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Why transportation operators should be on board with mobility

Mobile technology can do a lot for transportation providers and passengers, but transit operators must make more than a token gesture.

New generations of mobile devices are making it safer, faster and more reliable for passengers to travel. And as more and more data becomes available, there are additional possibilities for using mobile to make transportation more efficient and effective for agencies, operators and travelers. Here's how:

Reducing costs
The shift to mobile is helping reduce costs for transit operators, says Mike Wilson of Accenture's North American Transportation group. He adds, "the cost of managing fares accounts for approximately 15 percent of a ticket's price, due to time-consuming paper and customer phone-line transactions. When you move these transactions to smartcards or mobile devices, this cost drops to 9 percent."

Transportation operators globally are trying to take advantage of mobile, launching new services such as mobile updates or mobile payments to keep up with passengers' increasing appetite—and expectation—for mobile services. According to an Accenture survey that covered nine major global cities, 90 percent of riders said they expect travel updates on social media, while one in three expect mobile payment capabilities.

Relieving congestion
With more people using mobile devices and better wireless coverage at transportation hubs, public transportation operators can relieve congestion by relaying more real-time information on emergencies and delays.

Several agencies are already publishing statistical and geographical information in case of emergencies, and encouraging third-party developers to build information services around them. For instance, the city of Ottawa's smart bus initiative helps passengers' access bus arrival information from mobile devices. In the United States, many drivers receive real-time traffic data and routing assistance through satellite navigation systems in their vehicles and through global positioning systems in their smartphones.

Mobile technology can also help manage congestion by keeping the fleet up and running. Agencies and transit operators can better manage the fleet by sharing information on vehicle maintenance, inspections and repairs via mobile devices.

Minding the data gap
Poor data quality and lack of data integration make it difficult to take full advantage of these mobile benefits. In most countries, insufficient technology investment in the public transportation sector is slowing the expansion of the integrated platforms needed to deliver real-time transit information region-wide. The public transportation sector spends just one penny of every $10 of total investment on information technology, according to Accenture's study.

Addressing these data integration problems will not be fast—or cheap. "Agencies need to think about a single customer account and more holistic, integrated platforms and invest in vertically integrated solutions," says Accenture's Mike Wilson. "To access data in real-time, you need the right IT platforms."

Read more about how mobile is transforming transportation in this article featured in The Economist.