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By Udayan Joshi, Director of Solution Architecture, Global Social Innovation Business, Hitachi America, Ltd.
Transportation providers in the U.S. face new challenges as riders return to public transit systems with different expectations than they had before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, health and safety are a major concern, along with expectations for sustainable travel solutions. Transit agencies have their work cut out for them to meet these demands while dealing with labor shortages, supply chain issues and the competition from ride-share services.
In addition, transportation providers are caught in a cycle of constrained spending and innovation. Transit agencies rely upon subsidies for financial support. As a result, they have been reluctant to invest in technology that would improve their services — so riders choose other methods of transportation. This in turn reduces the likelihood that the transit agencies will be able to be self-supporting, which leads them to continue to rely on subsidies. The federal government is currently attempting to address this loop with new investments in infrastructure improvements.
At Hitachi, we see these challenges as opportunities to innovate — and to elevate public transit systems in the U.S. We’ve partnered with Syniverse to offer modular digital solutions to these organizations so they can increase rider engagement and value while reducing the friction between passengers and their transit systems.
While transportation providers need to keep up with consumer demand, they also need to keep up with technology. Public transit agencies use taxpayer dollars to fund investments in new solutions, so they must take significant time to evaluate the technologies available to them and carefully choose based on what will provide the greatest long-term benefit. Typically, by the time a transit agency has performed such an evaluation, the technology itself has evolved. Working with a digital solutions partner is the way to effectively address this problem. Hitachi has partnered with Syniverse, leveraging their CPaaS Concierge solution, to offer a modular digital technology solution that can be customized to elevate the rider experience of any public transit system. Each city’s transit system is different and has special requirements, so we designed this solution to be able to integrate with any carrier or telematics system. We’ve included modular building blocks that allow transportation providers to select the types of capabilities they want to introduce to their ridership, such as vehicle status, notifications and other communications. For example, using these modules, riders can sign up for alerts, ask for route status information and more — and they can do so through any wireless carrier. Other modular components include ones that enable transit agencies to run marketing campaigns or deliver customer service — all through the same communication gateway. A transit agency can compile and assemble any of these building blocks to meet its specific requirements as needed.
Hitachi collaborated with Capital Area Transit System (CATS) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to improve rider experiences. To start, we engaged with CATS and its operational stakeholders to find out what riders really care about. It turns out that the needs were fairly basic, such as having visibility into the timing and status of bus arrival.
CATS had a Computer-Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL) solution that attempted to fulfill this need with an add-on, rudimentary SMS-based system that notified riders of a bus’s status, but it didn’t solve the real problem. We brainstormed ways to leverage this existing system to better serve passengers and came upon a quirk specific to Baton Rouge: The city has a regular rider community, but it also has a large rider community that only uses the bus system when there is an event like a football game.
Armed with this information, we built a system that notifies bus riders of coupons, so riders distribute themselves among a number of bus stops. This in turn reduces congestion and lines at stops during events and improves the rider experience. The system can offer other marketing opportunities for transit agencies, such as sending riders a coupon for a free coffee if a bus is late. With these types of capabilities, CATS sees better rider satisfaction, and the local merchant community gets to participate in this public service — tapping into a hyperlocal audience.
The data generated from existing systems like Baton Rouge’s can be leveraged so transit agencies can get closer to their sustainability goals. At Hitachi, we urge transit agencies to start thinking about their existing rider data, identify potential routes to optimize, consider how bus capacities will change if they go electric and explore how a more sustainable transit system can serve the customer of the future. We believe transit agencies do not have to decide between improving the rider experience and improving operational efficiency. You can have both, and Hitachi is helping agencies like yours break the cycle of constrained spending and innovation to realize those goals around the U.S. We’re your partner to deliver real, long-term results to both your riders and your organization through digital technology solutions. Contact us today to learn more about how you can transform your public transit system.
Digital Solutions Architect, Hitachi Social Innovation Business
Udayan’s expertise is in applying digital technology capabilities to architect solutions that address the double bottom-line and delivering a positive social impact while fulfilling business requirements across manufacturing, transportation and smart spaces. Udayan delivers full stack solution architecture and design support by leveraging a wide range of Hitachi and broader ecosystem technology capabilities for a wide range of solutions including predictive maintenance, asset management, ML/AI-based failure prediction models, process re-engineering, manufacturing intelligence solutions, and innovative applications of video analytics including lidar.