Public Transportation Systems Roll Out Telematics, UV for Safer, Cleaner Rides

Transit systems are struggling to recover from low ridership as a result of the pandemic. As people begin to venture out, public transportation agencies are turning to IoT technologies to provide cleaner vehicles and more detailed ride-related information to encourage social distancing.


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Since the emergence of COVID-19, public transportation has taken a hit. In March, ridership on trains and buses operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) dropped 80 percent when Illinois went under lockdown. The suburban commuter lines were hit even harder with a 98 percent ridership drop. New York’s MTA ridership is slowly climbing back from a 74 percent drop, just slightly better than the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s 65-70 percent fall off. San Francisco’s BART, while on the rise, is operating at 90 percent of its pre-COVID levels.

Now that states are lifting restrictions and more people are physically going to work, one remaining concern is the cleanliness of public transportation systems. In addition to requiring riders to wear masks in stations and on trains and providing hand sanitizer, transit companies have instituted more thorough daily and deep cleaning procedures as they continue to evaluate cleaning processes.

Many transit systems companies claim they disinfect trains throughout the day, and they are relying on IoT-based solutions to accomplish deep cleaning. Popular options include a combination of UV lights, antimicrobial biostatic surface coatings that prevent the growth and spread of bacteria, and “foggers” or electrostatic sprayers that kill germs on contact.

Chicago is using the EM360 Electrostatic Application System from eMist in Fort Worth, TX. The electrostatic technology, used in the auto industry to paint cars, has been adapted to dispense disinfectant. The eMist sprayer places a positive charge on the particles as they leave the nozzle. Following electromagnetic theory, the positively charged disinfectant attracts and adheres to the negative or neutral charge on the train’s surfaces. New York, Boston, and other urban areas are using similar devices, and it’s paying off. According to an MTA customer survey, 70 percent of customers have noticed the trains are cleaner.

Better Insight for Commuters

In addition to cleaner vehicles, urban transit systems are creating or expanding their mobile apps, so customers can see when trains and buses are running and how crowded they are. The CTA’s Ridership Information Dashboard uses a color-coded system to indicate crowd levels every hour on buses, based on the previous two weeks of usage. It’s updated weekly, but the CTA says it’s working on a system that will provide real-time capacity information. It is also developing a similar dashboard for the trains. The goal is to encourage riders to travel during less crowded times to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Systems like those designed by industrial IoT platform developer Davra will be key for transit companies to woo riders back onto their trains. Davra has teamed with Cisco and Intel to provide mass transit companies with greater customer information. The Davra solution provides advanced rail telematics, enabling companies to estimate time of arrival. It also supports passenger counting, announcement systems, and high-speed WiFi. 

multicolored blocks with icons of people representing passenger loads

Image credit: Chicago Transit Authority

The San Diego MTA is already using the Davra solution to provide riders with detailed schedule information. Every train has a Cisco ruggedized device with LTE and backhaul capabilities. Using telemetry, it measures the speed of the train and the distance from the station. 

The onboard gateway uses Intel processors to crunch the data into Davra algorithms that calculate the arrival time, which is sent directly to a sign in the station. The solution ties to MTA’s passenger announcement system, which broadcasts arrival information to each station. Riders can also use a mobile app to find out when trains are arriving, plan routes, and purchase tickets.

The Davra system also provides MTA staff with rider use data and real-time diagnostic information for each train, allowing for proactive diagnostics and preventative maintenance. As ridership increases, knowing when public transportation is available and how full the vehicles are will help commuters get back on board.

Jump on Board: Smart Transportation Solutions


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