This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Record.
If there’s one thing all Americans living in large cities can relate to, it’s the collective experience of the dreaded rush hour. Congestion, pollution and traffic coupled with ageing public transit infrastructure and a shortage of funding have, until recently, left little to no alternative for a more effective and pleasurable commute.
But in many cities the options are growing. Uber, Lyft, Zip Car, car2go, GetAround and Turo are only a few examples of alternative transport services that promise to solve all transportation pains, curb congestion and offer a seamless, integrated, on-demand travel experience.
Those car-sharing and ride-hailing services are often defined in the context of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) – a generally understood vision of future mobility that involves a mix of transport modes and providers. Although the idea of MaaS seems to have taken centre stage in conversations about the future of transport, it remains an ambiguous term – widely misunderstood and too often associated with the private sector.
With so many players claiming to be part of the MaaS revolution, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and dismiss the concept as either a fragmented, commercially motivated attempt at getting a piece of the transportation cake or just another way of describing a plethora of new technologies that are shaking up the sector.
Yet, despite the complicated discourse surrounding MaaS, the idea carries true potential to improve the commute and general mobility of citizens. The key to understanding MaaS and its transformative power lies in identifying its key stakeholders and objectives.
Recognising the positive impact that MaaS can make on mobility, many public transit agencies across the US are keen to take tangible steps towards wider MaaS implementation in their region. A good starting point is to adopt the same real-time, cloud-based technologies that allowed alternative transit providers to gain a competitive edge, but to do so in a coordinated, integrated and inclusive way.
That was exactly the approach taken by Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW), which, in 2016, began an ambitious overhaul of its entire public transit network. Keen to reduce road congestion and digitally connect all transportation services in the county, DTPW partnered with Cubic Transportation Systems, Microsoft and City Innovate to bring an integrated travel experience to users of public and private mobility services.
Cubic modernised the EASY Card revenue management system and migrated DTPW’s legacy back office to the cloud running on the trusted and secure Microsoft Azure platform. The cloud-based environment allowed DTPW to introduce a range of modern capabilities and payment options that made multimodal travel easier and more convenient. Those include support for contactless bank cards and near-field communication payments; a state-of-the-art mobile application for transit riders, which allows travellers to buy a ticket barcode on their phone and present it at the gate to gain access; and options to add open payments in the future.
The resulting system – the first truly multimodal public transit system in the US – adds a new level of flexibility and choice to the customer experience. It takes advantage of innovative, futureproof technologies and can communicate with other transportation agencies as well as ride-share and bike-share companies for more seamless travel countywide. While DTPW’s Metrorail still serves as the backbone of the region’s transportation network, alternative transit providers, such as Lyft, can now work with the city authorities to fill in the gaps in service and help address first and last mile problems.
By focusing on innovation and partnering with the private sector, DTPW showed true leadership in reshaping the public transit landscape in the true spirit of MaaS – one that is properly implemented, responsibly managed and well executed; where the city, rather than any other player, influences the development of the multimodal environment and ensures mobility services serve the wider interest of the public.
As the needs of the travelling population change and grow, the time is ripe for local authorities and transit agencies to take the lead in pushing the MaaS effort forward. Examples like DTPW prove that public transit can – and should – play an active role in helping transform our transit networks and city spaces for the better.
Boris Karsch is vice president, strategy at Cubic Transportation Systems
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