Transit’s Secret Weapon: Connectivity

Screen shot 2015-09-15 at 9.39.08 AMWe’re going to let you in on a little secret – transit has a trick up its sleeve. Something that will make buses and trains more attractive to more people, and make service smoother, too. In fact, many public transportation agencies are already using it!

The trick is connectivity — in the form of wireless internet access, GPS, electrical outlets and even apps to help you use the bus system even easier.

Recent research has shown that the “digital divide” is shrinking, which means that almost everyone has a smartphone or other internet-connected device – especially in tech-savvy Austin. The fact that Austin needed to pass a law to get people to stop using their phone while driving tells us that many people just don’t want to disconnect for the hour or two or daily commute time. Luckily, transit agencies are starting to provide WiFi, and it’s paying off. A study in Chicago found that the percentage of train passengers engaged with technology during their trip has tripled over the last five years, and routes with technology features like WiFi had the highest ridership.

Capital Metro has clued in to this, and offers free WiFi on Express and Rapid buses, as well as the train. Commuters can even connect before they step foot on transit, with a pilot program providing wireless Internet access at select transit stops. And while you’re waiting at the stop and surfing the web… pull up the Capital Metro mobile app to buy your ticket and see exactly how long your wait will be, with real-time arrival information for every route. The mobile app is getting a makeover in mid-2016, including a new real-time trip planner.

Route information is also currently available through several other mobile apps and services, thanks to Capital Metro’s work with developers to make their route information widely available. Maybe next up will be phone chargers at stations and outlets on the bus, so you never have to worry about losing access to your mobile bus pass!

Commuters aren’t the only ones making the most of real-time arrival information. Capital Metro’s dispatch team monitors which buses are late or early to detect “bus bunching.” (That means some buses of the same route too close together and some too far apart, rather than evenly spaced for consistent arrivals). Capital Metro now collects 300,000 data points a month, improving its ability to write more reliable bus schedules.

Washington, D.C.’s transit agency has taken this a step further. Using smartphone technology that pings location every three seconds, bus drivers receive real-time information on whether to speed up or slow down to maintain their 10-minute route frequency.

The bottom line is technology is improving service, and making transit a more appealing option for commuters who want to be constantly connected. What would you do on your morning commute, if you had free WiFi and your hands off the wheel?

Pictured above: Capital Metro pilots a new program at Republic Square Station

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