Anyone who regularly traverses through a large metropolitan area like London, New York, Chicago or perhaps Frankfurt, Paris or Barcelona will no doubt have come into contact with the city’s mass transport system. These systems all run on some form of rolling stock and, today, they all run on some type of software backbone
Depending on the location and the age and sophistication of the transport network itself, local passengers tend to exhibit different degrees of impatience when faced with a delay. Underground ‘tube’ metro passengers in London are famous for their apparent disbelief and exasperation when a signboard informs them that the next train will not be for another three minutes. Yes, three whole minutes, just imagine.
Software runs your metro
But despite the apparent annoyance many passengers appear to exhibit, how much more vexed would they be if the systems were to break down altogether? The use of smart city software systems can hopefully help tighten up our metro transport networks and keep the impatient Londoners happy, although clearly (if successful) we risk lowering their tolerance threshold even lower.
The problem for mass transit systems in any global location is that budgets are always tight and managers constantly have to balance repair-or-replace decisions concerning ailing fleets. Technical product evangelist & product strategist at digital supply chain and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) company Infor is Kevin Price. Arguing that many cities are now exploring ways to adopt digitization, Price says that we are now seeing cities apply smart technologies to make systems more efficient, safe, sustainable and responsive to the community’s needs.
“However, the issues are complex. Managing public transportation in US [or major European] metro areas has become a juggling act to keep costs in line, while also accommodating the shifting needs of the community and complying with federal mandates for public transportation safety. Fortunately, smart technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive analytics, can help provide that view into the future,” said Price.
Four driving pressures
Infor’s Price has identified four driving pressures (pun intended, presumably) that make predicting future business a challenge for metropolitan transport system managers.
- Population shifts: New housing developments, changes in population demographics and evolving workplace travel patterns all contribute to the need for agility in planning.
- Fleet condition: The condition of assets, from bus fleets to trains to ride-share bikes must be all tracked and monitored for performance issues, preventive maintenance and lifecycle projections.
- Reliability: If reliability is diminished by frequent breakdowns, the public will become frustrated and seek alternatives, hurting revenue.
- Compliance: Mandates from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to verify the proper use of federal funds have intensified the need for advanced reporting tools and system-wide visibility.
The parts and components included in each vehicle, like tires or brake systems, also require their own maintenance and projected lifespan. For example, computerized components are likely to have short lifespans, needing frequent updates. Looking ahead, Price suggests that we can use software including Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) tools to track and monitor assets, schedule preventive maintenance and record servicing details.
“With a mature deployment model, managers can be proactive in responding to signs of diminished performance, intervening before a part or component fails. Progressive managers can take the system a step further and develop asset assessments, which assign scores based on condition, value, and cost to replace. This supports strategic planning for investing capital and maintaining continuity of service,” said Price.
Building our next smart cities
The new smart cities of the future are being engineered with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors embedded throughout their core fabric. These sensors will track a variety of physical attributes, monitoring for early warning signs of potential issues. Data that falls outside of the set parameters triggers an automated response, such as scheduling a technician to inspect or replace a part.
Infor’s Price explains that sensors can also be installed in key locations, such as bridges or highway on-ramps, to help monitor traffic patterns along with relevant context, such as weather or time of day. He points to the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and says that predictive analytics will use AI, machine learning, and data science algorithms to project the next likely outcome in a series. Advanced software tools will now let transit managers see into the world of tomorrow and anticipate trends.
“This [AI] data can provide insights about areas of congestion and when or where the transit schedule may need to be adjusted. Data generated from IoT can also be packaged into a consumable format and turned into a new revenue model. Metro transportation managers face numerous challenges in this fast-changing digital world. Not only must fleets and assets be maintained, managers must also be able to project the future demographic shifts and anticipate types of vehicles that will be best suited to meet demand,” said Price.
All aboard then? Well yes, but it’s not quite that simple is it? These are massive software systems and we’re not talking about plug-and-play technology at any level i.e. even the most custom-built systems will require a careful approach to tuning and customization to make them work with real world data traffic created by human traffic.
Where technology stops
Even if we do build the new smart software-driven cities of the future with intelligent metro systems, there are some problems that software intelligence has yet to find an answer for in any public transport network.
When someone creates a technology solution to combat so-called manspreading, people who put their feet on seats, people talking too loud on a smartphone, those who refuse to allow other passengers off before trying to board, people failing to give elderly citizens (or pregnant women) a seat or passengers who insist on listening to music too loud on headphones… well, then we’ll all have a ticket to ride.