Transit's Embrace of Problem-Solving Technology

Transit's Embrace of Problem-Solving Technology
Transit's Embrace of Problem-Solving Technology
By Katie Jurenka, Project Analyst

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted typical transit operations in so many ways, from declining ridership and revenue, to safety and health obstacles. While the response has remained a challenge for transit agencies, many agencies have used the pandemic to accelerate ongoing customer experience enhancements or start new initiatives to help keep customers safe and happy.

Contactless payment

Since the response to the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, agencies have sought to minimize contact between riders and transit employees. Many agencies have turned to mobile ticketing and contactless fare to reduce the number of surfaces customers come into contact with. After lows in April during the peak of the pandemic, contactless payment usage has skyrocketed.

MTA’s contactless fare payment system, or OMNY, is a good example of this new technology. While initial bus and subway pilots began in May of 2019, rollout has been accelerated and expanded during the pandemic, with installation on all subway stations, bus routes and Staten Island Railway locations expected by the end of this year.


Bus, train and station cleanliness are consistently ranked high in TransPro’s customer satisfaction surveys with agencies around the country.

Most agencies have instituted additional cleaning protocols in light of the pandemic in order to keep operators, maintenance staff and customers safe, including sanitizing high-contact surfaces and conducting deep cleans much more regularly, as well as utilizing new technology like air filtration systems and micro-bacterial shields. Communicating cleaning schedules and protocol with customers may instill confidence in returning to transit.

Real-time Occupancy Data

Close proximity to others, a common occurrence while riding public transit in the past, is now seen as potentially unsafe. Agencies like the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) have added real time seat availability information to their existing apps, allowing customers to make travel decisions based on seat availability and the number of customers on any given train.

Other features include real-time location tracking and notifications of track assignments, so customers can socially distance in stations while waiting for trains to arrive. Beyond the current pandemic, features like the LIRR’s will allow for greater flexibility for customers in general.

Although initially spurred or accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these investments in technology and service will pay dividends towards improved customer satisfaction and experience for years to come, and potentially draw customers back to transit.