The TTC’s CIO plans his route towards mobility and the Internet of Things

Anthony Iannucci sees great potential in the use of data and analytics to better serve one of the country’s most critical public transportation services

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Uber isn’t the only example of mobile sharing technology disrupting the transportation sector.

Last October, a mobile disruption mini-drama played out in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood. Since the city-run streetcar in that area is often jampacked or backed up, two enterprising twentysomethings started a private, alternative bus service called Line Six.

Mobile and digital played big roles in Line Six. The service was financed through crowdfunding and offered passengers free on-board Wi-Fi. The co-founders hoped to enable geo-location so riders could monitor the bus’s whereabouts on their phones in real time.

About 50 customers signed up for Line Six bus passes and used the shuttle during its pilot project. Alas, its backers have put the service on hold while they consult lawyers on potential legal obstacles they might one day face. A case of Uber chill?

During Line Six’s brief run, there were no riots like the anti-Uber protests in Paris that scared even Courtney Love. (It’s Canada, eh?). Instead, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) politely acknowledged that it was monitoring the Line Six situation.

As it revealed at the recent Mobile Enterprise Canada conference in Toronto, the TTC isn’t just monitoring the mobile landscape – it’s driving toward the Internet of Things (IOT). In a presentation at the event, TTC CIO Anthony Iannucci explained how data analytics will fuel much of the agency’s transformation.

First he talked about the impact analytics and IOT applications will have on the TTC internally: drivers, dispatchers and mechanics will all be able to do their jobs better and more efficiently. They’ll eventually have access to precise, real time information about where transit vehicles are, whether they’re running on time, which vehicles are broken down, what needs to be fixed in them and where the nearest replacement is located.

The ultimate goal of the TTC’s analytics initiative, however, is to improve things externally, by providing a better experience for its customers.

“There would be information we could provide to passengers at that time about what is happening and where the next vehicle is,” Iannucci said. “Right now, we can’t do that.”

What future changes could TTC riders see, thanks to mobile and IOT technology?

Iannucci said the agency hopes to launch personalized mobile apps that track each passenger’s usual TTC route, alert them of service problems in real time and suggest alternatives. Passengers might one day receive location-based offers or ads on their mobile devices from TTC sponsors, he added, or watch on-board ‘infotainment’ systems on transit vehicles featuring location-based content (i.e., flight info near the airport, concert listings near arenas and stadiums).

He also laid out scenarios if automatic passenger counting systems are installed on transit vehicles; customers could remotely track how full the next bus or streetcar is and decide whether to squeeze onto it or wait for another.

As Iannucci summarized, “It’s really going to help customer service.”

The TTC is not alone. The London tube system is kitted out with IOT sensors. Montreal’s transit authority released a personalized customer loyalty app in 2013. So public transit, like private enterprise, is changing its model based on customer demands that are driven by mobile and digital technology.

The next Line Six probably won’t put the TTC out of business any time soon. Still, it’s good to know the TTC is keeping an eye on the disruptors, and moving towards the customer-based model they cater to.

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