How Transportation Technologies Will Improve Transit Agency Operations
The ever-quickening pace of technological development is bringing rapid changes to a wide variety of experiences, with everything from work to entertainment to healthcare to travel undergoing a transition toward more networked and automated systems. Although mobile and wireless technologies are nothing new, the speeds at which they operate are getting faster, and when coupled with ‘smart’ sensors and machine learning, better battery technology, and real-time geolocation systems, our phones, our vehicles, and our homes are now fast becoming a part of a hyper-connected future.
The transportation industry has seen some major shifts due to new technologies in recent years, such as the rise of services such as Uber and Lyft, which weren’t possible before the now ever-present smartphone and app ecosystem, but there are a host of other emerging technologies that are being put to work to improve transport and transit operations. One core element of these is accurate geo-positioning data, which can be delivered by affordable sensors to deliver real-time location for both passengers and vehicles, and which can be combined with automated processes to optimize scheduling and routes.
Thanks to advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, along with the increased processing power available in mobile and cloud-connected devices, driver-assist technologies — and soon self-driving technologies — are expected to increase safety, which could lower overall costs and improve vehicle efficiency. Remote monitoring of both vehicles and driver behavior can lead to improvements in everything from preventative maintenance to driver training to security and insurance issues.
Passenger interfaces, which can include fare and payment options, trip planning, on-demand ride requests, and communication, are all seeing technological upgrades, such as customer-facing apps and mobile payments, but operational tasks are also increasingly becoming digitized. Scheduling, routing, and fleet tracking are being handled by transportation management software solutions, with both web-based and mobile access allowing transit agencies to monitor and track operations, and integrated communications systems enabling better real-time dispatching and routing updates.
The future of transportation is looking more electric every day, with both hybrid and full-electric vehicles being launched in both the consumer and the commercial markets. As battery technology continues to improve, and costs of electric drivetrains and battery packs continue to drop, transit vehicles are likely to transition to electrified models, as electric vehicles are claimed to have a lower cost of ownership and to have more stable ‘fuel’ costs. Faster charging times and wireless charging are expected to keep downtime to a minimum, while quieter and cleaner engines will help to improve local air quality and reduce noise pollution.
The emerging technology of virtual reality may also change transportation and travel habits in coming years. If the current trends of remote employment (telecommuting), distance education (online classes and webinars), and online shopping and home delivery are any indication, the near future may have a lot fewer in-person interactions and physical travel, and a lot more virtual experiences. On the flip side, the trend of being always ‘on’ and working while traveling may lead to an increased demand for connectivity while in transit. For a transit company to keep pace with those changes, it may take fleets of autonomous shuttles and delivery services, more on-demand transportation options, and increasingly ‘intelligent’ transit systems that offer integrated entertainment and productivity amenities.
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