Last fall, while attending the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) annual conference – and then earlier this year at APTA’s Business Member Board of Governors Meeting – I had the opportunity to interact with some of our leading GMs, CEOs, and CIOs to discuss how they were managing everything from public opinion and funding to politics and the execution of key projects. I was amazed at how they must balance a wide range of complex and critical issues affecting public transit – and how they pointed to technology as the primary means to a solution for these issues.
Just a few months later, the world is a very different place with new challenges. Nevertheless, technology will remain central to all new transportation projects. In fact, my industry interactions indicate three key technology strategies that have emerged as vital enablers of business agility:
Virtually all transit organizations are focused on the entire traveler experience, and not just how the ride on the bus or subway goes. Service providers, whether they be public agencies or private companies, are working to improve the overall experience from the moment a traveler departs from their point of origin to the moment they arrive at their destination. The goal is to make the experience fast, inexpensive and easy.
CIOs tell us that riders are increasingly looking for a single app they can use on a mobile phone to plan and pay for all modes of transportation. Today, many people make separate transactions for an Uber or Lyft ride to a train station and then a train ride into the city and a final subway or bus ride to get to their final destination. In many cities, micro-mobility solutions abound in the form of scooters, bikes, and so forth to address first and last miles.
Integration is beginning to happen, and transit agencies must now view themselves as part of the traveler or smart city ecosystem, not just a bus or subway ride.
Progress is being made. For example, Denver has been working with Uber to develop an integrated system where riders at Denver International Airport can pay once on their Uber mobile app for all points of their multi-modal trips.
The continued consolidation and integration of planning and paying for various modes of transportation will only accelerate, and today’s transit CIO has to remain informed and savvy about how this develops.
Public transit CIOs understand that leveraging the cloud helps address the need to integrate their organization with other modes of transportation. By using open application program interfaces, transit travelers can more easily plan complete trips that may only use public transportation for part of their trip. The integration also supports providing more accurate real-time vehicle information on the agency’s website, smartphone or signage.
Additionally, an open architecture can support integration with local businesses –offering coupons, for example, to encourage and reward travelers’ use of public transportation. This trend will expand to be a part of smart city initiatives and eco-friendly decisions.
The surge in data shared on the web has supported the development of an ecosystem of services that provide real outcomes to travelers: simpler, more streamlined trips with fewer surprises. This ecosystem caters to the type of information travelers seek, such as trip planning from point A to point B and door-to-door guidance.
The cloud offers a more efficient option for making frequent upgrades and keeping up-to-date with the latest features and solutions from partners and IT service providers. Plus, cloud-based solutions are an appealing alternative to the high cost of maintaining current server systems.
IT security is now at the forefront of nearly every conversation as public transit authorities work to upgrade and integrate their systems to meet customers’ demands. Data breaches, cyber attacks and ransomware have hit public agencies from coast to coast in recent years. Sometimes they even target private transportation companies like Uber that serve the traveling public. And why wouldn’t they? As more people provide more personal information — from payments to riding preferences — CIOs have to double down on security measures on everything their world touches. Couple that with major security breaches, such as at Target and Equifax, and security has become top-of-mind in just about every industry. As public agencies develop new projects and deploy electronic payment and fare collection systems, both security and data privacy must be built in from the start. There has already been a major ransomware attack on the Municipal Transportation Agency in San Francisco. More will follow, so the sense of urgency among the CIOs to improve IT security is real.
How do we pay for all this technology?
Public transit CIOs are also aware that financing these new tech projects will require more creative approaches. CIOs tell us to look for more mega-tech projects around public transportation systems to get funded by private equity in tandem with state, local and federal funds. For example, a new $18.3 billion modernization project in the Boston area – planned for over five years and managed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation – may serve as a model for public-private cooperation. (Already, all toll payments on the roads around Boston are handled electronically.) The plan incorporates federal and state funding, system-generated revenues like tolls and fares, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) revenue bonds, and private contributions.
Moving forward, cities and regions can’t afford to finance large projects via public funds alone. They will need private equity to get involved – it’s the only way to raise the billions of dollars these projects require.
As our more populated regions grow increasingly crowded, bringing public transit into the 21st century has become more important than ever. If regions want to attract the best talent and create environments where companies want to do business and people want to live, then modern public transit systems must do more than keep pace. They need to lead. Certainly, transit is at the epicenter of this urban development. The leading public transit CIOs understand this all too well, and as an IT service provider, we consider it our obligation to be an important part of the conversation in the years ahead.
Ed Baldzicki is the Mass Transit Market Segment Leader at DXC Technology. In this role, he is responsible for industry strategy, key client relationships, customer success, industry solution portfolio, and partner ecosystem. Ed has over 25 years helping customers solve problems through technology in the Mass Transit and Public Transportation space around the world.