Chicago’s CTA Improves Transit Using Real-Time Rider Data

Chicago’s public transportation system leverages edge and cloud computing to monitor vehicle capacity in real-time. The data, which is available to CTA authorities and riders, promotes public safety and informs CTA scheduling decisions.

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Image credit: Digi/Intel video

The Chicago Transit Authority is the second largest transportation system in the U.S., averaging more than 400,000 rides every weekday. That’s about 50 percent less than pre-pandemic rides, but all public transportation systems stalled when COVID-19 hit, and people largely stayed home. Despite the low ridership levels during the pandemic, the CTA maintained its train and bus schedules, enabling essential workers to get to work and helping families shop for groceries.

As people began returning to work and entertainment activities, following capacity and social distancing requirements was paramount. Public transportation agencies had to rethink their schedules based on user demand. Many transit agencies have incomplete ridership information, and vehicle capacity information is often incomplete or based on historical averages that don’t reflect real-time needs.

Better Data, Better Decisions

To ensure public safety and improve the rider experience, the CTA doubled down to meet customer needs and to collect real-time transit data. To collect that information, the CTA teamed with City Tech Collaborative, a Chicago-based accelerator for urban solutions, along with technology from Digi, Genetec, Intel®, and Microsoft.

The group launched a pilot program on the CTA’s busy 79th Street bus route to confirm passenger-counting technology and ridership levels, to test data management tools for the CTA, and to run demand-based analytics and predictive modeling scenarios. The goal is to enable the CTA to make schedule and vehicle adjustments based on real-time data that addresses capacity levels, weather, traffic, and special events.

CTA bus interior

Image credit: Cong Wang/Unsplash

The High Tech Bus

The CTA began outfitting its buses with the Digi WR54 mobile access router, which communicates with onboard video and LiDAR data sources and the Genetec unified security platform, hosted in Microsoft Azure. The Digi routers track unique riders and share that data with the Digi Remote Manager cloud-based networking platform.

Edge and cloud computing process the analytics, which are presented on the CTA dashboard along with anonymous data from passenger counting, ticketing, 3D imaging sensors, light detection, and the number of riders’ mobile devices seeking WiFi connections. Genetec created the prediction models to support demand management. Edge computing devices, based on Intel® Core™, Intel® Xeon®, and Intel® Atom® processors, aggregate the video and sensor feeds into the dashboard, allowing the CTA to monitor vehicle utilization in real time.

A Different Kind of Dashboard

The dashboard allows the CTA to make data-driven service adjustments, such as adding or holding buses, based on real-time rider capacity levels. The solution also provides the CTA with reports on router activity, device integration, and performance data.

The CTA has collected vehicle and capacity data to improve its transit systems, and the agency is sharing it with riders. As a result, Chicagoans have more information about the bus and light rail systems across the city. Riders can check the CTA’s bus and train tracker apps, which tells riders the exact location of the bus or train, when it will arrive at their stop, and how crowded it is. The CTA website also invites developers to create rider-centric apps, using the CTA’s data feeds and open APIs.

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