4 ways mass transit operators can compete with autonomous vehicles
The UK Autodrive1 consortium of technology and automotive manufacturers, local authorities, and academic institutions has already proven some elements of what it believes is the start of autonomous driving - automated responses to sharp braking and traffic lights - and now it estimates that it could introduce Level 4 automation, where automated vehicles operate in certain boundary conditions, during the next five to 10 years. Full Level 5 automation, where fleets of autonomous vehicles can freely travel on all roads in all circumstances is around 10 years away.
The impact on metro and mass transit operators by projects such as UK Autodrive and others - Volvo and Uber are committing $300m to develop autonomous vehicles in the United States - is real.
Unlike autonomous driving, which are “over the top” services that use roads owned and maintained by national, state or city authorities at little or no cost, metro operators tend to contribute significant amounts to maintaining and developing their own infrastructure.
This may appear to be a disadvantage. But with investments in metro network infrastructure having a lifespan of 10 to 20 years, infrastructure owners have an opportunity to invest in new technologies now that will help them to remain relevant and attractive to their customers.
Here are four possible ways that the metro of the future can respond:
Enhance passenger experience: investments in high-speed internet and infotainment services onboard trains will improve services for passengers. In the future, operators could offer online shopping portals with delivery available at the next stop, virtual reality applications, or the ability to easily charge devices such as electric bikes onboard.
Expand beyond the traditional business: selling access to dedicated telecoms infrastructure to third parties can open up additional revenue streams to metro operators and infrastructure owners.
Diversify the transport offering: partnerships with bicycle sharing providers or car pooling companies can help metros to remain the critical component of the entire journey, from door to door. French National Railways (SNCF) and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) have had some success in this area, as has Munich Transport (MVG).
Monetize big data: metro operators sit on mountains of data about their passengers and services. The Opticities project2 has shown that sharing and managing information from multiple public transport operators and actors can improve the overall offering to passengers, while preventing third parties from monetizing this information potentially at the expense of the metro.
Efforts to develop connected cars are clearly advancing. While the technology has a few hurdles to clear until it is viable, it is important for metro operators to act now so their networks continue to develop and remain the backbone of sustainable transport in the cities of the future. If not, they risk being bypassed altogether.
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