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Platforms for change: how transit connectivity offers so much more than an internet connection.

Posted by Dave Songer on Mar 18, 2019

With the help of BAI, Toronto has a strong reputation for digital and tech excellenceLondon in 1863, Paris in 1900, New York in 1904 and even what feels like a new network, Hong Kong in 1979. You know the cities.

But what do the dates signify?  

They represent the years that their respective transit networks first went into operation.

Yes, there have been upgrades and extensions in rail and transport worldwide, but the origins of these subways belong in another era. Whilst decades of operation grants experience and confidence, transport authorities still accommodate a far larger number of passengers, along with their greater set of demands, in the same physical space. Most networks can’t significantly expand or alter their physical footprint without incurring major costs or service disruptions. So, the answer is to deploy new technologies and devise strategies that grow ridership and improve passenger experience, without causing upheaval to subway operations or budgets.  

For James Woodhams, Chief Strategy Officer at BAI Communications, a solution to the challenge of modernising transit, is to be found within the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the opportunities this rapidly developing technology offers.

James Woodhams, Chief Strategy Officer at BAI Communications“We firmly believe that transit networks are the heartbeat of a city and are proud to work with a number of the busiest operators around the world. But like the passengers that use them, you always need to be moving – growing ridership, improving the passenger experience, making better use of the data you are gaining. IoT can help with this significantly, whether that is using sensors, Machine2Machine learning, Big Data, cloud computing or other emerging technologies. And we are already seeing how this approach can deliver connected, data-driven transport systems which can unlock new value for both operators and passengers.”

Clearly passionate about what digital technology can offer mass transport, James can offer several examples where its deployment has delivered real benefits. 

In Toronto, a city with a strong reputation for digital and tech excellence, BAI is working with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) in what is the most heavily used urban mass transit system in Canada, and the third largest in North America. BAI has a long-term partnership with the TTC to deliver connectivity across its network. In addition to its cellular and Wi-Fi rollout, the network that BAI installed also enabled a significant update to the TTC’s fare collection operations, in the shape of its PRESTO card.

The fibre network built by BAI (@BAICommsprovides the IP connectivity that enables TTC journeys using the PRESTO card. This is a major undertaking, with 1,600 fare payment devices now connected on BAI’s network. The use of tickets and tokens in Toronto will come to an end at the end of 2019, and PRESTO will be the sole way to pay for your journey. A true transport revolution.

A second example that James discusses is in New York. What might appear to be a straightforward deployment of a countdown clock on the subway network, proved challenging until Transit Wireless, a majority owned BAI Communications company, working with the MTA came up with a solution. The NYC metro’s ‘fixed block’ signalling system, installed in the 1930s, made delivering accurate real time passenger information a challenge for many of the transit system’s subway lines.

The countdown clock in the NYC SubwayWhat Transit Wireless came up with was a straightforward, cost effective solution to deploy, and fortunately it did not require a significant capital investment in new infrastructure. The solution would integrate the existing Transit Wireless network with the MTA’s cloud and Bluetooth receivers placed in every station. These receivers communicate with devices that have been installed in trains set running on the line. So as the train enters and leaves a station, the system uses its arrival and departure time to calculate the time at which the train will reach the next stop in the line; displaying the arrival times on LCD screens installed at each station. When these clocks came online in 2016, New York was able to offer transit commuters an accurate view of train arrival times.

The Presto card [Credit-Tom Wakeling Shutterstockcom]
Credit: Tom Wakeling / Shutterstock.com

“Constant connectivity is something which has become an expectation for consumers, and this now applies to their time spent on public transport. Similarly, with the growth of intermodal travel, smart fare payment, like the advancements we’ve seen with PRESTO card, will become increasingly more in demand globally.

“But the passenger focused technologies are only part of the story of what we can deliver. IoT can also be deployed with preventative maintenance. AI and machine learning are helping decrease cycles for engineering teams and reducing service disruption for operators. We are also looking at uses for the huge amounts of data that our connectivity can accrue and identifying all the positive operational changes that can be data-driven. For example, passenger movement can be monitored by using this data, and timetables can be amended accordingly. Gaining an accurate view of passenger flow can also offer opportunities to improve safety and security – which of course is the most important aspect” continued James.

Professor Caren Levy, Professor of Transformative Urban Planning at the University of London, wrote in 2013 that the ability to access transport reflects the ‘right to participate’ in the life of the city – not just to exist in it, but to partake fully in what it offers for work, leisure and education. Like James’ idea of a ‘heartbeat’, our transport networks have never been more important. And the role of BAI, in facilitating the layering of various technologies upon a single network – be they passenger or operationally focused, or indeed not yet apparent – is only going to increase in importance in coming years.


You may also like this from BAI Communications:

Four technologies transport authorities are using to make their passengers’ journeys safer

Headliner: Billy D’Arcy, Chief Executive Officer of BAI Communications UK.

5 Minutes With… Ken Ranger, chief executive officer of BAI Communications Canada.

Expert View: How the Neutral Host model can solve the UK’s rail connectivity conundrum.

Topics: IT and WiFi, Telecommunications, Passenger Information Systems, technology

Dave Songer

Written by Dave Songer


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