It’s just below freezing, sleet is blowing sideways off the water and you want to know when the next bus is coming. You’re two bitter blocks from the nearest bus stop – with no idea what’s going on.

Passing a cozy coffee shop, you glance enviously and see a screen in the window displaying arrival times for the next three buses. You step inside and wait for the bus in comfort, drinking a soothing cup of java while confidently monitoring bus arrivals on another screen inside.

When you need a ride, two questions suddenly become the most important information in your life: When will the bus (or train, ferry, etc.) be here, and why is it late? A key reason people don’t take the bus is that they have no confidence when it will show up. But we have the technology to provide this information, much of it real-time, at a modest cost, ubiquitously along transit routes throughout communities.

In an innovative model of collaboration, signage vendors and content aggregators can work with local leadership – including business improvement districts, economic development boards, chambers of commerce, advocacy groups, hospitals, schools, local employers, franchises, merchants, transit agencies and city government – to fund and establish transportation information networks through which transit arrival times and related information can be distributed and displayed.

Take a look next time you walk down the street or when you’re in stores, banks, restaurants, hotels, theaters, sports arenas, building lobbies, etc. There are digital screens everywhere. They display TV programming, menus, news headlines, sports scores, weather, local messages or local events. Location-specific, real-time transit information should also be part of this mix.

Venues use widely available operating and content management systems to choose which content to display, and when and where it should appear. Organizing existing screens into an ad hoc network, and supplementing them with screens dedicated to transit information, creates a transportation information network that displays location-specific transit arrival times.

Consider the benefits. Riders can walk down the street and easily see when transit is coming instead of fumbling for phones in bad weather or unsafe conditions. Businesses can provide better experiences for guests and customers by displaying useful and relevant information – and drive attention to their promotional messages. They can also promote their participation in transportation information networks to attract more foot traffic – “Come in, buy your coffee here, stay safe, dry and warm and we’ll let you know when the bus is coming.”

Making it easy for people to find out what’s going on with transit allows venues to give something back to the community and strengthen their local identity. Giving riders more confidence in transit also encourages environmentally sustainable and healthy behavior. More people on buses and fewer in cars means less congestion, less pollution and more walking, which combine to improve air quality and personal health. More people using transit also creates a sense of public safety.

Cities and transit agencies also benefit. Traditionally, dedicated outdoor “countdown clocks” have large capital and maintenance costs, making them too expensive to be deployed ubiquitously (e.g., $20,000 to buy and install the sign and another $20,000 in maintenance over five years). These countdown clocks are generally dedicated to the single transit mode operated by the agency that installed the sign.

A new indoor screen is about 10 percent the cost of a countdown clock. So utilizing a mix of existing signage at public and private locations along with some new screens saves significant money and provides benefits to many more riders.

If better transit information displays can get just a few drivers out of their cars and into buses, other savings are possible. A new indoor parking space costs about $40,000. Imagine how much transit signage could be deployed for the cost of a few parking spaces, while relieving traffic congestion.

Cities can create transportation information networks to avoid high costs and reach communities that are dependent on public transit. Plus, it’s possible to combine on a single screen all of the available options, including bike sharing, car services and other options, not just those from a single agency.

As more people choose urban lifestyles without cars, cities are investing heavily in transit. Transportation information networks offer an innovative, collaborative public-private partnership model that makes it easy for transit riders to find out what’s going on – simply by looking up.

 


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