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Could beacons light a path to greater passenger engagement?

Posted on Nov 6, 2014

iBeaconMuch has been written of late about beacon technology – the low-cost, micro-location-based technology that uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE 4.0) to connect and send signals to Smartphone users who opt in to receive messages via beacon-enabled apps. The app, once activated, enables it to receive information and content based on location. As retail giant Macy’s announces a rollout of over 4,000 beacon devices across their stores, the potential of the beacon signal technology is not only being tapped into by retailers looking to entice customers with location specific deals but also transit.  Abigail Francis investigates how Chicago Transit Authority has now become the latest transit agency to test beacon technology to further increase communication and engagement with their passengers.

With the help of leading transit-based advertising firm, Titan, CTA are set to trial the latest technology in a bid to improve passenger experience. A network of Gimbal Bluetooth Smart Beacons is to be installed in rail stations across Chicago to allow riders to receive location tailored signals, specifically bus & train tracking information and improved customer service functions.

Michael Gwinn, Director of Revenue & System Fares at CTA, supported the upcoming trials, stating: "The CTA regularly explores new technologies for all facets of our operations, looking for ways to better serve the millions of riders who utilize CTA on a weekly basis."

Dave Etherington, Chief Strategy Officer at Titan, expressed the potential benefits of adopting the new technology: "As a leader in working with municipalities and transit authorities, Titan is always testing new technologies that will not only benefit our customers but the millions of people that have access to our out-of-home, place-based displays," Etherington continues; "We believe that beacon technology is a major step in helping cities become more connected and deliver a great experience to its residents and visitors.

Concerns have however been raised regarding the privacy of the app. CTA and Titan have assured users that the test will be conducted in a transparent, open manner to eliminate privacy concerns’. CTA supported these statements, stating that the app will in no way invade users privacy, as they are unable to see or store rider’s personal information nor track their activity.

With an extended trial set to commence later this year, we can only anticipate the extent to which utilizing beacon technology will improve the future of passenger connectivity for CTA and transport agencies across the globe.


Editor’s comment: this emerging technology offers significant opportunity for rail and transit agencies to develop a close relationship with its passengers. A beacon could let you know instantly of delays and changes to service, problems with onward journeys, send messages from commercial partners or even alert you to a special offer in the buffet car. Though with most agencies still developing their PIS and social media offerings with passengers it may be sometime before this technology spreads significantly.


See also: The top 10 innovations that are shaping the future of rail and metro.

Building the smart metro of the future


Topics: Telecommunications

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About the Author

Abigail Francis