Los Angeles is known for its soul-crushing commutes, but strangely enough, its residents largely don't rely on public transportation to ease the crunch. This is likely because gas prices are still low, and the fact that busses sit in the very same traffic as everyone else. And, light rail and underground metro systems in the area can't hold a candle to the more accessible systems of other large cities like London and Tokyo. Given this, it's easy to see why the average Angelino still reaches for the car keys every morning.
The Los Angeles County Metro bus system, citing falling ridership, is aiming to address this with the use of technology that could make taking the bus faster than it used to be. This project, estimated to run over the next few years, starts with adding wifi connectivity to its 2,200 busses by 2019. While this not only enables productivity while riding, it adds new capabilities to the transit management system. With wifi, busses are able to report their location every five seconds, an improvement over the previous radio system's three minutes. With more accurate data, planners can more efficiently plan routes, anticipate bottlenecks, and even sneak in an extra bus or two. While customers themselves won't be tracked, their wifi use will so that planners have a better idea of demographics and interests by bus location and route, which they can put to use in selecting content for digital ads on busses.
The second step in the digital transformation is to prepare the system to be autonomous-ready. Passengers rely on drivers for information and to report problems, but without a driver customers are limited. Metro has this covered with a recently released smartphone app that is based on Microsoft Azure cloud technology. This app has extensive, detailed information about bus routes and stops, as well as the ability to connect with a transit agent for specific questions. It also features an emergency reporting feature, which when activated by a passenger alerts Metro, law enforcement, and relays video from ten on-board cameras with geolocation data.
Wifi and automation is great, but they don't necessarily get you to where you're going any faster. That's where Metro's Orange Line comes in, an 18 mile route in San Fernando Valley. This route has a dedicated bus lane, but busses still must stop for red lights like anyone else. Metro is currently evaluating data from traffic signals and connected busses on the route to see if tinkering with the bus' speed can help it to catch more green lights, thereby reducing the time waiting and time to destination. In addition, busses run more cleanly when they aren't having to come to a stop and start again constantly.
With these improvements the Los Angeles Metro bus system is hoping to not only improve ridership numbers, but also do its part to help reduce congestion in the area. “All that work makes buses safer, faster, more efficient and more responsive to customer needs, and hopefully that improves our ridership,” says Doug Anderson, senior director of digital strategy and innovation at Metro.
This article was based on a February 14, 2018 Microsoft Feature by Vanessa Ho.