Technology in Transit

Do you use public transportation? If so, you may have noticed that your trips are more high-tech than they used to be. That’s because transit agencies are using Intelligent Transportation Systems—like computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location—to help make your neighborhood buses, trains, and metros more efficient.

For National Transportation Week, today’s WatchBlog looks at the challenges and benefits associated with this technology.

Figure 1: Use of Selected Transit ITS Technologies(Excerpted from GAO-16-638)

Improving customer experience…

Intelligent Transportation Systems, or ITS, can make using public transit easier for you, from improving how fares are collected to providing real-time information on the status of your ride. Some transit agencies have even made their data open to the public so you can use your smart phone to plan your trip or pay your fare.

Figure 2: Different Uses of Smartphone Applications

(Excerpted from GAO-16-638)

Many of the benefits of ITS come from technologies working in tandem. For example, data on vehicle location, passenger counts, and electronic fare payment can help transit agencies understand the behavior of their customers, and adjust their operations to make their journey more pleasant.

In fact, even transit agencies in small towns and rural areas are using ITS to enhance their security, computer-aided dispatch, automatic vehicle location, and geographic information systems (GIS).

…though implementation isn’t easy (or cheap!)

However, even if a transit agency is eager to take advantage of ITS, it must still convince its leadership that this new technology is a good investment.

For example, ITS systems have ongoing operations and maintenance costs that agencies have to fund while continuing to preserve or add new infrastructure (such as replacing buses). Transit agencies in rural areas may also face connectivity challenges since ITS must reliably transmit data, such as vehicle location, between various systems.

The Department of Transportation offers technical assistance programs, training, and webinars on ITS, but many of the local transit agencies we looked at didn’t know about these resources.

To find out more about how DOT can help local transit agencies use ITS, check out our full report.

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