The future of public transport

Technology will power public transport systems of the future, creating sustainable, eco-friendly ways for us to get around – and relegating traffic jams to history.

Many developed cities suffer from with congestion, pollution, overcrowding, energy guzzling cars and commuter travel delays. Together they all contribute to reduced productivity.

The problem is going to become even more acute, because humanity is going through one of the biggest urban growth spurts in its history.  According to the United Nations Population Fund, five billion people will be living in urban areas by 2030. To support this growth, efficient and sustainable public transport systems are critical.

Forecasting demand

Transport planners have the onerous task predicting future public transport requirements, but data analytics can help.

The Singapore government is deploying predictive maintenance asset management databases and big data analytics to forecast demand for trains and buses. Data is collected in real time via sensors and then shared with start-ups in a bid to provide innovative public transport solutions in the future.

Researchers at the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore have also developed a machine-learning program that employs land-use and amenities data to forecast public transport use. In the Netherlands, Dutch Railways is using data collected through smart ticketing and real-time monitoring to attempt to predict demand and improve services.

Next stop: driverless buses

Buses are going through their own digital transformation that will put them back at the center of public transport.

The first public service autonomous electric mini bus shuttle now operates in Lyon, France. The NAVYA autonomous, driverless and electric minibuses are also set to be used by the University of Michigan to ferry students between campuses. They come equipped with laser sensors and GPS.

In terms of large capacity buses, Mercedes-Benz has piloted an autonomous bus along a 20-kilometer route in the Netherlands. The bus uses cameras, radar and GPS systems to communicate with traffic lights and automatically stop at stations. In the US, Proterra has linked with the University of Nevada to develop an all-electric autonomous bus.

Sharing a ride

Governments are also looking to duplicate the success of commuter-generated options coming from the sharing economy, such as UberPOOL.

In the US, the Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Authority (MARTA) has teamed up with Uber and in Dallas the DART is collaborating with ridesharing app Lyft to make sharing the easy and economical way to travel. Summit, a commuter town in New Jersey, has gone a step further. Instead of building yet another parking lot at its transit station to deal with a growing number of commuters, the city is paying Uber to offer commuters free or extremely cheap rides, helping cut down on pollution and congestion.

As well as being environmentally friendly, ride sharing can enable large financial savings. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is looking at utilizing Uber and Lyft into a rideshare travel program for the elderly and disabled, which, if successful, could save $6 million a year.

It isn’t just cars that are being shared. Bike sharing schemes are fast establishing themselves as a way round traffic clogged cities. The Chinese government, for example, has been promoting bike sharing for years. But it has taken start-ups to really get grab the attention of the public.

Shanghai alone now has more than 450,000 shared bikes on its streets. Ofo and Mobike are the most popular companies in China for bike sharing, championing ‘dockless’ bike sharing which means bikes can be parked anywhere, not just at designated racks. Bikes are located via GPS and an app. In the UK, Ofo is trialing its scheme in Cambridge and Mobike has just set up in Manchester.  

Accelerated train travel

Trains are an efficient way of moving large numbers of people around and they will become increasingly important as cars are sidelined in our cities. Oslo, for example, has said it will permanently ban cars by 2019, whilst Madrid plans to prohibit cars in a large part of its city center as part of its ‘sustainable mobility plan’.

So called ‘floating’ or magnetic levitation (Maglev) trains that run on an electromagnetic field elevated 8 mm above the tracks have garnered much interest. They are less expensive to operate and maintain and can reach far higher speeds than conventional trains. They are already in operation in Japan, China and South Korea.

There are also superfast technologies waiting in the wings. Hyperloop One, which propels pods through a tube at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour, is already being tested.

These are all just the beginning – in the future we will have fully automated, superfast, smart public transport systems delivering an integrated solution that will whizz us comfortably from A to B with zero stress.

Find out how you can capture the full potential of big data and IoT to understand how to predict demand here.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.