With technology playing a near-ubiquitous role in most industries and sectors as also everyday life events, the mobility sector has not remained untouched. And within mobility, public transport has particularly attracted attention as it undergoes visible change not only outside India but even within. Impelled by ever-rising air pollution levels and in a world increasingly predisposed towards a carbonless transport systems, transport engineers and transport science and technology professionals helped on by policymakers are continuously striving to make public transport cleaner, speedier, less congested, more comfortable and customized to the needs of users of all locations and for all times of the day. Unlike yesteryears when any long-distance travel had to be planned much further in advance, today the decision to travel is made in moments, and a traveler is on his way almost immediately thereafter marking a huge difference from the earlier days.
In what ways is technology changing the way people use public transport today?
Can plan their intra-city commute and inter-city travel better
First, the advent of new-age digital and app-based location and traffic tracking technologies has empowered the passengers in an unprecedented way today. There is a range of other applications too which allow the user to know in advance and in real-time the state of traffic or road traffic congestion levels at different nodes and routes in the city thereby helping him to plan his commute accordingly. In fact, public transport providers can today use advanced cloud data management solutions to support real time decision-making. This can help them do things like responding to surges in road usage around sporting events, adapting routes to deal with blockages caused by roadworks, or changing bus routes according to the fluctuations in demand. And for people, there are applications today that can tell people not only the frequency of public buses on different routes but also in advance the crowded buses and routes on a given day. For those preferring to travel by trains, a hugely popular mode of transport for inter-city and even intra-city travel, there is a new-age train journey solutions provider that offers to upgrade a wait-listed ticket to a guaranteed flight ticket starting at a measly Re 1.
Can travel unprecedentedly safely today
Second, with the increased deployment of intelligent public transport systems, smart junction management along with video monitoring and analytics, passengers are traveling more safely on roads than ever before. Thanks to these technologies, traffic violations and anomalies are detected much in time, offenders are booked, alerts are dispatched and traffic issues resolved before they can snowball into an accident with negative spillovers on other road users. Similar and advanced technologies have also elevated safety of passengers during rail and air travel, something evident from the lower number of train and airplane accidents today. While AI and big data are being employed to not only predict passenger demand, volume and usage patterns and therefore prepare accordingly, new-age safety and accident-proof systems are becoming an integral part of manufacturing today.
A more integrated public transport experience
Third, the advent of digital technologies has facilitated a more holistic travel experience for passengers today. From searching for right mode of transport at the right moment, to making price comparisons between different service providers, to booking contactless tickets, to making payments digitally, to changing to another mode of transport if required on the way, to getting on to last-mile mode of connectivity, the inter-connected digital platform provides for a convenient and integrated travel experience for passengers today. Further, riding on the increasing penetration of mobile phones, the contactless ticketing and the emergence of smart cards along with RFID technologies has led to an integrated fare management system again convenient for passengers as well as authorities and administrators. Furthermore, with technology being the buzzword for the travel industry, it offers more personalized and unique experiences than ever before. So, modern travelers are on the lookout for customized and unique experiences today.
On-demand services enable flexible travel
Fourth and related to the above, passengers have access to on-demand travel services like never before. The ability to book travel tickets online from the comfort of their homes whenever they like while being able to compare fares from different operators and travel agencies, is a big plus for passenger convenience. At the same time, there is a proliferation of app-based ride hailing platforms making not only long distance travel easier but also last-mile connectivity a reality in most cities.
Traveling/commuting in more environmentally-responsible manner
Fifth, there has been a surge in the environmentally-friendly modes of transport catalyzed by ever-increasing policy attention to the imperative of clean and carbon-less mobility. Today, there are more non-carbon-based public transport vehicles than ever in Indian cities and towns employing environmentally-friendly technologies. These have ranged from CNG buses and electric buses to electric cars, autos and e-rickshaws. Likewise, there are 15 Indian cities that have an active metro rail service network providing for not only speed and convenience for passengers but also contributing significantly to the reduction in urban pollution levels.
Travel has become more disabled-friendly
Sixth, today, all forms of travel whether by road, rail, air or seas, have become more user-friendly for people with special needs. Again technology has played a role along with introduction of more disabled-friendly policies and practices. Not only are there more flights and trains offering wheelchair assistance and accessible bathrooms, but even tourist sites have become more disabled-friendly with facilities such as ramps, wheelchair-friendly toilets, buttons with Braille, and adequately trained staff sensitive to the needs of a disabled traveler. Furthermore, apart from the increased emphasis on designing of disabled-friendly transport vehicles such as wheelchair-assisted cars, buses, metro trains, planes etc, an array of startups are showing up offering assistive technologies-based mobility services. From a wheelchair taxi startup, to one that provides customized vehicles for the physically challenged, to one that provides easy-to-install disabled-friendly swivel seats for cars, the idea of accessible travel is really gaining acceptance. At the same time, specialist tourism agencies have emerged today which specialize in making long-distance tours and travel possible for disabled people.
Therefore, even as Indian passengers look forward to an era of high speed rail lines and bullet trains in near future and possibly autonomous and connected vehicles, flying cars and taxis and even hyperloops in the longer term, technology has already set in motion changes that are irreversible in terms of travel experience of passengers. The future seems only more promising.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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