Innovation, Technology, and Mobility

For Riders: Mobility in Your Hand

Multi-modal Transportation Flexibility

Information technologies now connect people with multiple modes of transportation through their smartphones and tablets. Millions of Americans combine multiple modes of transportation in a single trip, like using rideshare to go the last mile home from the light rail station, biking in to work and then taking the bus home in the evening, or simply walking the half mile to the commuter rail terminal to get in some steps before work.

Public transit provides the foundation for this type of flexible mobility, giving Americans an unprecedented kind of transportation freedom, even when they’re navigating a city for the first time.

Many public transportation systems are also working with tech-driven services to improve access to transportation for people in their areas. For example, transit systems in Boston, Florida’s Pinellas County (St. Petersburg and the surrounding area), and Salt Lake City are partnering with ride-hailing services to expand their reach. Many transit systems also now offer apps to making paying fares easier.

Real-Time Data and Information-Sharing

People on the go are also benefiting from real-time transportation data. People at home or work can see when the next bus or streetcar is arriving—and cut their wait times, as well as make their trips more efficient.

Dozens of transit systems around the country make their transportation data freely available to anyone, so map apps can provide public transit as an option when showing available routes.

For Everyone: Improved Transportation Experience and Impact

Next-Generation Bus Technologies

Buses are the primary public transportation in most American cities and towns. Many transit systems are retiring older buses and upgrading fleets with advanced vehicles, including:

  • Electric Buses—Electric buses emit no exhaust, and many transit systems also use hybrid-electric buses, which are cleaner and more fuel-efficient. Electric buses are also quieter than traditional diesel buses. Riders and non-riders alike benefit. Public transportation is already more efficient than single-passenger cars—and electric buses make transit even cleaner.
  • Alternative Fuel Buses—Though not as low-emission as electric buses, alternative fuel buses running on biodiesel or natural gas also help clear the air.
  • Traffic Signal PriorityThis technology allows buses to communicate with traffic signals to extend the length of a green light or shorten a red light to enable buses to pass more rapidly through intersections. This technology has long been available, but it is being added to buses in more locations to speed operations.

Train Communications Systems

Many transit systems are implementing automated train controls to replace or augment manual controls. The New York subway (MTA) recently added new Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) systems to Lines 7 and L, which now greatly outperform other lines. Baltimore is adding a CBTC system, due in 2021, and the Boston area’s MBTA will complete replacement of its older train control systems on its Orange and Red Lines in 2022.

More Successful City Planning

Transit agencies are also leveraging sophisticated data collection and analytic tools to optimize their systems to better meet residents’ needs. In Portland, Oregon, a group of government agencies is piloting the use of a sophisticated software system to gain a clearer picture of how people use different transportation options to move through the city. This will help the region develop a more effective transportation strategy for the years ahead.

Getting Where We Want to Go

The pace of innovation continues to accelerate, and we can expect continuing changes to our transportation networks. As just one example, autonomous vehicles could enable a whole range of new public transportation services, such as self-driven mini-buses for on-demand paratransit.

Federal government investment will be critical to making transit improvements accessible to more people. The Internet itself arose from the federal government’s investment in communications and computing technology. The next transportation bill reauthorization is coming in 2020, and infrastructure legislation is among the key issues in the next federal election. Our community will be educating Congress about the need for funding to support transportation innovation that benefits our entire nation.

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