Public transportation was going through rapid change even before the COVID-19 pandemic. How differently we behave and move as a result of the pandemic has profoundly impacted mobility patterns and systems. In the era of co-existence, where uncertainty is the only certainty, the preference for private over public transport may be here to stay. The challenge for public transit is figuring out how to build resilience against future shocks. 

To be resilient, public infrastructure needs to be extensible enough to withstand significant shocks, such as plummeting ridership and new operational tasks like heavy disinfection. Organisational and operational structures – from the physical and digital infrastructure to the workforce – must change course to deliver impact. But it requires ambitious, bold and flexible responses that balance economic imperatives, technological enablement and human needs. Accenture’s Public Service for a New Era  paper is an excellent place to start navigating each of these challenges. Here’s an overview of the five pillars and how they apply to public transportation and infrastructure:

1. Citizens – all eyes on public service

The way that we choose to travel is a reflection of a wide range of needs, preferences and functions. While we need experts to help us understand movement patterns, a resilient transport system starts with understanding individual user preferences. We know visits to the workplace, retail spaces and leisure venues will remain comparatively low for some time, directly impacting public transportation use. The next step is to use data, scenarios and advanced tools like digital twins to build systemic stamina, creating a service that is safe, flexible and reliable.

2. Service – the human face of virtual

Across public services, physical and digital are colliding. That includes transportation, where we see physical and digital capabilities merge to create seamless, touch-free travel experiences. But with mobility being a fundamental human need, reaching a new equilibrium requires understanding what citizens need from their transport networks. In other words, while mobility leaders accelerate virtual and digital touchpoints across their mobility ecosystems, they can’t lose the human touch.

3. Collaboration – building without boundaries

We are stronger in networks, which is why collaboration is a critical facilitator of resilience. Transport agencies need to unite the right partners around shared outcomes. For example, Accenture recently worked with Toyota, JapanTaxi and KDDI to develop an AI-powered taxi dispatch support system that predicts demand for taxi services by combining taxi logs and mobile phone data. Once proven, this approach can be applied as a future resilience measure to other modes of transportation, like buses. 

4. Workforce – empowering through superpowers

Workforce flexibility and adaptability in the age of uncertainty is key to achieving resilience. Mobility leaders need to consider how to reconfigure their work structures, assessing their functions and focusing on ratcheting down inefficiencies, controlling spend, maximising asset value and diversifying revenue streams. Inevitably, this will lead to effective reallocation of resources. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s newly launched real-time crowding pilot aims to control spend by enabling data-driven scheduling and creating efficiencies in asset use and staff deployment.

5. Trust – the new social contract

COVID-19 poses a unique imperative to build trust with citizens by reducing environmental impacts of transport. Government and public transport leaders now have an opportunity to shape regulation and deliver incentives that favour convergent modes of travel to create additional societal benefits, such as less emissions and congestion. As we advance, stimulus packages and mass investments in infrastructure enablement, like electric vehicle charging networks, could also be a powerful and pragmatic strategy for creating job and skills opportunities at scale. The secret to building trust is making sure future projects consider citizens and their mobility patterns – and being prepared for anything.

While there’s no one size fits all approach, this holistic strategy, built on an active and ongoing understanding of transport users, will support mobility leaders’ outcomes – no matter where they are on their recovery journey. But still, it’s important that each city chart its own citizen-centric path forward.

The views and opinions expressed in this document are meant to stimulate thought and discussion. As each business has unique requirements and objectives, these ideas should not be viewed as professional advice with respect to the business.

This document makes descriptive reference to trademarks that may be owned by others. The use of such trademarks herein is not an assertion of ownership of such trademarks by Accenture and is not intended to represent or imply the existence of an association between Accenture and the lawful owners of such trademarks.

Stephen Zoegall

Director – Consulting, Cities, Transport and Infrastructure

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