Mobility in the Palm of Your Hand: The Opportunity of Transit Data

Download Interoperable Transit Data: Enabling a Shift to Mobility as a Service

We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity and upheaval in transportation. Rapidly emerging technologies are creating new, far more efficient ways for people to get around. And while there has been justified excitement around electric and autonomous vehicles, there are also other important factors changing the face of transportation: mobile technology and transit data. Our recently released report, Interoperable Transit Data: Enabling a Shift to Mobility as a Service, shows how interoperable transit data can lay the foundation for a shift away from single-occupancy vehicle trips to convenient, cost-effective, and personally productive shared assets, or what we call “mobility as a service.”

In real time, in the palm of our hands, we will see all of our transportation options—where the subway is, if the bike-share is available when we get off the train, how far the rideshare driver is from where we’re standing—along with the costs and arrival times of each choice. Choice and payment for transportation will also be in the palm of our hands. Mobility as a service will even predict our transportation needs and behaviors.

Interoperable Transit Data as an Enabler for Mobility as a Service

The foundation underneath nearly all of these changes is a fundamental shift in the ability of transportation and transit modes to communicate with each other and with users. This functionality can be thought of as interoperable transit data, and it’s accelerating the uptake of new tech-enabled private transit services while showing how public transit service can reimagine itself for a new century.

This past summer, RMI convened a cross-industry meeting of private- and public-sector leaders in transit data to look at the power and potential of interoperable transit data to usher in the kind of new on-demand mobility that we believe will soon replace traditional personally-owned, gas-powered automobiles. We asked participants how transit data could help achieve this vision.

Participants described how interoperable transit data could serve as the underlying foundation for a series of discrete new functions that together comprise consumer-facing mobility as a service. These functions include multimodal trip planning and coordination, mobile payments for transit services, bundled transportation services, commuting as a service, and integrated booking and payment. These functions do and will involve businesses, software, private-public partnerships, and enabling regulatory environments, but at their very base they depend on interoperable transit data in order to function.

Multimodal Trip Planning and Coordination

Increasingly, real-time data are available that show the traffic speed, parking availability, taxi locations, and train arrival and departure times. When this data is combined through mobile or web applications, consumers can choose what’s available, fastest, and most convenient for them, at the price they want. Traffic and parking data help everyone use vehicle infrastructure more efficiently, rerouting when necessary and going straight to a pre-booked parking spot without idling or wasted time. It will make the market for transit services bigger and more competitive. From a transit provider perspective, when more consumers can see what you’re providing, your discoverability is improved.

Mobile Payments

Interoperable transit data will enable mobile ticketing for transit. The touchless convenience of getting into and out of a Lyft or Uber will soon be possible for buses, trains, and subways. The expense of unique paper ticketing for each bus and train under each transit agency is unnecessary and avoidable.

Bundled Transportation Services

There’s a new trend in some U.S. cities of potential car owners skipping the car altogether. Instead, they use a shared car service when they want to take a weekend trip out of town, a rideshare when they need to hurry to a meeting, and the train to get to the office. Not one of these many new tech-enabled services quite replaces car ownership, but bundling transit services in the way we currently purchase bundled telecom services can provide that breadth of functionality a car might, without the cost or headache. We don’t currently purchase individual cable television channels, and many people buy their Internet access and phone service all at once. As mobility increasingly shifts away from owned assets towards services, bundling will be convenient and appealing.

Commuting as a Service

Major employers in dense metro areas may be the first comprehensive providers of mobility as a service. They see the lost value of their employees stuck in traffic rather than getting an early start to their day, and they see the pain or pleasure of their employees’ commute as something to compete on. In addition, major employers have the purchasing power to set up services. Panasonic used commuting as a service in its offices in Newark, reducing single-occupancy vehicle commuting among its employees from 88 percent to just 36 percent.

Integrated Booking and Payment

Integrated mobile payments are the sophisticated next step beyond discoverability. Once you can easily see the breadth of transit options along with their costs and arrival times, the next step is to be able to seamlessly plan, book, and pay for them.

The way we pay for transportation has undergone rapid evolution in the last two decades: combined-mode smart cards pay for fares on buses, subways, and trains alike; bike-share and car-share services can now be purchased by subscription; and of course our smart phones can hail taxis. We believe this trend will continue rapidly over the next 5–10 years as public and private transit services alike strive to improve the customer experience, and integrated mobility payments is a logical step.

Accelerating Adoption of Interoperable Transit Data

Participants in the meeting came up with many solutions on how to accelerate the adoption of interoperable transit data, including:

Use public-private partnerships

Transit is a uniquely complex public-private system. How people get around involves a wide spectrum of public and private ownership. On one end of the spectrum are millions of private, personal vehicles and on the far other end are elaborate, government-administered highways, tracks, and data warehouses. Finding the right way forward for transit data means finding room for cooperation, coordination, and shared ground between the private companies handling and generating transit data and the public agencies doing the same. For example, the City of Palo Alto and Joint Venture Silicon Valley are working on a shared-use commuting-as-a-service pilot in coordination with the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority. Multimodal trip planner RideScout is providing the software while Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is providing regulatory approval and a testing ground.

Enable integrated payment for transit

As described above, the ease of using multiple modes of transit will be greatly improved through shared discoverability and integrated payment. Soon, commuters will be able to pay for different types of transit through one interface, with a unified pricing structure across transit agency borders, and it will all be digital—no ticket, no token, no fare card. This means operational savings for transit agencies, more business for private transit providers, and increase in ridership through improvements in customer convenience.

Improve transit data quality and transit data sharing 

Out of view of the commuter driver, train rider, and bike-share user, is a complex network of schedules, routes, parking availability, traffic conditions, and other transit data. All of the agencies and companies involved want more reliable data that conveys more about what precisely is happening. Where’s the nearest wheelchair-accessible rideshare? Are there bikes available at the nearest bike-share docking station? Is the 5:00 pm train running on time? Is this really the quickest route home?

Yet not all of the parties involved have the resources to make those improvements. Coordinating between the agencies and companies that generate and use data is crucial. Transit agencies should prioritize improving the quality and capability of their shared data. And private companies should collaborate and share that data. Of course, some data will be proprietary, but we need to determine what data actually needs to be shared to create seamless and cost-effective mobility-as-a-service options.

The Future of Mobility Rests on the Future of Transit Data

These are just a few of the ideas and proposals industry experts discussed at the Interoperable Transit Data workshop in June. There is much more to be done, and many exciting possilibities, but broadly speaking all of them involve cross-industry coordination around the rapidly evolving business and technology of transit data. The tremendous potential for change in mobility—and the energy efficiency that will come with it—depends on the construction of a solid foundation of transit data.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.