Why Can’t We Just Look Up to See When the Bus Is Coming?

Why Can’t We Just Look Up to See When the Bus Is Coming?

By Scott Kolber, CEO, Roadify Transit // 

How civic partnerships can create Transit Information Networks (TINs) to spur economic development and promote transportation equity.

Civic collaboration = shared success

A central theme of the recent CEO’s for Cities national meeting in Columbus was that a culture of civic collaboration between public and private organizations, including business, government and everyone in between, can deliver shared success. Columbus’ success in winning the $40 million federal DOT Smart Cities grant, along with $100 million in additional grants from Vulcan, and local business and organizations, is measurable evidence of this culture in practice.

In an innovative collaboration, committed local leadership, including business improvement districts, foundations, economic development boards, chambers of commerce, advocacy groups, local employers, franchises, merchants, transit agencies and city government, can fund and establish Transit Information Networks (TINs) –indoor electronic screens on which transit arrival times and related information can be distributed and displayed. This model can deliver immediate, highly visible benefits to many stakeholders at a modest cost.

Photo credit: @ryankcroft, Instagram

Transit information is critical

When you need a ride, two questions are suddenly critical—when will the bus (or train, ferry, etc) be here and why is it late? One reason people don’t take buses is because they lack confidence that it will show up. But this information can be made readily available, much of it real-time, at a modest cost, for ubiquitous display on screens along transit routes throughout communities—not only in downtown areas. And the information displayed can serve multi-mode riders by combining on a single screen all available options, including bike sharing, car service, etc, not only those from a single transit agency.

Screens are already in many places and provide an addressable base

Take a look next time you walk down the street or when you’re inside a business or a lobby. Digital screens are everywhere including many that already face the sidewalk. They display television programming, menus, news headlines, sports scores, weather, and local messages. Location-specific, real-time transit information should also be part of this content mix. Organizing existing screens into an ad hoc network, and supplementing them with screens dedicated to transit information creates a TIN that displays location-specific transit arrival times.

Many stakeholders and constituents will benefit

Consider the benefits. Riders can walk down the street and easily see when transit is coming instead of fumbling for smartphones to launch apps in bad weather or unsafe conditions. Businesses can provide better experiences for guests and customers by displaying useful, relevant information– and draw attention to their promotional messages. They can also promote their participation in TINs to attract more foot traffic—“come in, buy your coffee here, stay safe, dry and warm and we’ll let you know when the bus is coming.”

roadify4TINs help address transit equity

TINs also help address issues of transit access equity—another frequently raised topic at the CEO’s for Cities Columbus meeting. People most dependent on transit are least likely to live in areas where expensive kiosks and outdoor countdown clocks are deployed. Many don’t have smartphones with transit apps. Lower income people, many of them elderly, along with minimum wage shift workers, and students need to know when the bus is coming so they can safely get to work (often at odd hours), or health care services, school, etc. Displaying this information in venues along transit routes provides more ubiquitous access and gives these riders a sense of confidence and safety.

An easy way for local businesses and institutions to give back to the community

Making it easy for people to find out what’s going on with transit also allows venues to give something back to the community and strengthen their local identity. Giving riders more confidence in transit encourages environmentally sustainable and healthy behavior. More people on buses and fewer in cars means less congestion, less pollution and more walking which combine to improve air quality and personal health. More people using transit also creates a shared sense of public safety.

roadifySignificant cost savings enables broader distribution

TINs provide significant financial benefits and efficiencies. Traditionally, dedicated outdoor “countdown clocks” have large capital and maintenance costs that are too expensive to be widely deployed (eg, $20K for procurement and installation, and another $20K in maintenance over five years— $40K all together!). These countdown clocks are generally dedicated to the single transit mode operated by the agency that installed the sign. This means less information for fewer people, at unnecessarily high costs. A new indoor screen is about 10% the cost of a countdown clock. So utilizing a mix of existing signage at public and private locations along with some new screens saves significant money and provides benefits to many more riders.

If better transit information displays can get just a few drivers out of their cars and into buses, other savings are possible. The cost of a new indoor parking space is about $40,000.  Imagine how much transit signage could be deployed for the cost of a few parking spaces, while relieving traffic congestion.

Immediate, high impact visibility at a low cost

As more people choose urban lifestyles without cars, cities are investing heavily in transit. TINs offer an innovative, collaborative public/private partnership model that provides an immediate impact with high, persistent visibility and value to many stakeholders at a modest cost. Most important, TINs make it easy for transit riders to find out what’s going on—simply by looking up.

Scott KolberScott Kolber, CEO

Scott’s background is in marketing and business development for content and technology. At Viacom, he marketed syndicated television programming and helped develop MTV’s global satellite distribution. At Loral Space and Communications, Scott expanded satellite services internationally. As SVP of Business Development Scott introduced Linkstorm’s innovative on-line advertising technology to advertisers and publishers.

roadifylogo_ondarkgreyRoadify Transit

Roadify aggregates and distributes real time transit arrivals, schedules and service alerts for display on any type of screen. Riders can easily find out what’s going on, whatever they’re doing, wherever they are. Learn more at www.roadify.com.

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