The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major disruption to public transport providers everywhere. During a recent ITS Singapore webinar moderated by INIT Asia-Pacific’s Regional Director, Suvi Schwab, five key challenges from the pandemic and lessons we can learn in preparation for the next unexpected event were discussed. Learn more in the INIT Podcast.
Suvi recaps the five key crises’ and their impact during the pandemic: confidence, ridership, revenue, strategy, and leadership.
Restoring Passenger Confidence
First, there is a crisis of passenger confidence that has caused riders to question the safety of public transit. How can agencies restore the public’s confidence in using transportation in a COVID transformed society? A necessary response to this challenge is thorough, clear, and timely communication. This will empower passengers to make safe and informed choices about their journey.
Technology can be used to enhance communication with passengers. At INIT, we’ve developed a tool for customers that allows them to communicate to riders in real-time about the number of passengers in a vehicle before they board. For example, using an app, riders can see how many passengers are arriving on their bus and can decide if they are comfortable with the current capacity, or if they want to wait for the next one.
Along with the need to allow for social distancing, managing crowds on a larger scale will continue to become more important as the trend towards urbanization continues, on train platforms for example. INIT is developing a crowd management tool, MOBILEguide, that uses artificial intelligence to predict train car loads and enables passengers to position themselves on a train platform and board the least crowded cars.
The ridership crisis summarizes the plummeting demand for transit that has occurred on a global-scale. In response to sharp declines in ridership, agencies must become more dynamic in delivering the services riders need. Additionally, the revenue crisis is caused by the collapse of revenue-driven financial models that depend on ridership. On-demand transportation allows agencies to save on costs while still delivering quality service to passengers. On-demand options can be incorporated with the use of autonomous vehicles (AV) to provide a convenient, sustainable, and future-ready solution that addresses current challenges and entices riders back to public transit.
Preparing for the future
With declines in passenger confidence, ridership, and revenue, a crisis of strategy comes into play. Future mobility should be innovative, shared, and multimodal. However, the pandemic has prompted a regression back into heavy, car-centric thinking and planning. The incorporation of on-demand transit, AVs, zero-emission fleets, and open mobility platforms will empower public transit agencies to lead cities forward.
Finally, the leadership crisis challenges us to show courage in a time of uncertainty. Leadership has an important role to play when it comes to ensuring business continuity and preparing for the unexpected. Thanks to artificial intelligence, agencies have access to data that will help them to plan for the future. For example, during the pandemic, travel patterns and service needs shifted drastically, based on demographics, geography, and institutional responses. The data collected from that period of time can be used to model different scenarios and better prepare agencies for future events.
There has been a tremendous effort by public transport agencies to adapt and update their systems to meet the requirements of a socially-distanced world – and those innovations continue to evolve. Creating systems that will address each challenge as they arise, all while ensuring business continuity, will be key to moving mobility forward despite the next disruption.
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