Chicago Gets Real-Time Data to Improve Transit Service
As is the case for many transit agencies, much of the CTA’s data on transit vehicle capacity was incomplete, not available in real time or based on historic averages that may or may not reflect current realities, especially in the face of changing public health guidelines.
Without accurate real-time occupancy data and demand forecasts, the CTA had no insight into when and where to adjust service to ensure efficiency and reliability, appropriate social distancing, and shorter wait times.
To leverage its existing data and collect new data through advanced technology, the CTA turned to City Tech Collaborative, a Chicago-based urban solutions accelerator, which spearheaded a passenger-counting pilot project to understand vehicle occupancy in real time. The pilot was deployed on 10 buses from March to August along the CTA’s 79th Street bus route, one of the agency’s busiest, measuring the efficacy of various passenger-counting technologies.
The pilot served several purposes:
- Capturing demand and using data from existing bus video assets
- Using data management tools to support CTA operations
- Applying analytics and predictive models for proactive demand management
Building on the CTA’s existing measures and passenger-counting technology to keep bus and train service timely, efficient and safe, City Tech and an ecosystem of partners implemented video analytics, onboard cameras and routers to provide real-time insights into occupancy across multiple vehicles.
The pilot project recently received the IoT Deployment of the Year Award from IoT World Today, demonstrating the value of IoT technology in helping the CTA proactively meet route ridership demand; reduce passenger crowding and wait times; and provide a safe, socially distanced rider experience.
How to Streamline Technology Within Transit Agencies
A forthcoming report from the CTA will show how this model holds great potential for solving current challenges within core functions of society, as well as for building a solid foundation for future operations that prioritize the greater good.
Over the years, transit agencies have gradually added different applications and systems to their fleets of vehicles, such as:
- Fare collection and payment terminal backhaul
- Computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location (CAD/AVL)
- High-speed passenger internet access
- Passenger counters
- Closed-circuit security cameras
- Remote engine diagnostics and fuel consumption
- Vehicle telematics, including information on speed and idle time
- Digital maps, signage and advertising
However, implementing these applications and systems in a cost-effective way has been challenging. The municipal authority may have started with GPS navigation and vehicle tracking CAD/AVL systems, then later added onboard and in-terminal payment systems that needed backhaul to the central office. Then came passenger Wi-Fi, digital signage, security cameras and more.
The result for many transit agencies was a multitude of systems that do not integrate with one another and do not use the same internet connectivity methods and cellular carriers.
For municipalities already burdened with managing large fleets while maintaining an IT infrastructure on a tight budget, the challenges can stack up. With even more hardware, software and connectivity to maintain and manage, the risk of system failure only increases. The better answer is to consolidate all vehicle connectivity through a single, robust connection platform.
As unpredictability becomes the new norm, the future of transit belongs to agencies, operators and authorities that can leverage smart, secure and cost-efficient connectivity to improve the rider experience, lower costs, and improve safety and performance. In doing so, they invest in the continued economic growth of their cities as well as the American economy.