Transit is on a Roll

June 10, 2014
Technology advances make transit more convenient and attractive to riders.

The transit industry has rarely been cited as a model of innovation and cutting-edge technology. Using what’s always worked may have served the public well in providing reliable day-to-day service. But reliability alone is a low bar for customer satisfaction there is, of course, much more to providing superior service. Based on what I saw at the APTA Bus & Paratransit conference in Kansas City, and the news we have been publishing, transit is on a roll. New products are being developed and deployed in nearly every area of transit operations and the changes are welcomed.

Advances in technology have improved functions across the board, and the changes tend to impress both transit users and operators. Customers who once wondered when the bus would arrive are now informed by real-time arrival signs and mobile apps. It wasn’t long ago that accepting credit cards in transit was headline news. Now, fare collection has spawned a huge array of options to provide convenience in purchasing, speed boarding, and add efficiency to operations. Operations rely on GPS and real-time data to track vehicles, high-resolution networked cameras with behavior recognition software monitor passengers, and networked signs perform a variety of tasks beyond wayfinding, including alerts and advertising.

Lined up for several blocks outside the Kansas City exhibit hall were buses powered and equipped with the latest in propulsion options and devices. There were hybrids, clean diesel, an all-new paratransit vehicle, and several all-electric buses including one with an inductive plate to receive its charge, and another with 10-minute charging. How many cars have that?

The APTA Rail Conference in Montreal will showcase the advances in this sector. I expect we will be impressed there, too, with new generations of devices, systems and rail cars. We will be tweeting, posting on Facebook, taking video, uploading pictures to, and of course writing about these new products. Apparently no industry is immune to advances, even publishing.