“One observation I’ve had is there’s not really a lot of data-driven cultures. It’s kind of sporadic amongst the agencies and within the agencies,” Wilson said. “I don’t think a lot of people are used to the idea of taking data and how to each use it effectively. It’s that culture that still needs to be worked on to help take advantage of it.”
Wilson said some agencies will fail to transfer data with each other, lack transparency and even fail to have an appreciation for the people riding their buses or trains. Sometimes leaders will even ignore certain data points while trying to figure out a trend or issue, Wilson said, in order to prove something they believe to be true.
He said some agencies will also purchase data collection systems and find out after the fact that it’s closed or proprietary, which can’t provide the visibility or access to data they want to track.
Taking data to a new level
Tracking boarding data in order to study customer habits is being taken to new levels with new advances in both fare collection and security allowing richer information to reach and even helping other non-transit agencies. Brown said the data being collected by MARTA is now reaching beyond transit, with the agency building a database warehouse and sharing its information with other regional agencies and Google, who can use the information for their own analysis in trends.
Wilson said a study of data looking at those taking transit in Toronto and Ottawa showed regular customers would spend an additional $30 per week on other goods such as coffee and newspapers. Information like that can help agencies better target partnerships with commercial entities or when working on future station designs.
Wedley said asset management is also getting more attention for data collection with British-created PAS 55 standard leading to the development of ISO 55000 to dictate asset management for transit agencies.
“A really hot topic right now is asset management date for rail lines and buses,” he said. “That way, No. 1, they can replace them as they’re needed before they fail and No. 2, most importantly, you can keep your stock maintained by performing preventative maintenance and also you’re keeping your assets at the right level by not over-purchasing or under-purchasing.”
Plesko said audio video data collected by security cameras is something DART is looking into using more to help with safety along lines in Dallas and crime information collected from police agencies is allowing DART to determine how to make safer environments for customers by changing shelters or providing more light in areas where someone may be subject to a crime.
“I think that as a country, we’re pretty good at buying the cameras, but when it comes to using the information, we’re not quite there yet,” he said.
New Revenue generation
Some larger transit agencies are now shifting to open fare systems where riders can pay for rides via a credit card, smart card or mobile device, such as a cell phone, which is opening up yet another line of data for transit providers.
One of the shortfalls of riders paying cash or a day pass is that transit officials can only track when a rider gets on, but doesn’t know where they get off or who they are. But DART is implementing new technology to offer riders the ability to use smartphones to pay fares, and it will have riders register with the system and allow DART more direct marketing to the rider. Plesko said the system does a lot of surveys of riders and the information collected and new information collected via the targeted surveys and registrations could provide the “holy grail” of information to marketing workers.
“DART knows if you use it for special events, you might also be interested in DART for St. Patrick’s Day, or maybe some other purpose,” Plesko said. “But a lot of times we find that people who use it for these events are infrequent users. Let’s say maybe there are 250,000 daily boarding’s on a transit system and maybe that’s about 90,000 people, so some of them are infrequent users who we think could be turned into more frequent users, but you don’t know their name or how to get in touch with them and that becomes a problematic experience.”