By: Brian O’Rourke, CEO and founder of CitySwift
The digitisation catalyst that is Covid-19 has presented short-term challenges for the transport industry including people moving back towards private cars, managing social distancing and sanitation. However, the long-term opportunities are now coming to the fore, as there is a chance to innovate once again and improve our existing systems for the benefit of people, the economy and the climate.
In the UK there has been a 62% decrease in local bus passenger journeys for the year ending March 2021, according to government figures, so it’s clear there is work to be done to get people back on board after the pandemic has increased the use of private cars. Through the use of technological advancements, however, transport operators can turn this around. Utilising data and AI to boost punctuality of buses by 15%, operators can achieve a 7.5% increase in passenger demand. Furthermore, having smart technology in place in cities enables public transport networks to be more reliable and secure, giving them the ability to respond quickly to evolving challenges and requirements, including busy commuting periods and seasonal issues. Digitising infrastructure can realise operational savings for our public transport sector, while also improving accessibility and efficiency for passengers and reducing the adverse effects of climate change.
Data is key
At the forefront of these advancements, data is critical to helping operators understand new travel patterns, improve journey times and enhance the on-board experience for passengers. Data sharing between local authorities and operators allows them to work collaboratively and make more informed decisions, ultimately helping to drive the public back towards using our transport network.
The likes of National Express are already harnessing these advanced tools to bring tangible benefits to its customers. Using granular data analysis, transport firms big and small can analyse routes stop-by-stop to locate pinch-points for route optimisation and identify where new bus lanes or other priority measures are required, as habits and mobility patterns change.
Operators are also able to accurately share capacity predictions for each bus, at every stop, for any specific date and time up to two weeks in advance. This will not only ensure continued adherence to social distancing guidance by preventing overcrowding, but will also help passengers make the right journey choices to help them feel safer.
The route to net zero emissions will need more than simply electrifying our current transport mix. With every bus journey replaced by a ride-hailing service, taxi or average petrol car, there is a net increase in emissions of between 98g – 128g CO2 per kilometre. Public transport, and buses in particular, must continue to evolve and improve at a time when bus lanes and ‘car-free zones’ are no longer enough to tackle the climate emergency we are facing.
Public transport systems have a tremendous impact on our ability to cut emissions in the UK and we must begin to focus on targeted investment in transport and infrastructure to start shaping our cities and ensuring they serve the people within them. Sustainable transport charity, Campaign for Better Transport, launched a national campaign this year calling on the UK government to support public transport via an incentive scheme to boost passenger numbers and place it at the heart of a green recovery.
At CitySwift we are playing our part in the journey towards more efficient, greener public transport systems, by continually developing new technology which combines big data sources and machine learning models to deliver highly accurate predictions of future operating conditions and constraints. These in turn provide optimal transport networks, meeting and exceeding customer demand in the most efficient way. Currently, 8,500 buses in over 35 cities across the UK, US and Europe are utilising these tools and becoming part of the shift.
In the future we hope to see further collaboration and adoption of new technologies which will improve our public transport network and make it more effective for the people that use it. The importance of doing so cannot be underestimated in the move towards congestion-free cities and cleaner air.