Salzburg railway station roof

Salzburg railway station roof

Salzburg Hauptbahnhof old and new roof with winged design sculpture (May 2013).

Salzburg Hauptbahnhof old and new roof with winged design sculpture (May 2013).

They have been rebuilding the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof seemingly forever, but making progress. Here’s a photo of the old roof structure, renovated, and protected by the new, longer roof.

I love the traditional design found on many stations and railway logo designs that makes use of the winged something (often it’s a wheel). There’s one visible here at the top of the old roof.

Also visible in the photo is the rail above the tracks for providing electricity to the trains. It probably was necessary to use a rail in the renovated station because the electric catenary wire would have been too high.

Connected Commuting

Connected Commuting

Waze Application Homepage

Waze – “Outsmarting Traffic Together” – application homepage.

A new report “Connected Commuting” was just released on the use of social networking in transport. The report describes how commuters use two social network apps to share information: Waze (for automobile drivers) and Roadify (for public transport users).

The study used two techniques: sentiment analysis of words used in the social network comments and focus group discussions. The primary sentiment analysis method used was a software program that recognizes the emotional connotation behind specific words and phrases.

Connected Commuting (2012) Report Cover

Connected Commuting (2012) Report Cover

The study’s main conclusion is that social networking can be very useful for improving transport. It recommends that transport agencies use Sentiment Analysis to help provide better information to users. The report also recognizes that “technology is integral to the future of commuting” and states, “There is a real opportunity to please commuters and enhance the commuting experience through future app technology.”

I’d say that these conclusions also apply to transport in general (not just commuting) and the full report is well worth reading. On the other hand, the report seems to go too far with its generalizations about the differences between how auto drivers and public transport passengers use social networking. Clearly these groups use social networking differently, but I think there’s not enough data to support strong conclusions on differences since this field is changing extremely rapidly and the study was based on a limited amount of data. (The Roadify data used in the Sentiment Analysis was for a relatively short amount of time and the focus groups were very small.) This isn’t meant as a criticism of the study, only to say that it’s clearly the beginning of a fascinating field of research. Congratulations to the Task Force for starting the process and developing a structured approach for the analysis.

One idea for further research to consider additional social networks and uses of information. Maybe public transport users don’t use social networks as much as drivers because public transport users are well served by existing real time schedule applications. So it would be interesting to consider how social networking apps can be used to achieve other transport goals such as reporting system problems (e.g. seeclickfix) or long range planning input (e.g., GreenCityStreets.com). There were also several fascinating studies on the use of Twitter and Facebook presented at the 2012 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (Transit Wire report on Chicago CTA project) and 2011 IIID Transport Conference in Vienna (my summary notes).

Read more discussion of the Connected Commuter report at the Transit Wire and Atlantic Cities.

The Connected Commuter study was conducted by the “New Cities Foundation Task Force in San Jose” a team consisting of the New Cities Foundation, Ericsson, the City of San Jose’s Department of Transportation, and the University of California’s Mobile Millennium team from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society.

On the minds of leaders at the world’s top mass transit agencies

On the minds of leaders at the world’s top mass transit agencies

I just watched a fascinating presentation “What’s on the Minds of the Leaders of the World’s Top Mass Transit Agencies?” made by Juliette Michaelson, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Regional Plan Association (New York Area) at the 2012 Meeting of the Minds conference. Here’s the introduction from the conference report:

In 2012, Regional Plan Association brought together the chief executives of publictransportation agencies from New York, Los Angeles, São Paulo, London, Hong Kong and seven other world cities for a candid, off-the-record dialogue. What strategies and technologies are transit executives adopting to improve their systems? What obstacles do they face?

Michaelson presented these ideas in terms of several innovations. Here’s my summary of her presentation with some of my own comments (indicated with AN). Links to the presentation and more information from Meeting of the Minds.

1. Analytics

There’s lots of data that can be analyzed to improve transit service. Michaelson described Singapore as an excellent example. They are using check-in/check-out fare card data for both short term operational planning and long term strategic planning. For example, trip time data can be used to identify delays; this information can be used to change service and inform customers about alternative routes. In the long term data can be used to identify the need for new rail lines etc.

According to Michaelson, many cities have this type of fare card data but not everyone is using the data as well as they could be.

(AN: Professor Nigel H.M. Wilson and his colleagues at MIT have done a lot of work in this area.)

Donostia – San Sebastian’s dBus uses both fare cards and smart phones on its system. Source: dBus

2. Fare Cards

Fare cards have lots of advantages for transit operators and so they are being adopted rapidly.

One idea discussed by the operators at the meeting was using fare cards to help improve equity (e.g., low income people pay less for public transport).

Several cities are experimenting with non proprietary fare cards: e.g., tap and go (NFC) credit or debit cards. The advantages: (1) reduced administration for transit operators; and, (2) easier for customers (no need to buy a new card for every city). London experimented with the idea during the Olympics and plans to begin introduction next year.

(AN: Lots of work is being done on using smart phones as check-in/check-out cards too. The photo is from Donostia – San Sebastian (Spain) where the local public transport operator dBus is using smart phones for payment.)

3. Open Data

Many cities have opened their data to private developers. This has led to a huge number of privately developed applications saving public transport operators time and money. Plus these applications often solve real customer problems.

Oddly some cities and agencies still refuse to open their data. Some cite security concerns although it seems strange that some of the world’s most security conscious cities (New York, Washington, London, etc.) are pretty good in terms of releasing data.

Unfortunately, what’s seems to be needed is culture change at many public transport agencies (see also 7 below).

(AN: An interesting comment from Transport for London’s Simon Reed at the ITS World Congress 2012 was that it was becoming impossible for London to keep-up with server demand needed for real time transit information, the problem was solved by providing an API for the data and allowing private developers to develop their own apps.)

4. Customer Service and Branding

Michaelson described Hong Kong as a leader in this field. The Hong Kong MTR has a very extensive advertising program (including television) and even has built “opinion zones” in main stations where customers can drink a coffee with MTR staff and discuss problems. Their goal is to develop an “emotional connection” with their customers.

She showed a great commercial where a track inspector discusses his job. It’s embedded below. Here’s another one I found on YouTube, sorry no English translation, but you’ll get the idea. Hong Kong MTR Advertisment

[jwplayer mediaid=”581″]

Many cities are looking to social networking to help in customer service and branding.

(AN: I’ve argued that we are still in the early stages of using social networking in public transport. There are far too many transit agencies that think social networking means having a lot of people “Like” you on Facebook. But real emotional involvement means more. Fostering emotional engagement is one of the goals of my GreenCityStreets.com project.)

Michaelson also mentioned Washington Metro which is developing a MindMixer project for improving their system.

5. Governance

The specific governance problem Michaelson mentioned was coordination of services and fares. She described the recent changes made Santiago (Chile) as a good example of how government can help improve coordination. In Santiago the government helped buy new vehicles, increase coordination and re-organize routes to be more efficient.

(AN: Public transport coordination is very difficult. Everyone agrees it needs to be done but no individual agencies want to give up any independence. My favorite example of making coordination work is in Zurich. The agencies there did not want to do it either but were forced to by a local initiative. Today it’s considered a great success story and is part of what makes Zurich’s public transport system the best in the world.

The neat idea from Zurich was to create a new agency that “buys” service from the region’s 43 different public transport operators (city bus operators, the national railway, etc.). The new agency (Zurich Verkehrsverbund) tells the local agencies what service to operate and how it wants this service coordinated. The operators and ZVV negotiate cost and service standards. Then the ZVV pays the operating agencies and receives all the fare revenues.

What I find most interesting about the Zurich system is that it allows the local transit operators to focus on operating the service rather than the high level strategic coordination and fare collection issues. These are decided on a regional level. I wrote about Zurich’s system in my report Implementation of Zurich’s Transit Priority Program for San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute.)

6. Redefining Transit Agencies as Comprehensive Mobility Agencies

According to Michaelson, many public transport agencies are redefining themselves as “comprehensive mobility providers”. She pointed to London as a good example. There TfL (Transport for London) is involved in planning all aspects of the transport system including the city’s highly innovative congestion charging system.

(AN: I believe that TfL is similar to the ZVV in the sense that it does not actually operate service, but rather is a planning and funding agency which might make taking this broader view easier (please correct me in the comments!). In my experience I think it’s hard for public transport service providers to focus on long term planning and strategy since the day-to-day operations are very demanding. Perhaps regional agencies charged with supporting comprehensive urban mobility solutions is the answer?)

7. Why not more change?

So, if there are all these good ideas out there, why aren’t they being implemented by public transport operators and cities more?

Michaelson pointed to two problems: (1) development of new transit facilities takes a long time; and (2) people are resistant to change.

She provided an equation: Innovation = Technology + People

(AN: I think this is a great equation. Without people willing to change there will be no innovation. I also think that this is a huge problem in the public transport sector. The unwillingness to embrace open data and new governance structures intended to improve regional coordination or comprehensive mobility programs are all examples of public transport’s conservative approach to business.

A good example was my being asked “Why would we want to buy a system that allowed customers to complain about our service?” when I explained my project GreenCitySreets.com to a public transport operator. I mean how 20th Century is that?)

8. More Information

Here are some links:

Meeting of the Minds 2012 World Transit Agencies Presentation Page – page that introduces Michaelson’s presentation with links to the presentation video and slides that were shown in the presentation.

Regional Plan Association of New York

Please add your ideas to the comments!

WienWin GreenCityStreets.com

WienWin is an excellent program from the Vienna Business Agency, the business promotion agency of the City of Vienna. The idea is to showcase innovative products and ideas developed in Vienna. There are lots of very interesting projects described on the website including my project GreenCityStreets.com.

Here’s the link to the description of GreenCityStreets.com on WienWin (German).

It’s one of almost 200 city planning and transport projects listed on the WienWin website.

GreenCityStreets.com project

GreenCityStreets.com project

I’ve been working in the field of using Web 2.0 techniques to help make transport more sustainable for several years. This post is adapted from my Blogger Blog written in 2011 when we launched the GreenCityStreets.com website.

Here are several of my papers on the subject of using Web 2.0 techniques to create more sustainable transportation systems:

Bus Meister is a prototype for the Green City Streets project. It combines a game (to attract and teach), a social network (to encourage political action) and a best practices wiki (for those who want to learn more). If Bus Meister is successful we will create similar programs for other modes of transport under the same Green City Streets website.

Here are links to the GreenCityStreets.com pages:

We welcome your comments and ideas!

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