The digital transformation of public transport: a people-centric approach

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The ongoing digitalisation process of how we live, how we work, and how we move has been going on for so long now, it seems we should have created a new term for it at this point. The word “digitalisation” is starting to sound too mundane.

The truth is, the evolution of digitalisation has been moving so quickly, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it means for public transport, giving the word almost no meaning on its own. The only way to really understand the digital transformation of our sector, is to look at the whole journey, step by step.

People first, technology second

A few years ago, UITP launched a digitalisation survey among a select group of its members. The goal was to assess how far along public transport companies were in the digital transformation process of their business. In 2018, 58% of respondents already had a strategy for digital transformation in their businesses. On the other hand, 62% of respondents did not have a sufficient number of employees with accurate digital expertise. 50% of respondents also explicitly mentioned ‘benefits for customers’ as an essential reason to establish a digital strategy.

A lot of the focus for our sector in these past two years has been to develop strategies to recruit new talents and skills, working to build a gender balance in our workforce, and offering new training opportunities to existing staff in order to build a well-equipped and diverse staff. In this way, we can better harness the potential of digitalisation to serve our customers.

This people-centric approach to digitalisation has been the key to success for our sector. It’s through this approach that we’ve come to develop revolutionary new concepts like Mobility as a Service (MaaS). MaaS is all about the integration of and access to different transport services in one digital mobility offer. Usually in the form of a mobile app, this tailor-made service suggests the most suitable solutions based on the traveller’s needs, ensuring a door-to-door service and enabling life without having to own a car. Are you ready for MaaS? We can help with that.

The rise of AI and AVs

Perhaps one of the most significant technologies to emerge in the last few years is artificial intelligence (AI). While AI tends to come off as quite a tech-heavy concept, we’ve seen in the implementation of this technology, the customer is always at the heart.  Some of the most common applications of AI in public transport are: customer analytics, real-time operations management, intelligent ticketing systems, scheduling and timetabling, and multimodal journey planner—all of which are fundamental to developing a MaaS solution.

AI is also often associated with the growth of automated vehicles (AVs). With the UITP-led SPACE project, we are actively working to ensure that automated vehicles are introduced in cities as shared and connected solutions that are part of an integrated sustainable mobility network. What's next on the road to SPACE? More to come on that soon!

And yet, none of these new technologies would really be useful without capitalising on the massive amount of data produced by the public transport sector. Many transport organisations are now routinely providing datasets that enable MaaS applications to provide real-time information to customers. As new mobility players enter the market, and the data economy expands, there are some emerging questions, such as: how should data be regulated and by whom? In the end, we have a common goal: to better serve our customers.

In a nutshell, this is where the digital transformation of public transport stands today. In the coming weeks, we will continue to develop these key topics, in the run-up to IT-TRANS 2020 (3-5 March) in Karlsruhe, Germany, as well as hear from some of our expert speakers!

Join us at IT-TRANS!

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