With transit technology continuing to evolve on an almost daily basis, transit agencies are not seeing a shortage of data.
Each minute a system is operating, a constant feed on passenger data, train data, bus data, stop data, maintenance data, weather data, customer count data and countless other forms of data are streaming into transit system computers and getting filtered through to administrators and supervisors to make decisions on how to better run the system. However, with numbers and data continuing to flow in to agencies, some might even paralyze themselves from the sheer amount of information coming into them on a given day.
“You have to look from top down,” Fred Wedley, senior director of transit and rail tech services for CH2M Hill said. “Each corporation has goals and those goals are key performance indicators supported by information that is visualized in various forms.”
In 2005, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) switched to a smart card fare system known as Breeze, which has riders scan their cards to enter buses and rail, and scan their card in order to exit rail stations.
Hubert Gee, director of revenue operations for MARTA, said they use the data to track where revenues are being collected in the system and data patterns from partner transit systems — Georgia Regional Transit Authority, Gwinnett County Transit and Cobb County Transit.
“With Breeze, of course we track taps at the fare gates at the rail system and taps on the bus system,” Bob Thomas, director of transit analysis for MARTA said. “But we don’t necessarily take that few frames of data as the gospel of the truth.”
Dave Brown, AFC senior program manager for MARTA, said system leaders also use data from larger events, such as the Atlanta Falcons playing in the NFC championship game in January, to track the amount of riders going to the events. Information is also used at smaller levels, such as determining which gates get the most use to determine when it may need maintenance.
“In addition, we use it for fare policy and fare setting,” Brown said. “We can tell what products are used more and how to set fares accordingly.”
Thomas said MARTA data discovered a shift in the length of passes being used by customers in the past year. The amount of people opting for longer passes, such as a 30-day pass or seven-day pass are now opting for one- or two-day passes, or just store certain amounts of money.
He said MARTA has also started tracking smart fare data and comparing to automated passenger counters on buses in order to compare the data as part of a system sustainability initiative.
Todd Plesko, vice president of planning and development for Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), said that system tracks various forms of data, such as bus location, to track routes and to check customer complaints. If customers complain about a later bus or some other issue, Plesko said tracked data allows for DART officials to find out who the bus operator was, on-time performance for the route and to actually determine if the bus was later or if the head sign was wrong. Counters are also used on trains as well and track their performance and use a cab control system to automatically shut a train down if the operator doesn’t respond, fails to heed speed warnings or encounters another issue.
Plesko said DART officials were recently using data points to solve another rail issue where a train was doing a series of fast stops, causing the wheels to lock up and create flat spots.
“That’s not a typical issue I’ve seen in the transit system, but hopefully we don’t have those problems anymore,” he said.
Mike Wilson, managing director of public transportation for North America at Accenture, said technology is making it easier for agencies to get lots of data from different aspects of their operations, but utilizing it well is still an issue.