Disrupting Transit Procurement for Better Cities

It’s proven difficult to merge the dynamic world of technology with the slow-moving processes of procurement in public transit and across government agencies. States and localities are often understaffed in the procurement department, and navigating cumbersome rules and requirements does not lend itself to innovation. These obstacles cause agencies to miss out on working with flexible and fast-moving technology companies and startups such as Lyft, Uber, and Via that can ultimately improve the public transit experience for end users. Public-sector procurement is seeing gradual change, but how do we move faster? How can we disrupt the procurement process to make way for market and technology innovations that are changing the world of transportation around us?
 
BETTER SOFTWARE, MORE PARTNERSHIPS
 
At the state level, Virginia is at the forefront of procurement reform and improvement. In a 2016 study of state procurement offices, the Governing Institute ranked Virginia first in both procuring information technology and using technology in its procurement practices. At the center of Virginia’s procurement activities is a web-based vendor registration and purchasing system known as eVA that helps organize and speed up the buying process. eVA has been recognized for improving operational efficiencies for suppliers and buyers, and reducing the costs of acquiring goods and services. The state also released two enterprise eProcurement mobile apps, eVA Mobile 4 Business and eVA Mobile 4 Approvers, which provide the vendors and the public with real-time access to bidding processes.

Additionally, Virginia is a leading state in the advancement of public-private partnerships (P3s). The state passed legislation in 2015 that created a new government department specifically to promote P3s. When it comes to procuring the latest transportation technology such as mobile payment systems, these partnerships are vital. Larry Yermack at Cubic Transportation Systems pointed out in a recent article that public-private partnerships across the country still need improvement. He advocates for the need to create a new relationship between the government and technology partners that allows technology companies to “do what they do best” – efficiently develop flexible technology solutions. Although the process is far from perfect, promoting P3s at a state level is a solid start, and public transit is reaping some of the benefits. In 2015, the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) partnered with moovel Transit (previously known as GlobeSherpa) to introduce VRE Mobile, the first mobile ticketing app for a transit system in the greater Washington D.C. area.
 
FRESH TALENT AND IDEAS
 
As the procurement industry grapples with a depleting workforce, the next generation of professionals will be integral in moving the industry forward. According to a 2015 Government Procurement survey, nearly one-fifth of public purchasing officials said they would be retired in the next two to three years. Bringing in fresh talent from other fields, especially the technology industry, can help revitalize the procurement process in our public agencies. The U.S. Digital Service (USDS), for instance, is a government technology startup that is establishing principles specific to buying digital services in the public sector. Armed with expert technologists, the USDS’ goal for procurement is to empower and educate government buyers and change processes by using private sector comparison scenarios.

Individual agencies are also making changes, as a new wave of public workers bring in the technical knowledge and flexibility that the transportation procurement process needs. Last year, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) created a Chief Technology Officer position and brought in David Block-Schachter, a former chief scientist at the transportation startup Bridj, to modernize MBTA’s processes and services. Elsewhere, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority put Jameson Auten at the head of their Regional Service Delivery and Innovation Division to implement innovative delivery models and partnerships for Kansas City public transit. Up and coming tech-savvy professionals have been trained to think of new ways to approach problems by utilizing digital tools innovatively. Most people entering the workforce today have grown up with mobile, smart, and data-driven solutions, as well, making them accustomed to continuously evolving technology.
 
RESOURCES
 
If you’re interested in getting into the field of public transit procurement, or would simply like to arm yourself with knowledge, here are some resources to start with:

TransitTalent.com is a career hub for open positions in public transportation. There are options to filter by sector, and you can choose “Procurement” as your job category. Try setting up an RSS feed to receive instant listing updates.
APICS is a professional association that offers educational programs and certifications in supply chain fields, including procurement. There are special benefits for student members including an online mentorship center, scholarship opportunities, and academic programs. The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) is another option for earning a professional procurement certification if you’re just starting out your career.
The U.S. Digital Service Playbook is an online resource with 13 key “plays” drawn from successful practices in the private sector and government that can help government agencies build effective digital services.
The TechFAR Hub is a public website that gives government acquisition experts the language, support and tools they need to flexibly navigate regulations and write better contracts. It also provides a how-to guide for private companies looking to do business with agencies.
 
Already working in public transportation? Transit agencies that are interested in hiring tech-savvy employees should consider using these sources of talent:

AngelList is a career site for job-seekers looking to work at startups, making it hub of techie talent. Last February, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority posted openings for 10 software engineers to bring a new team of technologists into the agency.
GitHub Jobs is the job board on GitHub.com, a gathering place for developers to create and collaborate on software projects.
Stack Overflow Jobs is the job board on StackOverflow.com, an online community where programmers ask questions and share technical knowledge.

 


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward

How Smartphones Have Transformed Transportation in the Last Decade

Since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007, smartphones have become an essential part of our daily lives. Hardly used today to make a phone call, the fast development of internet access has expanded our possibilities way beyond a conversation. And with over 2.6 billion smartphone users worldwide, the resulting data has transformed the transportation industry, giving leaders insights into how people and vehicles move throughout the day. This desire for users to be overly connected to their smartphones provides a greater understanding of everything from where users are trying to go, to how they feel about their current route, in real-time. We may have just scraped the surface of harnessing this information, but if the past decade has taught us anything, it is that data from smartphones provide the transportation industry with endless opportunities. Here are two substantial ways smartphones have made a mark on the industry over the last decade.
 
Tracking Movement with Sensors
We don’t often think about it, but our smartphones are a network of sensors. And transport providers have collected this data to track our movement to create a more enhanced travel experience. With users more connected and reliant on their devices than ever before, resulting sources of data are helping the transportation industry gain insight on how we move across cities. Think about it; we use our smartphone to help us locate a restaurant, sort through route options, hail a Lyft, and tweet our opinions about our dining experience. Companies and databases collect this information through GPS, Wi-Fi, social networks, and Bluetooth Low Energy. In fact, Canada is currently employing Bluetooth signal detectors to monitor and analyze traffic patterns in real-time and a similar system is currently live in Thailand. Additionally, rich source data provides transit agencies with the ability to re-route buses to fit common movement patterns, equipping them with the right information to improve passenger experiences. The Transport for London (TfL) plans to use this technology to gain a better understanding of their passengers. The agency will organize a four-week trial to detect users’ smartphone Wi-Fi footprints, gaining them access to accurate and contextual data to push service alerts to riders. This information will also help the agency adjust schedules and plan routes to improve their service. As service providers and transit authorities continue to provide and collect this data, the more efficient moving around our cities will become.
 
The Rise of Network Effects
If there’s one thing that users love about their smartphones—it’s social media. Internet access on-the-go has given commuters the ability to receive notifications to ensure their trips feel customized. Similar to the data that is collected to track movement, transport agencies now possess the capacity to track sentiments of the user through their social networks. This is the foundation of creating a more personalized travel experience. In particular, Facebook and Twitter have helped mass transit services analyze passenger satisfaction. Agencies can engage with passengers to ensure everyone is satisfied during their commutes with monitoring social feeds. Additionally, crowdsourced traffic and navigation apps like Waze—allow real-time help from other drivers with community-edited maps and notifications. This information provides users with the exact time they need to leave the house to avoid traffic and provide the exact time they will arrive. Similarly, the user generated transport app Trafi allows users to create public transport related content. Combined with their algorithm filters, users can notify other commuters and adjust their routes accordingly. A company called MZ (formerly Machine Zone) is also applying networks to operate the public transportation system for the city of Auckland in New Zealand with their RTplatform. It provides consumers with access to precise information in real time. Users can track the arrivals of any bus or train and gain access to updated traffic times. Thanks to the RTplatform, New Zealand’s network has joined all devices together with a software that is easy enough for any person to use.

No one could have predicted the fundamental part smartphones play in our everyday lives. The amount of rich insight our devices have provided on the way we move, feel, and connect has reshaped our travel experiences. Users desire to be overly connected to their smartphones is still strong, and it continues to provide the industry with greater understanding of users in real-time. This may be just the beginning of exploiting smartphone data, but it only means the transportation industry will become more innovative and effective than ever before.
 

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.