In recent years, the “smart city” buzz phrase has become more prominent than ever. What that means is up to interpretation, but the first place we have to start is with how we get around. Public transportation and, increasingly, private mobility companies are the lifeblood of a city — without them, it cannot grow.
Beginning our global transformation into an IoT-enabled society has to begin with transportation for two reasons. First, it will make the biggest impact on the day-to-day lives of average citizens. As we have seen in New York City, the recent crumbling of its subway system has had a daily negative impact on nearly 6 million people. Second, public transportation is the foundation upon which other innovations can thrive. Time spent waiting for a train or a bus is time that isn’t spent on other endeavors, slowing down creativity and wasting more than $60 billion every year.
The possibilities for how IoT can improve how people move around cities is nearly limitless; we like to describe its eventual form as “frictionless mobility.” Picture yourself biking to a metro station, leaving the bike directly outside in an open dock, walking down to the platform having paid in advance on your phone, and walking up to the approaching train. No time wasted, fully without inconvenience or frustration.
We may be closer to this reality than you think. More and more transit agencies across the world are developing real-time feeds for their vehicles, a movement spearheaded by Google, developing what is now known as General Transit Feed Specification, or GTFS. With a common way of formatting the data now in place, it is easier than ever for this data to be harnessed and used in a way that can help the average person.
At TransitScreen, for example, we use this data to create live displays at the place where people make decisions about how they’re going to commute that day — whether it be in their apartment building or at the office. They include public transit systems, bike-share, car-share and ride-hailing services so the viewer is able to make an informed choice about which form of mobility is best for each individual trip.
This is just one of many smart improvements that can be made in the transportation space to make our lives and our cities more efficient. These same sensors providing real-time locations could also be analyzed to determine if a particular route needs more or fewer buses. This could avoid the problem of “bus bunching,” which leads to slower travel and lower capacity overall.
Ameliorating these frustrations is essential not just to avoid headaches, but to help our planet itself. The transportation industry is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the EPA. Creating a better experience overall for people choosing sustainable transportation makes them more likely to take it again in the future. The fewer people who drive alone as a main form of transportation, the better off we will all be. Taking advantage of the IoT-enabled infrastructure already in place is the first step to a smarter future.
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