment, helping cities get more out of their existing assets or embedding intelligence into expansions and new assets. Adding IoT sensors to existing infrastructure can help crews perform predictive maintenance on equipment, fixing problems before they turn into breakdowns and delays. Collecting and analyzing data on public transit usage and traffic can also help cities make better decisions about modifying bus routes, installing traffic signals and turn lanes, adding bike lanes, and determining infrastructure budgets.
Many existing transit systems are going ticketless with integrated digital payment systems. The Transport for London system, for example, accepts contactless payment; riders can simply tap their Oyster smartcards, specially designated bank cards, or mobile phones at Underground turnstiles or upon boarding buses. This required investment in new payment infrastructure, but it reduces the ongoing costs of revenue collection. Other cities have turned to mobile ticketing; riders can simply pay within Houston’s new METRO Q app, for example.
The METRO Q Mobile Ticketing app allows users to search transit routes through the city, much like Google Maps or any number of other programs. The difference is that once the customer selects a route, they can purchase it instantly within the app. The program will then produce a digital ticket that the user shows to the bus driver or train attendant in order to board. That approach comes with the benefit that Houston didn’t have to invest in expensive new card-reading infrastructure, says GlobeSherpa CEO Nat Parker—METRO just had to train their staff in reading the security features in the animated tickets.