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Public transport is the lifeblood of a city, moving millions of inhabitants to their destinations and connecting different boroughs. To put the number of people relying on public transport into perspective, in 2016, the average weekday New York subway ridership was 5.7 million. If public transport were to cease, the city would seize up.

Yet even though public transport is vitally important to a city being able to function, it is not immune from emerging trends encouraging it to adapt. In this post I examine some of the macro trends identified by the UITP (International Association of Public Transport) in its Public Transport Trends report, how they are impacting modern day public travel, and new solutions that may be used to help future public transport run efficiently.

A new wave of travel for an online society

Like it or not we live in an on-demand society where consumers want the services they need, as they need them, at the swipe of an app – and expect them to run as efficiently as possible. We are seeing this trend spread to public transport services with mobility as a service, or MaaS.

There are various definitions and development stages of MaaS around the world today. One is that MaaS brings all kinds of transport together into a single service via intuitive mobile phone apps. These apps allow both planning and payments, for various transport options from different providers, to be conveniently managed in one place.

Another part of MaaS, is that it may include monthly subscription-based journeys or on-demand travel services that are reactive rather than passive and flexible rather than scheduled. They may not even need fixed routes, infrastructure or fleets to run. From a traveller perspective this is very attractive, whereas for city planners and system collaborations in the back-end, this presents a new challenge. To solve this, there are many examples of private and public collaborations, both on the transport service as such as well as from a system connectivity perspective to visualize the options to presumptive travellers.

Another related new transportation concept that is making planners re-think public transport is the rise of connected autonomous vehicles, which operate without drivers. While this can save money in the public transport sector, without human influence on where the vehicle goes – for example if there is a need to close a road and operate diversions – problems could arise.

Autonomous public transport, coupled with MaaS, is natural step in the coming years, as the autonomous vehicle tests begin to move into production.

But how would we address the issues around planning and implementation? Such a scheme would rely heavily on data and analytics to determine the most effective route to efficiently accommodate those wishing to use the service. Further, operative help in real-time to remotely control the self-driving vehicles as they encounter unexpected disruptions that the autonomous on-board control system cannot manage.  One way to achieve this is through remote video surveillance taken on-board the autonomous vehicles, which feeds into monitored central traffic management centres.

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