Creating more sustainable transport systems

Microsoft is working with industry experts and partners to adapt public transport for a new world, ensure the safety of passengers and reduce the industry’s environmental impact

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts on 25 November 2020
Creating more sustainable transport systems

Even in economies with huge car ownership, like the USA, where over 93 per cent of households have access to their own vehicle, and new vehicle-share applications offer potentially more sustainable and convenient option in urban environments, public transportation still plays an important role. 

A well-managed public transportation system produces less air pollution, improves fuel efficiency per passenger, and reduces traffic congestion. Many city leaders around the world are looking to improve their public transportation systems to realise these benefits and create better urban mobility experiences for the citizens they serve. 

The Microsoft Mobility Data Collaboration brings together public transport authorities, operators and industry leaders in technology innovation and the automotive industry.  

“It has been created to enable ecosystem collaboration, Industry 4.0 transformation and prepare for the future of intelligent mobility,” says Valentina Ion, director of EMEA government industry at Microsoft. “The working group focuses on solving common non-differentiating industry problems within a mobility and technology ecosystem. The aim is to unlock the potential of data collaboration within the industry to help organisations achieve their goals while enabling seamless, safe and sustainable mobility.” 

To reach this aim, Microsoft and its partners have a number of subsequent goals: improve operational efficiency by accelerating innovation; enrich traveller experiences; generate revenue with new data driven business models; enable economic development in cities and regions; and provide skilling programmes to create the mobility workforce of the future. 

“We strongly believe that technology has the power to accelerate the transformation of the sector by connecting players that are currently operating in isolation, by providing new sustainable means of transport and by unlocking the full potential of the mobility platform,” says Ion. “It is the collaboration around data that will derive new value and efficiency.” 

Those involved in the initiative have been working together to share and learn about best practices, solutions and implementations. They have been collaborating to tackle complex issues, to benefit from one another’s knowledge and experience, and to influence the direction of the technology roadmap that is jointly developed by members of the community. 

But this all began before Covid-19. 

“The pandemic has changed the ways we currently travel and could also affect transportation behaviour in the future,” says Ion. “Of course, it has also heavily impacted the financial status of the industry.  

“As such, the pandemic mitigation and recovery-related scenarios have taken precedence and we are working with our participants to support them through the pandemic phases. These include immediate crisis management, continuity of operations and recovery.” 

Ion says that the working group has identified four priority areas: safe transport, sustainable and inclusive mobility; personalised mobility, and new data-driven services and optimised revenue streams.

“To provide safe transport, gaining citizens’ trust in public transport is a priority,” she says. “And this requires personalising mobility offers to each user. Microsoft has an extensive ecosystem of technology partners such as Beabloo, Pointr and Cubic that are leveraging Microsoft’s technology, platforms, data and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to enable safe transport. For example, these organisations are working to ensure the implementation of social distancing by counting passengers, digital queueing, mask and temperature detection, real-time information on bus arrivals and capacity, automated cleaning, and contactless interactions.” 

Cubic – one of the major drivers behind urban smart transport payment methods, such as London’s Oyster card – is working hard to help government and transport agencies to adapt. Contactless payments and account-based fare collection are likely to play a greater role in transport post-Covid, as they reduce the number of passenger touchpoints. Cubic TouchPass is an example of an account-based fare collection system which can be deployed in as little as three months.

The organisation is also updating touchpoints for a more hygiene-conscious world by making them entirely hands-free. The Cubic Virtual Ticket Agent Module offers touch-free interaction with ticket vending machines by allowing a remote ticket agent to provide complete customer service – from selling a ticket to answering questions and solving problems. 

The pandemic has clearly had mixed effects on the industry. Innovative opportunities in technology have been created, while people, organisations and the world have suffered huge losses.  

“On the one hand, the global lockdowns have reduced pollution levels, with so many people house-bound,” says Ion. “But on the other hand, as people start leaving their homes again, many are choosing to use their own cars instead of public transport, in order to maintain social distance. 

“While we are supporting the industry to rebuild people’s trust in public transportation, we also need to raise awareness about the consequences of their choices, for example by showing them the environmental impact of different modes of transport.” 

Ion believes that the pandemic and its effects on people’s behaviour will provide the industry with some lessons to learn from. 

“The first is that real-time data collaboration is key to creating multi-modal journey planners, calculating pollution impact and recommending greener options where possible, as well as developing incentives to drive positive change.

“The second is that accessibility and sustainability should be embedded in the design and operation of any mobility ecosystem,” she says. “An example of this is with Azure Maps. We have partnered with a number of content providers to make data that is critical for city planning available natively through its application programming interface. This includes real-time traffic, ride-share and weather forecast data from AccuWeather.” 

In addition to sustainability and ensuring the welfare of passengers, the initiative is also looking at ways to mitigate the losses created by the lockdown period and restore this revenue through data-enabled services. 

“Operational cost optimisation needs to support a sustainable, inclusive transport system moving forward,” Ion explains. “Technology like AI, data and the internet of things can keep costs down by improving fuel consumption, enabling predictive maintenance to reduce downtime-related costs, realising energy savings, enabling smart depots, and allowing intelligent fleet management and route optimisation.” 

The transportation systems of the future could look quite different to what we know now, and Microsoft and its partners are doing their part to realise this safely and sustainably. 

Partner perspectives
We asked a selection of Microsoft partners about how they are helping to create more sustainable transportation systems, and enable greater agility during this time of global pandemic. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 152 of the digital edition of the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record.

Jaume Portell, CEO at Beabloo, says: “During these months of global uncertainty, Beabloo created and launched Interaction Care, a solution designed to help businesses stay safe during the pandemic by detecting high-risk interactions, managing occupancy, and displaying helpful messages on digital signage screens.”

Meg Davis, industry marketing director of road and bridge at Bentley Systems, says: “Agility and the ability to adapt to change has been critical for road and rail organisations as they continue to create more sustainable transportations systems during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”

Carolina Hinrichsen, senior vice president of sales at Dilax, says: “Since not everyone can stay at home, at Dilax we have been assisting our partners in their efforts to continue or restart business under the new critical conditions.”

Tuomo Parjanen, CEO at PayiQ, says: “During the high stages of the pandemic, using cash in public transport was banned in Finland and our app provided a safe means to obtain tickets.”

Ege Akpinar, CEO at Pointr, says: “With location-based services at airports and train stations, Pointr ensures social distancing, a simplified passenger experience and more efficient operations.”

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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