Transportation technologies are being enlisted to help transit authorities encourage social distancing and keep passengers safe.
In a recent Metro Magazine webinar, industry experts Faisal Jameel, New Jersey Transit’s Chief Technology Officer, and Conduent’s Pete Comps, U.S. Transit Director, described customer expectations for social distancing. They also explored the ways technology and some operational changes can help aid transit’s recovery, as we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Metro Magazine’s webinar entitled, “How Technology Can Make Social Distancing a Public Transportation Reality,” covered the methods municipal leaders can use to track ridership, recognize travel patterns in real-time, optimize service planning and fleet deployment, all to enhance flexible transit decision-making.
From an estimated 80% decline in ridership during the worst of U.S. outbreaks in 2020, ridership has since recovered to nearly 60% of what it was before the pandemic, according to N.J.’s Jameel.
A full recovery will take time, though employing and/or repurposing existing technologies can help speed recovery, Comps explained.
Key takeaways from the webinar include:
- Rider expectations for social distancing will persist. Technology can be used to help agencies with real-time vehicle load factoring, using automatic passenger counters, fare collection transaction data, and vehicle configuration data. This information can be conveyed to riders on vehicle head signs, bus stop displays, web sites, automated IVR systems and even mobile app push notifications. New Jersey Transit passengers, for example, currently receive push notifications from an app, to view the latest occupancy information for arriving buses and trains, Jameel explained. In addition, fare gate sensors may also be used to encourage social distancing and accurately count passengers entering and exiting stations, Comps explained.
- A reduction in the use of cash in favor of cashless payment alternatives has also increased across all forms of public transit. This pandemic-related trend is expected to accelerate the adoption of contactless payment technologies that utilize closed loop payment cards, contactless bankcards, mobile ticketing and mobile wallets, among other forms of electronic payment media.
- The ability to board trains and buses from all doors has enhanced social distancing and reduced dwell times at bus stops. This trend is now leading some agencies to permanently adopt all-door boarding.
- Ridership patterns are continually changing, as more people work from home at least for a portion of every week. New ridership patterns will likely continue to be dynamic and fluctuating, which will require agencies to perform continuous service planning to inform those fleet deployment changes.
- Federal funding for transit will also likely be needed to continue to support transit’s vital role in the ongoing economic recovery. Subsidies for fleet electrification, for example, present an opportunity to ‘right-size’ the number and capacity of transit vehicles put into service, in light of varying service demands and passenger expectations, Comps explained.
To learn more about the ways technology can help accelerate transit’s recovery, view the webcast here.