June 10, 2024

Serving students: Four essentials for campus transit tech

Mike Smith
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Image that shows a school campus and students, and graphics that showcase 4 must-haves for campus transit tech
June 10, 2024

Serving students: Four essentials for campus transit tech

Mike Smith
June 10, 2024

Serving students: Four essentials for campus transit tech

Mike Smith

Higher education communities have unique needs for transit. Population density, scarce and expensive parking, and low rates of car ownership all lead students to rely on transit to get to class.

Just as significantly, students tend to be tech-savvy and turn to consumer trip-planning apps for information. Before heading to class, a student might pull up Google Maps or Transit to check bus departure times, compare travel time with a bike-share or scooter share, and pay for their fare.

And when real-time passenger information is unavailable or, potentially worse, inaccurate, students are not shy about speaking up.

Yet the full-service technology solutions that cater to the broader transit industry are not always accessible for campus transit systems. So how can campus transit providers ensure reliable service for students within their budgets and operational resources?

The answer lies in investing in reliable, accessible transit data. Read on for four requirements for universities to make the most out of transit technology by investing in better data.

"At UMBC, ensuring that our transportation system is safe, reliable, and responsive is paramount. The integration of real-time vehicle tracking and passenger information through our partnership with Swiftly has been a game-changer in achieving these goals,” says Daniel Teage, Associate Director of University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Transit.

Teage continues, “Accurate real-time data empowers our students, faculty, staff, and researchers with the confidence to make informed travel decisions, reducing wait times and enhancing overall satisfaction. This commitment to leveraging cutting-edge technology improves operational efficiency and reinforces our dedication to delivering a superior transit experience for our campus community."

1. Accurate, accessible real-time passenger information

Nothing frustrates a student transit rider more than checking the bus time on a trip-planning app, showing up at the bus stop just in time to catch the bus to your midterm, but seeing the bus a few blocks down the street already because it departed two minutes early.

Transit app’s annual Rider Happiness Benchmarking survey regularly finds accurate real-time information as the number one factor in increasing transit ridership. Not only have Swiftly’s predictions been proven to be 50% more accurate than other providers, but we also worked with Transit to support the industry’s first benchmark for prediction accuracy, so universities can compare their prediction accuracy with peer agencies.

Even accurate arrival predictions are only helpful when they’re also accessible. Making real-time passenger information available in the GTFS-rt format ensures students can turn to the trip-planning app of their choice for accurate arrival predictions. We’ll have more on the topic of mobile app user experience later on in the post. 

2. Building trust through disruptions

Prediction accuracy is only one component of real-time passenger information.

What about those days when a student shows up to their daily stop to wait for a bus that never comes? Universities are no strangers to events that cause changes to service—campus events, winter storms, winter and summer breaks.

Universities are engaging student riders today with proactive rider alerts that notify the community of changes to service and disruptions, or even just welcome students back for the first week of a new semester.

The results are better informed, more connected transit riders. For example, the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU Boulder) reduced monthly complaints of “ghost buses” by 75% after they started proactively communicating service changes to passengers.

3. Consumer-grade mobile app experience

As a relatively tech-savvy population, students have no patience for a clunky mobile app experience.

Real-time passenger information solutions based around a customized mobile app—to the exclusion of common consumer apps like Google Maps and Transit—are destined to result in endless complaints.

Fortunately, any school can provide a best-in-class mobile experience to riders by making data available in a GTFS-rt format to consumer trip-planning apps like Transit and Google Maps.

Teage at UMBC reinforced the importance of providing information through a consumer mobile app: “A high-quality mobile app experience is crucial in delivering real-time information seamlessly, allowing users to access bus locations, schedules, and service alerts at their fingertips.”

Transit even offers several features specifically for university populations through its Royale for Agencies partnership model, including integration of limited-access systems like UMD’s Shuttle-UM, such that only students and staff see trip-planning and departure info for their campus’ routes while also having access to local transit systems; gamification that awards riders points each time they choose to use public transit; and custom co-branding such that students associate the app to their school.  

4. Software-first approach

Finally, campus transit systems need a flexible approach to technology deployment.

Legacy, full-service CAD/AVL systems are commonly out of reach for campus transit systems—whether for financial or staffing constraints, or both. But that doesn’t mean universities need to be deprived of capabilities like passenger counting and automated headsigns.

We’ve seen universities have the most success when they invest in transit data first. This provides immediate benefits to riders and staff, without upfront hardware costs that lock an agency in with a specific vendor. Then, once a system has a foundation of accurate transit information in a format that supports open data standards, it can layer on hardware solutions based on need and resource availability.

This modular strategy offers the greatest initial impact while setting up the school for best-in-class hardware solutions as it progresses on its transit technology journey.

Get started with transit data therapy

With these four technology traits, any university or college can provide students with a premium rider experience. Swiftly offers complimentary consultations, or “data therapy” sessions, to help you get started evaluating your own transit data.

Schedule a consultation with one of our experts today, and we’ll work with you on a roadmap to providing students with accurate, reliable real-time passenger information.

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