The future of transportation isn’t flying cars—It’s realistic and easy

Miroslav Katsarov is its CEO Modeshifta technology company that brings smart transportation to small and medium transportation agencies.

Throughout pop culture, we are constantly being shown that the future of transportation is flying cars or hoverbikes. While they are stylish and cool, they are not based in reality. The real future of transportation is realistic and easy, although the road to getting there is the complicated part.

Defining the next generation of public transport

Lack of funding, poor understanding of route effectiveness and rider needs, and public awareness all play their part in slowing the evolution of transit in the modern era. But with the U.S. recently undergoing its largest public transit investment in the nation’s history, there’s a new opportunity for transit agencies to define the next generation of public transit.

Motivating riders with accessibility and convenience

In most public transit systems, riders must purchase and validate their fares at a station or in an app, plan their trips in another app, and check arrival times in real time online or using ride-sharing apps , where available. If people want to use micro-mobility options such as e-bikes or e-scooters, they need to set up accounts with the appropriate provider.

All this friction discourages riders from using public transportation, but mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platforms have the potential to bring all transportation services under one app. For example, a MaaS pilot in Pittsburgh is the first of its kind in a US city to do just that. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide riders with seamless integration of single-price fares across all modes of public transportation.

Enabling transit agencies with better systems and data

One step towards this optimization is providing greater visibility into passenger patterns, allowing operators to make better informed decisions while optimizing routes.

Real-time vehicle location data is also effective for both riders and operators. Location data can be integrated with transit apps for riders to help them plan their trips instead of relying on third-party services and give operators holistic visibility into their fleets at any time of the day.

Leveraging public transport to promote sustainability

Smart public transport systems also have the power to reduce the number of cars on the road and drive sustainability with on-demand green transport.

On-demand green transportation involves replacing predetermined routes of a city’s bus fleet with a map based on ridership demand submitted by riders using mobile or web applications. These mobile and web applications collect and analyze data such as ridership demand, traffic patterns and weather reports to create the most efficient route for each route so that as many passengers as possible are picked up on the route.

Obstacles Slowing Down the Future of Transportation

Lack of funding

Even with the public transit stimulus from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, transit agencies face a variety of uncertainties in securing federal funding, according to a 2022 report. Competitive grant applications take time to be approved (if approved), reimbursement arrival times are not always clear, and how money can be spent limits companies from pursuing certain large-scale projects, such as implementing smart transportation technology.

Additionally, non-federal revenue sources such as fuel taxes or transportation fares are not as reliable as they were before Covid. In efforts to potentially return travel fares closer to pre-pandemic levels, it is important for organizations to consider innovative fare collection policies such as e-ticketing and end-to-end payment services.

Many transit agencies were able to tap into the Covid relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which helped move the needle towards contactless electronic payments. While this is a step in the right direction for the future of transit, it does not solve the funding problem by itself. Pilot programs like Move PGH in Pittsburgh represent how the right balance between public and private partnerships offers new avenues that companies can explore to drive further advances in the technological future of transit.

Poor understanding of ride efficiency and rider needs

Transport agencies can’t fix what they don’t know is broken. As the only way to track when passengers board and alight from stops is through bus or rail drivers, there is a lot of room for human error in reporting and tracking the data can be difficult. So when it comes time to make updates to tracks to make them more efficient to better meet the needs of riders, the updates don’t always hit the mark.

This cycle hinders agencies’ ability to provide the best service to as many riders as possible. While the benefits of smart transit technology are clear in automating passenger tracking and reporting with accurate, precise data, the downtime required to set up the technology and train drivers is not always the most compelling for stakeholders involved in the investment decisions.

Public awareness

Update is half the battle for almost any updates to transit systems. When companies invest in new smart transportation technology, they need to make sure enough people know about it. Sending out e-mails, local news or ads across town only goes so far in creating awareness in a community.

Companies should be creative in how they approach marketing campaigns to inform people about a new system, but also to motivate more people to start using transit who may not have considered it a viable option in the past. Whether that’s in the form of free fare periods like Denver’s Zero Fare Month every August or rewards programs that give riders free fares after a certain number of trips, it depends on what makes the most sense for a city.

By reframing the way people think about and interact with the transit systems in their cities, it will be easier to find new opportunities to improve services for everyone.

A better future for transit

While the future of transportation often depicted in popular media is fun to imagine, the real solutions that are currently redefining the way people approach transit are truly inspiring. As cities in the US and around the world continue to research, develop and implement new solutions for public transportation, the possibilities for the industry will be endless.

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