When people pay to use transportation, they're generating substantial data that's not being used to its full potential, says Phil Silver, director of business development for Urban Insights.
"A lot of data is included in the ticketing and payment system that can unlock other assets," Silver says, adding it's possible, for example, to enable a single account or app to pay for parking, commuter train and subway trips at the same time.
Urban Insights, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cubic Transportation Systems, is launching a consulting service this week for transit authorities and other transportation companies that wish to optimize the data yield from payments. This information is particularly useful because it provides insight into trends in usage and spikes during certain times, as well as where people enter and exist a transportation network, Silver says. That information can inform a more open payment network, or a way to allow users to pay less often for longer trips, he says.
While this concept exists in a nominal way, Silver saysa New York Metro Card can pay for a "two seat" commute that includes a bus and subway rideUrban Insights' goal is to bring in more types of purchases, such as bike sharing initiatives located near subway stations or payments at nearby merchants.
"That type of payment model, where a bunch of items or steps are paid for at one time, is already used in other areas outside of transportation," Silver says. "You don't pay for each item in a supermarket one item at a time. You pay when you're done shopping and gathering items."
Transit authorities gather data from a variety of sources, such as passenger counting systems, on-board sensors, vehicle location systems, ticketing, fare collection, scheduling and inventory management. Once the payments information is collected, Urban Insights uses a data management platform built on Apache Hadoop, a data storage and analysis framework that's designed to pair large volumes of data with business intelligence technology.
"The data that can be analyzed to create this larger centralized payment system is already there," Silver says.
For example, the San Diego Metropolitan Transportation System (MTS), an early Urban Insights client, is using the consulting service to study commuters' connections between bus routes or trolley lines, which are currently recorded as separate trips. The MTS wants to gather data from payments, boardings and other recording systems to provide more detail into how trips on separate modes of transit are related, information the MTS hopes will improve resource allocation and scheduling.
Urban Insights charges a consulting fee and does not provide technology. A transit authority would use Urban Insights to find out what else people are paying for along a metro or light rail trip, and then use that information to purchase technology and enter partnerships with merchants or other transportation systems to aggregate payments or pair transit payments with merchant offers.
There is a potential addressable market for Urban Insights' model. A number of transit agencies are attempting to use the flexibility offered by smartphones and communication technology such as NFC to streamline ticketing for travel or parking. The telco-driven Isis mobile wallet used transit payments as an early test case for its broader mobile payments system. Urban Insights' parent Cubic is also active in the transit technology space; it is the technology provider for the Chicago Transit Authority's Ventra open loop payment system, the San Francisco Bay area transit mobile app, and transit payment projects in cities such London and Sydney.
"Combining or streamlining payments is something that could be done with any journey that has multiple transactions that are related to that journey," Silver says, adding the model could also be applied to air and longer range travel. Parking lots, baggage claim, air fare and other services could be combined into a single payment drawn from the same account.
In the future, Urban Insights hopes to use its data analysis to help develop products influence behavioral changes among travelers and influence travel choices.