Robert Sprogis takes a look at the ability to transform travel from the palm of your hand

When it comes to transport, it wasn’t long ago that people were at the mercy of paper schedules. Delays and cancellations were only discovered when commuters arrived at a station. But, due to the proliferation of mobile technology, and the surge of transit apps, the scene is far different as the way commuters move around cities has been radically transformed.

According to a Deloitte report released in 2017, 85 per cent of 16-75 year olds now own or have access to a smartphone, meaning that more and more commuters now have access to a wide range of transit services, right in the palm of their hands. From the comfort of their home, or even on the move, commuters have the opportunity to reach for their phone and easily know when the next train or bus is arriving.

The popularity of transit apps such as Citymapper, Uber, and Trainline have transformed the way people navigate around cities. But maturing smartphone technology is not only limited to timetable scheduling, it has also changed how commuters pay for their journey. The launch of Transport for London’s app has enabled commuters to digitally top-up their Oyster Cards without the need to queue at ticket desks. The boom in NFC has been another positive step towards streamlining commuter’s journeys as people can simply tap their smartphones on NFC-enabled gates to enter and exit stations.

While the appetite of apps has helped renovate the travelling experience for commuters, transit operators and agencies have had to adapt to the shift towards mobile in order to maximise the benefits for commuters. Big data, adopting a mobile-first mindset and looking at the future evolution of mobile technology are such considerations.

More data, more opportunities
Increased connectivity through smartphone usage, along with the rising adoption of IoT devices is creating vast treasure troves of data that is improving traveller experiences. In 2017 alone, humanity generated more data than in the previous 5000 years of our existence. That data can be harnessed, analysed and applied to improve operations and efficiency of travel, whether its understanding peak periods of commute, identifying any regular disruption to services, or even using apps to help manage fleets – all communicated in real-time. For example, if a commuter takes the 8am train into Liverpool Station everyday but, for whatever reason that train is delayed, the system could proactively inform them and provide transit guidance with alternate routing.

But transit operators must be smart when it comes to data. While mobile is giant leap forward in the future of travel, they must adopt a mindset on par with this. Generating vast volumes of data is one thing, but actually taking the time to analyse relevant data sets and applying it to travelling experiences will be essential in ensuring mobile and apps have a place within the travel market.

Luckily for transit operators, advances in machine learning and AI are helping them to quickly funnel through masses of data, to discover the most relevant and interesting insights, faster than previously imagined. As more people and devices connect to the internet, the faster the pace of innovation for transportation solutions.

The future of apps
In much the same way that transit operators can leverage the power of AI and machine learning in helping understand data, it will also see wider application within transit apps. This will help apps become smarter and more personalised, understanding a traveller’s usual routes, anticipating issues that may affect a journey, and proactively serving up solutions based on that individual’s preferences and behaviours. AI-driven chatbots within a mobile app could also help guide travellers and answer routine questions and common queries, reducing the strain on transit staff and speeding up the pathway to resolution for commuters.

One of the most exciting prospects for mobile apps is its ability to help people with disabilities to travel safely using public transport, while also enabling transit operators to improve the travelling experience for them. By capitalising on Bluetooth technology, transit agencies can use apps to send information directly to a traveller’s mobile, notifying them on where the closest wheelchair gate or wheelchair accessible bathroom is from their current location. Combining this technology with 3D mapping of stations and augmented reality technology will help people navigate their journeys all via a mobile app.

Enter MaaS
Although transit apps provide travellers with an increased number of options to help them get from point A to point B, the need for multiple passes or apps to access travel makes the situation more complex.

This is where Mobility as a Service (MaaS) can help. The concept of MaaS involves the combination of public and private transportation services within a given regional environment to provide better, faster, more interconnected and holistic personal transportation process that can benefit cities, communities and transit agencies.

Ultimately, MaaS gives consumers the freedom to travel the way they desire, by removing friction and offering choice in facilitating end-to-end journeys. MaaS encourages travellers to pursue other forms of transportation than the private car, presenting a costconscious transportation alternative. Commuters use a single account through an app for all travel transactions and information – be it public transit, cycling or Uber – which gives them easy access to journey-planning information and guarantees fare transparency.

The opportunities for transit operators in adopting a mobile-first mentality are endless, but action must be taken sooner rather than later. The industry has changed rapidly in just a few years and will continue to innovate with advances in mobile technology and acceptance of apps with help streamline journeys.

Robert Sprogis is Global Director, Mobile, at Cubic Transportation Systems. Cubic Corporation designs, integrates and operates systems, products and services focused in the transportation, defence training and secure communications markets. Cubic Transportation Systems is a leading integrator of payment and information technology and services to create intelligent travel solutions for transportation authorities and operators.