Keeping an Eye on the Future – the Potential for “Smart Transit”

October 12th, 2015

Despite its current operational challenges, it’s important to keep an eye on the future. Our increasingly connected world means that tomorrow’s transit system could not only be more reliable, cleaner, and faster – but smarter.


Metro Smart Cities round table participants.

Recently WMATA announced that there is a path forward to cellular service throughout the rail network. That’s a huge step forward for all of Metro’s customers, who we know value staying connected and productive while on the go. But checking email, catching up on social media, or even banging out that legal brief while en route from work to happy hour is only the beginning of what a technology-enabled interconnected transit network can do.  Metro’s Office of Planning is keenly interested in understanding what the future of the “Internet of Things” might mean for WMATA, and we reached out to industry experts to find out.

On September 14, 2015, the Office of Planning hosted transportation experts who were in town for Smart Cities Week to weigh in on how technology and data could transform the way we think about transit.  Our panelists – all of whom agreed to participate on their own dime and on the condition that we were not entertaining any sales pitches! – included representatives from Cisco, Microsoft, Mastercard, TransitScreen, and Urban Insights.  The event hosted over 60 leaders from WMATA to hear what evolved into an open dialogue about the promise of a data-enhanced transit system and rider experience.

Here are some of the major take-aways from the event:

1. Connectivity = productivity, and transit’s competitive advantage in the digital age is its capacity to deliver a more productive trip.  Adding reliable cellular-based communications in the rail network is a critical first step to giving our customers what they need in a truly connected journey.

2. WMATA’s data-rich operating environment offers plenty of opportunities for public private collaboration.  Private companies may find plenty of value in becoming more familiar with the ridership patterns of Metrorail customers, available through our tap-in-tap-out fare system, especially as they may be able to construct specific retail/entertainment experiences or loyalty rewards/discounts for particular trips or customer groups.

3.  Improvements to customer information is much more than mobile device integration.  Customers want to interact with information in stations via interactive touch screens with neighborhood information.  They want to have real-time vehicle position and trip planning information available to them at bus shelters and throughout rail stations.

4.  The system can and should talk to customers – first!  Integration with customer-facing technology – for instance, technology that could push to smartphones optimal trip routing based on rail congestion or parking availability – could be valuable for customers for whom every morning commute comes down to a game-time decision about which mode, where to enter, or whether to travel at all.

Of course, Metro did put forth a bold commitment to delivering these next-generation solutions in Metro 2025, and we are hoping to fund these improvements to deliver a 21st century, technology-enabled customer information platform that is “smart”.  While we work with our jurisdictions to secure funding for this investment, we’d love to know what your ideas are for bringing the “internet of things” to your transit trip.

Related Posts:

Comments are closed.