Networked Transit

I walked to McDonald’s today for lunch. Nothing very exciting or out of the ordinary. As I was walking home I wondered why can’t our happy bus system – IndyGo – become a networked system.

I have to admit that it’s a conceptual leap. There is a telecommunications network, and networked processors in computers. Both create very flexible and exceptionally efficient systems, using resources very efficiently. Why not ground transportation systems?

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A bus route is a serial engine where people adapt to a schedule, but a networked system responds to a demand for services. It all begins with a tool, an app for this service on a smart phone. The user signs up for the service, with location and payment information. The user goes through a routine of identifying their most frequent trips. The system identifies the bus stop number of these trips. Every time the user needs a ride they use a list of frequent trips to request a ride, or using the system to create a trip.  The system responds with a vehicle identifier and maybe even a door number. The pass into the bus system is a QAR code displayed on the smart phone screen, the fare deducted from their account. The whole point would be to move people around with as few transfers and stops in as little time as possible. The system would adjust fares to demand and available resources. Fares on some trips would be higher than others to the same destination and lower on others.

Here I have to pause and giggle to myself, because I have unconsciously described the ever-changing, high fixed-cost world of air travel. I suppose ground travel could be managed in the same way. The bus system generates huge amounts of data about routes and ridership, time and location which could be mined to create an optimal model. When Indianapolis actually decides to commit to a rail system (or the rise of a priesthood that groks people to their appointed destinations) all the transit elements – rail, voodoo, buses on routes, buses networked, cabs, roads and passenger automobiles will require coordination so resources are not wasted and the process optimized.

I think the existing bus system should operate this venture. They understand how to maintain a bus fleet and deal with driver’s unions. It would be important to see if this idea would violate laws surrounding the operation of taxicabs. I dream as well of taxi drivers paid by the hour with an incentive for productivity, Or a bus system and taxi company operated by the same entity…sigh….

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