You know that shiny new Intelligent Transit System (ITS) your agency just invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to deploy? Well, odds are, you’ve only scratched the surface of one the most powerful and impactful features—its digital communication capabilities.
Digital communications, in its simplest terms, is the means of quickly transferring data from one place to another though the use of a technological medium—cellular, Wi-Fi, networking, hard drive, etc. When an agency upgrades to a CAD/AVL system, it does so with the aim of collecting the data regarding vehicle speed and location and transmitting it to centralized source such as a web server, which then applies an algorithm that calculates the arrival time of the vehicle in relation to its next stop. This information is then automatically transferred to the agency and the rider via a communication platform such as a website or smartphone application.
Voila! The agency has just communicated digitally.
But what else can one do with this information beyond simple transfer and calculation of arrival times? As it turns out, a lot more can be done. An effective digital communication strategy can leverage your Intelligent Transit System (ITS) to impact the entirety of an agency’s operations, including:
- Streamline operations: A properly equipped ITS includes the capabilities to automatically transmit updated information to any number of connected sources, ranging from the agency website, social media pages, station signage, and more.
- Reduce error: Rather than individually update the many communication platforms an agency might use to inform its riders, drivers, and employees, use the ITS to automatically transmit the same information to all desired systems. This ensures that all affected parties have access to the same information and eliminates input errors.
- Engage riders with rich content: Perhaps the most interesting application of digital communication is the ability to leverage existing station and on-board vehicle LCD screens and audio systems as a means of generating additional revenue and entertain passengers. Generate playlists with local advertisements, points-of-interest, weather reports, system updates, and more. This content can be triggered by any number of events, ranging from simple triggers such as arriving at a stop, to more specific instances like a specific GPS coordinate or time of day. It’s a great way to keep passengers informed and offers the opportunity to realize a new revenue stream.
But are digital communication capabilities critical to an agency’s operations? As it turns out, yes.
Per a 2016 survey conducted by ETA Transit Systems, only half of transit agencies incorporate a digital platform—such as a mobile website or smartphone app—as part of their rider communication strategy. A related survey indicated that only 15.79% of riders utilized traditional means, such as printed schedules or station signage, to inform their travel itinerary. Further bolstering these observations is a 2015 Pew Research Center study that revealed that 68% of all adults in the United States currently use a smartphone—up from 35% in 2011.
What those statistics reveal is that there is a rapid, widespread adoption of technology among the population. When one considers that 83.5% of surveyed agencies utilize paper schedules as a component of their rider communication efforts1 yet only 10.53% of riders utilize printed schedules,2 it becomes apparent that there exists a significant disconnect between the way agencies are communicating critical rider information, and the methods by which passengers prefer to receive this data.
The means of accessing and assimilating information through technology is changing quickly, and transit agencies are at the risk of falling behind and alienating potential customers. Digital communication capabilities provides transit operators with a means to bridge that gap and re-connect with passengers by providing a wealth of informational, educational, and entertainment content that will help improve customer satisfaction, improve operational performance, and boost the ever important bottom line.
 ETA Transit Systems Agency Survey, 2016
 ETA Rider Attitude Survey, 2016
 Pew Research Center, 2015