The best solution will meet the unique needs of the city.
The end goal of smart transit is the same, regardless of where it is being deployed: To provide a seamless travel experience for riders to get from point A to point B.
The means to that end, however, will – and should – vary greatly depending upon the needs of the people a transit system is serving and the resources at its disposal. What works in one city or region might be the wrong choice for another, and it's crucial that governments and transit authorities recognize how to evaluate the optimal solution for their city.
It's understandable that even savvy transportation professionals can feel the lure of the latest, greatest technology, but in reality, many different technologies serve the end goal of smart transit. The key is to select the right technology for each city's needs.
Much transit technology is well established and could seem to be an ideal solution for any locale. Take the open-loop ticketing model, which allows people to use what they have in their pocket to travel – let's say it’s a contactless debit card.
This is considerably more convenient for most riders than a traditional paper ticket. By adopting an open-loop ticketing model, transit agencies free riders from the mundane task of waiting in line for a physical ticket and free themselves from having to issue that ticket. That's the kind of convenience transit authorities and their riders love... but it may not be appropriate for every system.
Firstly, an open-loop system needs the correct infrastructure installed to operate, which can be expensive. At the moment these systems work well for countries with high smartphone and contactless credit card adoption, as these currently represent the most-used, ubiquitous token-types. So the open-loop model is a solution well suited for countries like the UK.
However, in other regions, it may not be the wisest investment. Latin America, for example, has a burgeoning public transportation ecosystem, but it has not seen the technological upgrades to its transit systems to date that Europe has. There are also fewer people who have contactless credit or debit cards that allow them to act as tokens for travel. What about local bus companies – should they move to an open-loop system? This seems like overkill and overspending on a system which could be better used elsewhere.
I should mention at this point that we are big supporters of open-loop. However, it is crucial that – whatever the technology – government agencies and private companies that are promoting smart transit initiatives recognize that there is no one-technology-fits-all approach. Each individual city’s requirements need to be addressed and the correct solutions implemented.
The only metrics of consequence for any smart transit implementation are whether it ticks these three boxes:
- Does the initiative improve the experience of passengers?
- Does the initiative increase the efficiency of the system?
- Does the initiative generate monetary savings or operational efficiency for the transport operator or authority?