Smart Transit

Smartphones, smart cars, smart cards, smart growth, even Smart Chicken. For the most part, the “smart” prefix indicates a new level of sophistication in products and services — clever features that we as consumers should want to purchase. Transit is seizing the opportunities smart technologies offer and it must, as competitors step up their game in the battle to attract riders.

Transit is perfectly positioned to offer an array of smart options to both lure new customers and to keep loyal patrons satisfied with ongoing improvements. Many of the perceived or real inconveniences of using public transportation can be mitigated by deploying technology directly into customers’ hands. ITS applications have worked quietly behind the scenes for years to improve service. Now applications communicate with customers, showing them efficient schedules, helping them navigate systems and providing amenities. And industry suppliers are working with agencies to roll out the smart applications.

Perhaps the most productive avenue for agency communications with riders are apps for smartphones. Increasingly, widespread ownership of smartphones makes deployments of near field communications (NFC) with contactless payments, numerous transit apps and QR codes possible. In this month’s Industry Forum, Capital Metro’s CEO Linda Watson provides details of her agency’s clever QR code-based campaign. Use your smartphone to scan this QR code on the cookies they distributed to see their message to MetroRail riders. For Capital Metro customers with more conventional mobile phones (less smart?) text message services provide instant updates on next bus arrivals. Watson is right; these tools are popular with the riding public.

Greyhound Express ramps up the competition with service amenities including free Wi-Fi and power outlets in addition to leather seats, extra legroom and new coaches. On the route between Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Milwaukee, these no-cost extras are sure to attract riders who hadn’t considered the bus but instead navigated across town to connect with Amtrak’s Hiawatha. Greyhound is clearly asking the customer for their business by doing everything, as it states on its website, by rolling out the red carpet.

Smart technologies aren’t for all riders, but for those who embrace the latest in digital, smart choices add a buzz to keep them engaged.