Growth of Mobile Ticketing Adds Flexibility to Transit Solutions

This article originally appeared in Mobility Lab.

The transportation industry is changing rapidly, and many public agencies are struggling to keep up.

Demographics and demand often shift more quickly than a procurement process or study can address, putting a system’s reliability at risk as an agency fails to manage the many factors that influence ridership.

To maintain a thriving transit system, transportation agencies need to keep ahead of trends and address problems quickly as they occur. While some tech companies might look to appeal to customers tired of struggling transit systems, others, such as Passport, Inc., are providing a way to inject that necessary flexibility into the traditionally rigid transit industry.

Getting the public on board

Since its start as a parking app, Passport, Inc., has grown to work with cities and create custom apps for their transit systems. According to Emily Wilson, Passport’s marketing specialist, the company seeks to get more people onto transit by changing their perception and experience of riding it.

Often, riders might see transit as inefficient and inconvenient. Passport hopes that combining a multimodal trip-planning function that finds the most efficient route with the ability to pay for the entire trip with one mobile-app transaction will change that.

For example, in Cleveland, where the company launched an app for the Regional Transportation Authority just before the Republican National Convention, passengers are now able to buy a digital pass that could cover a connection from a local bus route to the Health Line BRT (above) and the airport rail line. The app replaces the need to purchase physical tickets at kiosks for each segment, makes the user experience convenient, and helps people better understand their options.

Sample screenshot of the Cleveland RTA app. Cleveland RTA uses a proof-of-purchase system, through which it is easier to incorporate app-based tickets.

An interesting future goal for Passport is to allow riders to participate in the system, such as the possibility of a “see something, say something” feature, in which users can report dangerous conditions like crowded platforms directly to the transit authority.

Overall, in order to improve the transit experience in the long run, transportation services need to become more reliable. Passport’s platform offers an avenue for agencies to accumulate actionable, real-time information from customer data as passengers navigate the service, and in turn become more nimble in their response to issues and rider trends.

Adaptability on the back end

As well as making transit more efficient for passengers, Passport hopes to improve the system for agencies themselves. With mobile ticketing, the platform streamlines fare collection for both customers and agencies, an efficiency Wilson explains is expected to increase farebox revenue.

As riders use an app to navigate a city’s transportation system, the platform can track patterns in order to provide data for transportation agencies and help them adapt quickly to incidents or longer-term patterns that affect service and ridership. Daniel Bliley, Passport’s marketing director, described a goal to develop “higher analytics” – using this data to optimize transit systems’ efficiency, such as tracking bus boardings to improve routing and stop locations.

Wilson and Bliley point out that Passport’s main attraction for agencies is that it provides greater flexibility. Their projects are customizable to an individual city’s needs, and bringing the new system online only takes 60 to 90 days, rather than what might be a two-year time frame.

Industry trends

Passport is part of a growing movement in transportation technology that looks to lower barriers to public transit by simplifying and integrating services into mobile apps. In Houston, for example, a recent, shift in the city’s attitude towards public transportation led to a similar partnership with GlobeSherpa, which has since merged with Ridescout to form Moovel Transit. The technologies that companies like Moovel, Transloc, TransitScreen, Passport, and many others offer are helping cities promote alternatives to personal vehicles even in places dominated by cars.

It does remain to be seen how effective Passport itself will be in practice. Currently, its apps are still limited to pilot programs in partner cities, and are working through user-friendliness issues. As a result, in the Cleveland example, the apps do not yet offer the full range of multi-day passes, and agency employees, like bus drivers, are still getting used to the digital passes. However, as their service grows and their relationship with transit operators deepens, it should empower passengers and agencies with better, streamlined information that improves operations and the customer experience both in front of and behind the scenes.

Flexible technology platforms offer transportation agencies a way to more readily adapt to their quickly changing environments and patterns. Services like Passport represent tools that can accelerate system-modernization efforts, address rider-experience challenges, and establish reliable, accessible transit.

Photos: Top, Cleveland RTA’s Health Line bus (BeyondDC, Flickr, Creative Commons). Middle, a sample screenshot from the RTA CLE app (Google Play).