Future Forward: Technology Will Shape the Future of Public Transportation
These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.
This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview at the top of this page or by visiting bit.ly/3CaEBfq
The term “public transportation” often leads people to think of the vehicles involved, including buses, trains and trolleys. But it’s the technology inside and around the vehicles that will have the greatest effect on the future of this important element of infrastructure.
“I think we’re at a real inflection point,” notes Mazur. “If you look at the technologies now coming to fruition, cities can become much more efficient and have much better services for residents, visitors and companies.”
Mazur believes the main technological contributors to improved public transportation will be 5G cellular service, artificial intelligence (AI) and image recognition, and the internet of things (IoT).
In terms of 5G service, Mazur believes the benefits are far more than just faster connection speeds. He notes that 5G will allow vehicles to “talk” to the infrastructure they’re using to manage current vehicles as well as future autonomous systems.
Improved cellular service also will help fine-tune location technology in cities that can’t use GPS as effectively due to urban canyons. 5G will be able to locate vehicles to within tens of centimeters, allowing intersection systems to determine which lane a vehicle is in to run the intersection signals optimally.
“Many of these traffic systems will operate in the cloud, because city managers do not want all these applications running on their computer systems in their data center,” adds Mazur.
AI is being used to create better image-recognition systems, particularly to detect pedestrians. Mazur notes that image recognition and AI also will be centerpieces of autonomous vehicles as they’re increasingly deployed. IoT will allow cities to become much more efficient and have better services for residents.
“It’s a whole new area where technology will grow and mature and bring about new business and opportunity for many people,” adds Mazur.
Technology at Work
As examples of how technology will improve public transportation, Mazur points to two projects he recently worked on in Chicago and New York.
A pilot project in Chicago was pandemic related, testing new technologies and systems to ensure bus ridership is optimized to help ensure passenger safety. It accurately determined how many passengers were on a bus and relayed the information to potential passengers further down the line so they’d know if a bus had high or low occupancy and could make an informed decision about whether to board a particular bus. If a bus was over capacity, the system would signal for another bus to be put on the route.
In New York City, its Department of Transportation installed routers at every intersection to help traffic-management systems run effectively.
“Anything that can be done to reduce that ride, especially for a large city like New York, is worth the money,” explains Mazur.
Benefits of Infrastructure Investment
Mazur is excited about the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and sees it as a very important step forward. He hopes the investment will spur public transportation, in particular, to lessen the country’s dependence on individual cars.
“We’ve got to get out of the cars,” he says. “Cars are a huge contributor to greenhouse gases, so people need to get back into transit. It’s not about commuters now, it’s really about moving a lot of people and visitors through cities and bringing about cultural improvement to residents for a good city experience.”
He also notes that the new law isn’t just a “one-hit cash influx.”