ATLANTA, June 26, 2016 — There is a national discussion about public transportation and the role it plays in helping to ease congestion on the nation’s increasingly crowded roads.
The heads of public transit agencies recently gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss needed investments.
“As public transportation has experienced tremendous growth over the last two decades, public transit systems are struggling to maintain aging and outdated infrastructure while at the same time being challenged to expand capacity,” American Public Transportation Association (APTA) acting president and CEO Richard White said May 19 during National Infrastructure Week (NIW).
Technology plays an important role in that discussion — from justifying service to keeping budgets in check to improving the passenger experience. Mitch Skyer, president of Atlanta-based Passio Technologies, has been helping transit agencies, private organizations and colleges and universities nationwide implement transit technology that helps streamline operations.
What is the state of public transportation?
It’s fair to say the popularity of public transit is at or near an all-time high. Many cities, such as Atlanta, where we’re based, are experiencing the trend of millennials and younger professionals moving in town. Many are eschewing cars and opting to use alternative forms of transportation or public transportation. Here in Atlanta, for example, we’re seeing serious discussion about expanding MARTA, something that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Aging infrastructure and questions about how to pay for these expansions remain obstacles in many instances.
What are some of the technology trends you are seeing in the transit industry?
We’re at a crossroads. Because there are so many technology solutions, it is easy to get lost in the “wow” factor. Many people want to use technology for technology’s sake simply because it’s available. Transit organizations — and all organizations for that matter — need to keep their business objectives in mind when implementing any technology. Organizations should customize a solution to be certain it serves their specific needs and the needs of their end users, from optimizing routes based on rider demands to real-time vehicle tracking. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be. Selecting a “platform based” solution like Passio’s IncroMAXX™ is incredibly important. Products and services are modular and can be added to the platform on the agency’s timeline and don’t require long implementation periods. Additionally, the platform based solution is built for seamless integration with complementary products offered by parallel service providers.
Mobile is a hot topic in most industries. Is it important for transit agencies?
The short answer is yes. The “Internet of Everything” is everywhere. Everything is becoming mobile, including transit agencies, which need flexible platforms. Arming drivers and front-line employees with mobile devices, for example, gives them the insights they need to make real-time decisions that can directly and measurably improve operations. At the same time, riders want to access information about routes, system changes and when their bus will arrive on whatever device they are using. When standing at the bus stop passengers typically use a cell phone or a tablet. At the same time, riders want to instantaneously send feedback about a system or a driver and need a simple way to do so from a mobile phone.
How do budgets play into this discussion?
Tight budgets are a major hurdle for many agencies. The challenge is doing more with less funding. That’s why solutions tailored to help solve a specific business or operational issue are so vitally important. We always tell customers the secret is to implement a platform that can be expanded as needs evolve. Transit systems today need unprecedented visibility into their operations and trustworthy data they can use to make real-time changes as needed to best serve their riders.
How does “big data” play into this discussion?
Big data, for better or for worse, has become a bit of a buzzword, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. The key is to understand the data you are collecting and how to analyze it in a way that helps make informed decisions. Once that is done, the possibilities are endless. The real benefit to data is using it to evaluate and defend the decisions, particularly the tough ones.
Why did you decide to start Passio?
I worked for years in the transportation industry, and during that time I learned about the growing importance of using technology to improve operations. I realized that gathering data in an efficient manner that was instantly available in a usable format was a massive struggle for many agencies, particularly those that were small or mid-sized with limited resources. Ten years ago this coming December, I lost my job with a different transportation company, but I knew a better opportunity was on the horizon. So, I decided to start my own company, Solstice Transportation Group, and began consulting with transit agencies and companies in the industry. Then, in 2010, I founded Passio with Scott Reiser, who’s worked in the technology space for more than 20 years to great success. In about five years, Passio has worked with more than 50 agencies and counted more than 30 million passengers.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start his or her own business?
Be fearless. There may be times where you’ll second-guess your decision, but don’t give up. There’s a reason you decided to strike out on your own, and don’t lose sight of that reason.
Passio is a client of The DeFeo Groupe, which is owned by the writer.