Future of transit? Your subway train is calling you

Fri, 2014-10-03 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

Passengers waiting at a transit station are often seen checking the bus or subway schedules on their smartphones.

But what if the transit system took the communications lead and sent an alert to each passenger’s phone when, for example, a train was running late?

Control Group, an innovation strategy company, has proposed such an idea for the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The concept is based on the potential of using beacon technology.

Beacons are hardware sensors that wirelessly communicate and transmit data with mobile devices within a specific proximity using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. Beacon-based shopping apps are now capturing the interest of major retailers, including Macy’s and the UK’s House of Fraser, for their capacity to send targeted offers to in-store shoppers as well as provide geolocation information and shopper analytics.

Council Lead Partner Qualcomm is one of the leading producers of proximity beacons.

Improving the passenger experience
While MTA, an SCC Advisor, has no plans in place to deploy a beacon system, the Control Group sees advantages of having passengers let MTA know their whereabouts via their cell phones.

By detecting cell phone locations, MTA could push out “contextually relevant" information to improve the passenger experience. It could transmit information to riders' cell phones in the form of seat finder tools, personalized platform directions, travel alerts or wayfinding instructions for non-English speakers.

Some retail industry experts suggest that the public might find beacon technology more creepy than cool. However, a recent study commissioned by Swirl and ResearchNow found that 77% of consumers would share their smartphone location data -- a requirement for beacon systems -- if they received enough value in return.