Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, but you may need to pack a change of clothes in your suitcase this summer. The hype about commuter and transit technology seems to have finally come true: In-car tech is the future. It’s not just for commuters anymore—it’s for everyone who wants to be more connected and have access to information at their fingertips wherever they are. A recent forecast from PwC predicts that by 2020, over one billion people will reside in urban areas. As more people cut across traditional boundaries between work, school, and home, cities are being called on to provide better public transport, fairer terms of service for mobile apps, and transportation data to build smarter cities. With so many people relying on public transportation or trains and buses every day, we can all benefit from having access to timely information right at our fingertips so we don’t get caught out during rush hour or miss our stop on the way home from work. That’s why we’re bringing you six tips for building a transit tech pant (or at least getting ready for it).
Be pragmatic about storage capacity
This one is obvious, but a lot of people don’t take it seriously. They assume their smartphone will have enough storage space to hold all of their contacts, photos, and videos. While this may be true for smartphone users, most people don’t realize that their digital wallets, credit card, and transit pass data will all be stored in the same place. If you want to keep up with the latest and greatest transit tech news, then you’ll definitely want to invest in an external storage device like the Num. It’s perfect for keeping all of this data stored online so you never have to worry about losing your pass, card, or passcode.
Ditch the digital wallet
You’re probably familiar with having to key in a series of data-entry-based passwords to log onto your favorite websites. But what if there was a more intelligent way to go about this? What if you could simply enter your passcode instead? This is the idea behind the digital wallet—a.k.a. the digital wallet fantasy. But don’t get too excited; this one is a bit of a pipe dream. It’s not going to happen. Even in 2021, it’s highly unlikely that a digital wallet will be a standard feature on most smartphones (we’re just excited about the no-keyboard login feature on the iPhone XS). But what if you could put your digital wallet in the drawer when you’re not using it?
Look for open-source solutions
Over the years, we’ve become quite good at building and maintaining our own custom solutions. We know our members, clients, and customers very well—we know what they want when they want it, and how they want it. But what if you could take the best practices from around the world and bring them to your city or town? What if you could easily integrate it with your public transit system? Well, there’s an open-source app for that.
The problem with most public transit systems is that they’re either very good at their job or very bad at it. You may have a working, but lagging, train or subway system, but a city’s public transportation network is a completely different story. If anyone can build an open-source app that integrates with a city’s public transport network, then the citizens of that city could benefit from it the most. The app could tell riders how far they are from their stop, what other trains or subway lines are coming in the next few minutes, and give real-time information on crowding and delays. This kind of data could help cities make improvements to their infrastructure and train systems, along with other modes of transportation. Plus, it would be a great way to engage with riders and provide feedback on the app development itself.
Get a grip on communication with transit tech teams
As much as we love our apps, we can’t do everything by ourselves. Sometimes, we need to speak with the people who build the software and the hardware that make our cities run. The good news is that there are a plethora of apps and websites that provide real-time data, along with analytics, for cities and towns. What’s more, they’re usually available for both mobile and desktop users. You can find up-to-date information on transit system issues, delays, and overcrowding right on your computer or smartphone. There are also many websites that provide this data for a fee, but you can usually find them online or at your favorite city library.
Help build software that’s already out there
If you’ve been using the same software and devices for your transit tech team or commute, then you’re missing out on a lot. We spend a lot of time on our computers, our smartphones, and our bikes, but we have very little insight into how those devices work or how we can bring the same technology to our public transit systems. That’s where open-source software comes into play. If you’ve used a desktop computer or laptop, then you’re probably familiar with the idea of open-source software. Perhaps you’ve even used a programming language like C or C++. These are essentially the same ideas behind open-source transit tech solutions. So, instead of relying on a company to build you a custom-built device that may or may not match your current system (and how many components would that really take?), you can use open-source solutions that are already out there.
Determine what kind of data you need to store
We know you want to be as connected and informed as possible, but how far do you want to go with this technology? When do you need to be at your computer, your mobile device, or your computer terminal? When is it safe to turn off the GPS in your phone? These are the types of questions you’ll want to ask yourself when determining how far you want to go with your tech. For example, you may want to build a system that allows you to track your commute time, but you don’t want to be on the road when your train comes in. So, a GPS-free phone is a good option. But if you didn’t plan ahead, then you may want to keep your phone on so you can get real-time data, such as the number of train delays and cancellations, and check on your location and waiting time.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people who know Best
One of the best things about the internet is that it’s decentralized. If anyone can help, then why the heck not? You can find help and support for a lot of different issues online, whether it be with other tech team members, your local library, or even your local transit agency. And many of them offer online help forums, so you can ask any question you have and receive a quick and helpful response.
Ultimately, the decision to build or use tech in your public transport system is a very personal one. Not only do you want to consider the best-case scenario, but you also want to factor in the downsides and disadvantages of not using it. When you’re ready to make your decision, we hope these tips have given you some clarity.