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The smarter your transit, the smarter your city

The need to efficiently move people around dovetails perfectly with the capabilities of the internet of things, making it the ideal framework around which to develop smart cities. This is why building smart transit is so frequently a first step — after all, so much can be accomplished simply by pairing sensors and data analysis to the big-ticket items that cities already have in place: Existing bus fleets, subway cars, stations and stops.

The ways in which urban centers have leveraged IoT to improve the mobility of residents and visitors are as diverse as the cities themselves. But each of them demonstrates an understanding of the power of IoT, fueled by civic data and focused on the experiences of citizens. What follows are a few real-world examples of cities using IoT to make rapid, drastic improvements in existing transportation systems.

The three-second rule

Transit systems have long provided commuters with estimated arrival times based on sensors. But in 2015, officials in Washington, D.C. recognized that the three-minute reporting cycle their buses used was simply inadequate — a two-minute traffic stoppage between those reports could go unnoticed by the tracker, leaving riders at the next stop wondering where the bus was. So the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority partnered with a software company to provide buses with a smartphone app that reported their progress every three seconds. This not only gave riders much more accurate arrival times, but helped WMATA respond to traffic problems and avoid delays.

Putting transit on the grid

In its winning bid for the federal Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, the city of Columbus, Ohio, focused on transportation issues as the primary challenge it would address with the $50 million grant. Why? Because transportation is integral to getting people to jobs and building the local economy. Using IoT sensors and data analysis, the city is developing a “Smart Corridor” to address last-mile connections between the workforce and employment centers; partnering with public and private social services to provide better mobility and transit operations in neighborhoods with the greatest challenges; and supporting “smart grid mobility patterns” to benefit the whole transit continuum.

Paris, city of bikes

Along with other major metropolitan areas like New York and London, Paris has recognized that traffic congestion is a crisis with severe economic consequences — to the tune of 17 billion euros per year. By implementing bike-share programs with networked stations, these cities are extending the transportation options available to citizens and visitors in a way that reduces traffic congestion and addresses last-mile connectivity. By monitoring usage data based on where bikes are picked up and dropped off, cities can respond to demand by adjusting distribution and locations — whether temporarily for high-traffic events or long-term to accommodate changes in population or commuting patterns.

Each of these examples addresses city-specific needs, but the solutions are powered by common factors: An understanding of the value of civic data, for one, and the precipitous drop in the price of sensors, bandwidth and processing power over the past 10 years, which has made building networks a much more economical prospect.

But they’re successful because they all focus on a simple premise with wide-ranging benefit: Getting more people where they need to be, when they need to be there, without friction and without busting municipal budgets. That makes smart transit an easy win for both urban stakeholders and the residents and visitors they serve.

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