Technology Can Improve Our Public Transit Experience

The past year, I’ve done some work researching the future market for Intelligent Transportation Systems.  One of the areas of critical importance is improving public transit systems. 

My vision (perhaps bluesky) is that at sometime in the future, there will be a screen behind each seat in a public transportation vehicle.  We see these screens popping up on planes traveling international routes…why not on public transportation vehicles?  To complement the screen at each seat idea there could be kiosks at key locations within the public transit system. 

Some ideas include:

  • Mass Transit Vehicle – Every seat. This could be a nice aid as well, to even notify you when your stop is coming up or the status of your connections. 
  • Mass Transit Vehicle – Extended route map.  Any bus or train car has a system route map on it.  That could be extended to include a touch screen in the corner for further info. Or, touch a stop on the main map and the screen shows local info (map, etc).  This would be lower cost than one screen for every seat. 
  • Station/bus stop.  Kiosks could combine ticketing & info.  Small printers could print out travel itineraries to go along with a farecard (for out of towners or infrequent travelers). 
  • Public gathering points.  For example, in the middle of a shopping mall, you could get transit info for your trip home, such as when the next bus/train will be coming so you can know when to stop shopping.  Could also be the lobby of an office building, etc. 
  • Other exit points to mass attractions.  Tourist attractions (like Washington monument) could have a kiosk on exit to help get you to your next point.

In the mass transit vehicle version, I see the screen giving people access to information that they would not normally have access to.  Many people who depend on public transportation today do not own computers or even cell phones for that matter.  The kiosk screens would provide real-time information, including times due into the next stop, traffic information, congestion maps, etc. 

The screen would also allow them to do real-time multi-modal (bus, train, subway, taxi, water ferry) route planning and perhaps provide other basic Internet services (news, sports, weather) and access to other city Internet sites. 

Think of all the bus, train, taxi seats out there.  That’s a ton of screens.  The screens would be placed by the city’s transit authority.  The business model behind these kiosk screens would be advertising based and most likely be driven by location based advertising.  So if the bus was driving past Joe’s Diner, the screen would pop up with an ad for Joe’s Diner. 

A consideration in designing these future kiosks and the solutions embedded in them needs to be that different types of mass transit users have different needs 

  • Tourists, out of town visitors 
  • Senior citizens 
  • Commuters 
  • Discretionary users (i.e. some commuters might be persuaded to make non-commuting trips)

Other considerations include:

  • Who needs a kiosk as compared to mobile phone/PDA? 
  • What are the different information needs? 
  • How much usage and advertising revenue might be driven by the users?

Down the road, perhaps the screen/kiosk would allow you to swipe your fare card or mobile phone and the information (and perhaps advertisements) would be customized for you.  By swiping your card, the transit authority would also, over time, be able to track the demographics of its ridership on certain routes and provide customized services based on those riders.