Worth a Read: The Unreliable Bus

Four posts, explaining in near-laymen’s terms, the factors that affect service reliability. The author goes into more detail than I did on the subject.

In this first post, I am going to try and convince you that while on the surface this complaint seems simple enough, addressing it is a devilishly tricky problem. After we understand what the problem actually is, we can start looking at ways to fix it.

The National ITS Architecture and its Environs

This is part 3 of a series of thoughts on the state of the transit tech industry, public and private.

We left off with Google’s introduction of the GTFS, but that was just the beginning of the importance of transit to this space. The iPhone ushered in a world of opportunities for end users. Smartphones have driven ubiquitous information. But that ubiquitous information took a little while to get into this form factor. In 2008, with the addition of apps to iOS, Google brought transit directions to the iPhone.

In 2011, Google introduced GTFS-RT, allowing agencies to provide real time updates for an entire fleet. A number of transit apps sprung up merging GTFS, GTFS-RT, and other information together to provide useful information in one place.

These have gotten serious attention and funding from the tech community. For example, in 2014 Citymapper received $10M in funding, and in January 2016 got another $40M.

Moovit has raised a total of $81.5M. What’s most interesting is who is funding them. In addition to regular tech venture capitalists, BMW and Keolis (a branch of the French National Railways) have invested. Clearly, the existing transportation industry is hedging their bets with technology.

Not to be outdone, Google snapped up the largest player in the driving space, Waze, for just under $1 Billion.

What these investors see in apps are not just national but global ITS architectures. And they do this not out of the goodness of their hearts– they see money extracted from surveillance of our everyday activities. Some companies are willing to do some crazy stuff to get data at any cost.

 “The assault we face is driven in large measure by the exceptional appetites of a wholly new genus of capitalism, a systemic coherent new logic of accumulation that I call surveillance capitalism. Capitalism has been hijacked by a lucrative surveillance project that subverts the “normal” evolutionary mechanisms associated with its historical success and corrupts the unity of supply and demand that has for centuries, however imperfectly, tethered capitalism to the genuine needs of its populations and societies, thus enabling the fruitful expansion of market democracy.”

Meanwhile, back at the government ranch…

As a result of scale and mandate, the model of surveillance capitalism is not something that most public agencies can capitalize on, so the private sector is left to reap the gains. Perhaps because of this lack of incentive, public sector driven regional ITS architectures have not reached the same level of sophistication or prominence. (With one notable exception,  and a possible newcomer).

In conclusion, the private sector uses sizable public investments for profit (or at least leverage for sizable private investments), and gives (or is perceived to give) little back to those that have provided it.  Understandably, this causes consternation.
The real question is, knowing this, what are the incentives for the public sector to push the next generation of public investment forward?

Background Nerd Reading: On Predictions

This paper goes into detail about the most common arrival prediction algorithm– using the published schedule. This algorithm is not perfect, but it is a substantial improvement on the schedule alone:

This scheme was found to systematically underestimate the remaining waiting time by 6.2% on average. The provision of real-time information yields a waiting time estimate that is more than twice closer to the actual waiting times than the timetable is. This difference in waiting time expectations is equivalent to 30% of the average waiting time.

Oded Cats* & Gerasimos Loutos. Real-Time Bus Arrival Information System: An Empirical Evaluation. Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems, 2015