6 transit trends to watch in 2023

We asked transport leaders from cities, industry groups and specialist associations about how they think transit will shape up over the next 12 months.

  1. Flexible ticketing and services

Gone are the days of commuters catching the same train into work every day.

In 2023, typical ridership will still not be at pre-pandemic levels as many commuters opt to work from home for two or three days a week and may only arrive and leave the office on off-peak services. Additionally, many cities are seeing higher usage at weekends.

“Cities will want to offer a more flexible service,” says David Maitland, CEO of Vix Technology, a transit information and transit analytics company. “It’ll be a question of balancing affordability with service provision and meeting the needs of citizens for an improved urban environment and opportunities for work and growth.”

Maitland adds that reliability of the service is more important than frequency. Given that the commuter focus is unlikely to return, operators need to think about how to ensure a reliable but flexible service. It’s no longer only about convenience.

  1. More digital services to help underserved areas

According to Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), the one benefit of the pandemic has been increased digitalisation.

“Public transport companies and authorities had to learn how to develop projects within very short timelines,” he says. “They are also facing workforce shortages so they need new ideas and digital tools to innovate in operation and maintenance.”

Mezghani cites the need for the development of on-demand mobility and microtransit, particularly in suburban areas and also to better plan the service and the scheduling of drivers.

Yet he warns the greater need for digitalisation also requires strong cybersecurity to thwart any cyber-attacks.

“We need experts in data analysis and cybersecurity,” he adds. “[The public transport sector] is competing with all sectors and other industries. At Transport for London, they have established an in-house technology team and are hiring software engineers and it’s something we are seeing in other cities.”

  1. Increased public-private cooperation

The public sector will always be hard pressed to create technical capacity with public resources. Hence, many cities are looking to outsource suppliers and bringing them on board in more formal partnerships.

This is especially true in Los Angeles which has the added challenge of preparing for a “car-free” Olympic Games in 2028. The city was a key player in establishing the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) which supports the development of open-source standards and tools that provide scalable mobility solutions for cities.

It was also one of the first cities to operate a Mobility Data Specification (MDS) which gives cities a cost-effective tool to manage private mobility providers and the public right-of-way.

“The amount of creativity and energy that is in the private industry of transport today might be unmatched,” explains Connie Llanos, Interim Director of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “The OMF exemplifies the direction that we all need to be moving towards in this industry, where you have the public sector in leadership roles being very clear about the problems that they need to solve, and then you have real partnerships with the private sector to meet those needs.”

  1. Predictive analytics will enable a better travel experience

One key problem facing cities globally is how to predict the changing passenger demand for public transport and meet that demand with the services that will retain passenger use.

Maitland from Vix Technology says this will occur through greater use of prediction engines to inform passengers when a bus or train is going to arrive to the closest minute, and if a bus is on a detour or delayed.

“It’s about improving that passenger experience, and if you make that experience better, passengers will use it more frequently,” he says.

But he adds that cities need to collect, understand and use the data about passengers more effectively. Cities do not fully value the data they hold. This not only helps cities understand when passengers travel, but why, where they come from, which services they are using, and where they are going.

“We can help operators to collect data better, help them to understand it, and use it to benefit their passengers. It is one of the core things we do,” he explains. “And the key to this is making that data available and open for use by stakeholders across the transportation network. Keeping that data closed might be a competitive advantage for a company in the short term but it does nothing to support that wider context of improving citizens’ lives.”

  1. The rise of autonomous vehicles as public shuttle buses

Martin Huber, Head of Transport and Innovation for the City of Hamburg, reveals ridership is still 12 to 13 percent down from 2019 levels and the municipality is also facing bus driver and other staff shortages. His focus for 2023 is bringing autonomous driving into public transport which he aims to see up and running by 2026.

“The market needs autonomous shuttle systems for public transport,” Huber says. “We have to move more people onto public transport and those systems have to improve. They have to be automatic, they have to be more frequent and more reliable, and in every location, including the outskirts.”

Hamburg’s goal is to offer a form of public transport, or a “transport opportunity”, five minutes from anywhere within the city. Yet the challenge for Huber and other city officials is that no one is quite certain exactly how transport will function in the coming years.

“It’s still not clear if we will have a Wi-Fi or 5G system for autonomous vehicle [AV] infrastructure,” he says. “We have been discussing this globally since the ITS World Congress in Montreal in 2015. That has an impact on the city as we don’t know if AVs will need roadside units or run completely on their own.”

He says AVs will also provide an opportunity for cities to procure private data from car companies to assess the quality of their road surfaces and any dangerous corners and intersections.

  1. Closer integration between urban transit and the wider Smart Cities agenda

Most regions or cities have a strategy towards “Smart Cities for the Future”, and urban transit is a key part of this strategy. Looking forward, Maitland predicts a drive towards creating a more integrated environment, linking transit, parking, congestion charging, scooters and other city services to support and drive a wider agenda around improving the lived environment, social inclusion, and regional growth.

“We have a number of customers who have grasped this vision,” says Maitland, “and it’s exciting to be able to work on their vision of a Smart City, and using our systems to create access to local services, whole city transport services including cars, and the real tangible cost savings, benefits to residents and environmental improvements that come with that.”

“Often we ignore transit or put it into boxes that aren’t related to transit,” adds Maitland. “But going forward we have to think of transit not in itself as a separate entity within the city but as part of the wider vision for the city if we are to tackle the challenges effectively.”