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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Birmingham-Jefferson County Transportation Authority - Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Initiative Grant Application - Mobile Proximity Fare Collection

Real-World Challenges

Although simple in concept, the BJCTA project has numerous real-world challenges that create significant complexity to implementing such a project. It is a reality that systems as large as the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMTA) have recently halted similar efforts due to several of the challenges inherent in such a project. However, the integration of payment systems among transportation networks is not unheard of, and it is timely for the FHWA to invest in projects beyond the mega-transportation centers to spur development of alternative solutions to what is being proposed by the current transportation technology integrators. The following sections detail the specific real world challenges we anticipate, and have planned for in our proposal.

Real-World Challenge #1 – Meeting Current Customer Behaviors

When developing any new mass technology initiative, it is important to meet customers where they are. This project already envisions changing customer behavior by driving them toward use of near field communication devices, so it is imperative to make the initial funding of their transportation wallet as accessible as possible. Figure 5 demonstrates the desired payment methods our customers would like to utilize, which methods are currently available for each planned transportation service integration, and which payment options will be available upon full project implementation.

Figure 5. Transportation System.  For BJCTA the current payment option is cash and proposed payment option is cash, app, digital wallet, website, EBT, and credit debit.  For Greyhound the current payment option is cash, app, digital wallet, website, and credit debit and the proposed payment option and EBT.  For Megabus the current options are website and credit debit and the proposed additional options are cash, app, digital wallet and EBT. For Amtrak the current options are cash, app, digital wallet, websit, and credit debit.  The additional proposed payment option is EBT.  For Zyp Bikeshare the current option is app while the proposed additional options are cash, digital wallet, website, EBT and credit debit.

Figure 5. Transportation System

Real-World Challenge #2 – Changing Customer Behaviors

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority recently halted a near field communication fare payment roll out due to lack of consumer use. Americans are highly integrating smart phones into their daily lives but certain functionality has not yet become popular. This does not mean the functionality is dead. To the contrary, Apple has recently established a partnership with leading NFC integrators double-down on its efforts to gain traction for this technology in America. With this level of engagement happening at the national level, the key to local adoption is to engage people to make behavioral changes.

There are two huge behavioral changes the Birmingham payment system project must achieve, (1) trading cars for buses and (2) utilizing NFC. The habit of using NFC is so critical that we have planned for our project to engage a national expert in creating customer/NFC engagement. Figure 6 demonstrates how effective NFC use can become when a deliberate campaign is executed to drive the behavioral change of using NFC technology. In our project, we will engage ten locations along the BRT route, where the highest walking and transit traffic exists, to introduce people to NFC and, ultimately, turn them into NFC-using transit customers.

Figure 6. NFC Technology Engagement Campaign Results.  Opportunity: Promote the unique mobile sharing capabilities of the new Galaxy Sill Smartphone.  Key Markets: New York, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington DC, and Toronto.  mTAG Deployment: Airports, Cinemas, College Campuses, Transit Shelters, Malls.  Partners: Cemusa, Clear Channel Outdoor, EYE, JCDecaus NCM, Outfront Media, ReFuel, Reynolds, RMG, Screenvision, Smartite, Spotlight, Titan. Results: 3x Higher Engagement, 1.4M Out-of-Home, 110K Interactions.

Figure 6. NFC Technology Engagement Campaign Results

Real-World Challenge #3 – Mid-Size Transportation Market Limitations

Although mega-transit markets have the scale to engage the world’s leading integrators in developing transportation solutions, markets sized in the Birmingham range have much less volume to leverage significant development and buy-in from leading national and international integrators. We plan to overcome this challenge by engaging fresh companies in the high-tech Huntsville, Alabama region, along with companies in Birmingham’s wildly successful technology incubator, Innovation Depot, to develop new and lean integrations that are more agile and affordable than large national consultants can achieve.

Real-World Challenge #4 – Integration in a Rapidly Evolving Technology Market

In researching the various technologies that are utilized for electronic fare payment systems it is clear there is not yet a unified national preference. From NFC to QR codes to Bluetooth, fare payment systems use a diverse combination of solutions. This ATCMTD proposal envisions utilizing all three in a cooperative manner to set up the transportation network for any changes that will occur over the next five-to-ten years in the technology industry. This will allow transportation users to engage their preferred technology at all critical communication points, letting the market determine the ultimate solutions.

Scanning Card  Bluetooth Icon QR Code image

Real-World Challenge #5 – Integrating with National Transportation Service Providers

In planning to integrate a unified payment system with national service providers including Amtrak, Greyhound and Megabus, there are natural challenges to engaging their technology departments for support. However, Birmingham has all three providers as tenants in its new Intermodal Facility (Figure 7) which allows for BJCTA to control the physical space within their local footprints. This removes complexity of working with any real estate arms of their operations and, in a worst-case scenario where they would not be willing to coordinate with our effort, would allow us to develop an independent external integration to their web platforms and place it into the intermodal space.

Figure 7. Birmingham Intermodal Station.  Image is of building under construction.

Figure 7. Birmingham Intermodal Station

Real-World Challenge #5 – EBT Use

The Birmingham low income counselors who evaluate and qualify residents for state poverty-assistance programs have repeatedly requested the ability to allow EBT cards to be used for transit purchases. This is a very meaningful integration that we would like to see as part of this project but there are state legal changes that would need to be resolved. Our platform architecture will be established to allow EBT use but it will not be implemented until the Alabama Department of Human Resources resolves their legal and technology challenges.

Proposal Partnerships

Funding for this grant project will come from the BJCTA. However, various transportation partners have been engaged to develop the scope of the grant proposal and are described in Figure 8 below, along with a brief description of the BJCTA, the grant applicant.

In addition to transportation partners this project will engage two other key project partners, the City of Birmingham Information Management Services as well as the University of Alabama at Birmingham Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center (SSCRC).

The SSCRC has a very specific responsibility, to ensure the following key goals of the ATCMTD are achieved:

  • Demonstration, quantification, and evaluation of the impact of advanced technologies, strategies, and applications towards improved safety, efficiency, and sustainable movement of people and goods; and
  • Reproducibility of successful systems and services for technology and knowledge transfer to other locations facing similar challenges.

The SSCRC will focus on assessing the impact of these technologies and to package the project details appropriately to facilitate knowledge transfer to other locations facing similar challenges.

Figure 8. Project Partners
Partner Description
Zyp BikeShare Dense network of 40 kiosks and 400 bikes deployed in Birmingham, Alabama in October 2015. Residents and visitors can access 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Riders can check out bicycles for short rides through annual memberships or by swiping credit cards.
Greyhound Greyhound Lines, Inc. was founded in 1914 and is the largest provider of intercity bus transportation. Serves more than 3,800 destinations across North America and provides travel to nearly 18 million passengers each year. Offers charter packages for at competitive rates. Operates BoltBus, serving the Northeast and Western regions of the United States. Operates its premium city-to-city service, Greyhound Express, which operates in more than 135 markets across North America. Also operates Greyhound Connect, a service that connects rural communities to larger Greyhound markets and has interline partnerships with a number of independent bus lines.
Megabus Megabus offers city-to-city bus tickets for travel around North America. Has major North American transportation hubs around the United States and Canada. Serves more than 100 different cities and university campuses. Offers wheelchair accessible, state-of-the-art double decker buses.
Amtrak The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak, strives to deliver high quality, safe, on-time rail passenger service. On an average day, nearly 85,700 passengers ride more than 300 trains. Serves more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces on more than 21,300 miles of routes. Nation's only high-speed intercity passenger rail provider. On average, 600 daily Thruway schedules with guaranteed connections via buses, vans, ferries, and other modes extend Amtrak service to more than 400 communities not served directly by Amtrak trains in 38 states and Canada.
Birmingham Parking Authority The Birmingham Parking Authority was formed in 1972 through an act of the Alabama Legislature. Established as a separate entity of the City of Birmingham for the purpose of developing and managing off-street parking facilities. Manages eight parking decks and three parking lots in the downtown area, with a total of 8,353 parking spaces.
City of Birmingham Information Management Services Provides service to all City of Birmingham Departments through information technology (IT) for greater efficiency in servicing the citizens of Birmingham. Consists of the administrative division, the systems development division, the operations division, the telecommunications/AV/radio division, the IT governance and data analytics division, and the 311 call center.
University of Alabama at Birmingham Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center Fosters cross-disciplinary research, training, and outreach that integrates health, socio-economic impacts, and infrastructure design for the purpose of developing innovative solutions for sustainable smart cities and communities. Brings together multidisciplinary faculty with diverse expertise to develop tools and methods for sustainable infrastructure design.

Project Detail Including Transportation Systems

The Mobile Proximity Fare Collection Technology will provide a mobile application, to include mobile ticketing, for NFC and Bluetooth enabled devices. The mobile application can provide bus schedule information, next bus arrival information and other data that BJCTA may provide.

The Mobile Proximity Fare Collection Tool will utilize Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE, also known as Bluetooth Smart™) and NFC technology. BLE is a wireless personal area network technology aimed at novel applications such as proposed Mobile Proximity Fare Collection Tool.

As envisioned herein, BLE technology will be installed at each BRT station. As the patron approaches the BRT station, the BLE provides a Bluetooth beacon that “wakes up” a transit patron’s smart phone, and activates the Mobile Proximity Fare Collection Tool. The Mobile Proximity Fare Collection Technology will then automatically provide the patron with the next arrival time of the BRT vehicle or local route serving that particular station. The mobile application will also warn the patron if they do not have enough money in their transportation wallet to cover the transit fare, and if they have the ability to, allows them to purchase additional fare.

As the BRT vehicle and/or local bus approaches the station, the BLE technology onboard the vehicle communicates with the patrons’ phones, identifying them for the system and determining if fare is available. As the patron crosses the threshold from the BRT station platform onto the vehicle, the mobile application activates and deducts the fare from the patron’s transportation wallet. Patrons that do not have adequate fare will have their transportation wallets billed so that the next time it is reloaded the outstanding fare is collected. The bus operator verifies fare payment via an on-board display that accesses an operator specific element of the mobile ticketing app.

The mobile application will allow for trip planning, and enable travelers to see the expected arrival times of other buses that they might be transferring to, as well as their expected arrival time to their destination. The mobile app can record the location, date and time of travelers’ entry to and exit from the bus, providing real time observation of both linked and unlinked trips. Finally, if the traveler has used the mobile app to reserve transportation on another mode, the app can record and provide transportation providers a complete picture of a patron’s travel.

Travelers can electronically manage their transportation wallet either online or though the mobile phone. The mobile application also allows BJCTA access to a new revenue stream, permitting them to sell ad space and allowing local merchants to provide transit patrons coupons and discounts.

In terms of back office operations, transportation fares are received by a clearinghouse and are distributed to the transportation provider like a typical banking operation. Transit fares will be accounted for in normal streamlined and efficient fashion by the BJCTA.

In the back office, the paid fare comes in through a clearinghouse and is accounted for in the normal fashion by BJCTA.

Figures 9 through 12 depict the various architectural requirements that will be met based on the users type of payment, the transaction point, the fare payment method and the service access control points.

Figure 9. Credit Card User

Figure 9. Credit Card User

Figure 10. Digital Wallet User Process

Figure 10. Digital Wallet User

Figure 11. EBT User Process

Figure 11. EBT User

Figure 12. Cash User Process: Type of Payment - Cash User, Unique Access Control - No response, Transaction Point - Birmingham Transportation Wallet Kiosk, Fare Payment Method - Birmingham Transportation Wallet Smart Card Or Key FOB (Blue Tooth/NFC-England), Access Control Point - Integrated Partner Kiosk/Control Point Bus Blue Tooth/NFC Control Point

Figure 12. Cash User

The project will require several key architectural designs including the following:

  • Bus architecture;
  • Intermodal architecture;
  • Bus yard architecture;
  • BRT route purchase kiosks;
  • Cloud-based transportation wallet;
  • BRT station architecture;
  • Bus stop architecture;
  • Partner kiosks; and
  • Parking deck/streetside parking architecture.

Figures 13 through 15 depict the typical architectural elements that will be engaged in these integrations:

Figure 13. System Architecture Process: Bus Architecture - (Bluetooth Beacon x2, NFC Touchpoint x2, Relay x2, QR Reader x2, On-Board Processor & Cellular Comms), Intermodal Architecture - (Integrated Partner Kiosk/Control Point X3 (Amtrak, Greyhound, And Megabus), Birmingham Transit Kiosk x4, Bluetooth Geo-Fencing x10, Comms Relay, Server), Bus Yard Structure - (Comms Relay), BRT Route - (Birmingham Transit Kiosk x10), Wallet - Birmingham Transportation Wallet (Cloud)

Figure 13. System Architecture

Figure 14. Station and Bus Stop Architecture Process- Transit Station Architecture - Bluetooth Geo-Fencings surrounding NFC Touchpoint and relaying to Radio or Cell Relay.  Bus Stop Architecture - Bluetooth Geo-Fencing interacts with NFC Touchpoint and relays to Radio or Cell Relay.

Figure 14 Station and Bus Stop Architecture

Figure 15. Kiosk and Parking Technology - Kiosk Technology - Inputs (Bluetooth Beacon, NFC Touchpoint, QR Reader), Integrations (Birmingham Transportation Wallet Cloud, Partner Website, Partner App), Outputs - (Birmingham Transportation Wallet Smart Card Or Key FOB - Bluetooth/NFC-Enabled, Partner E-Ticket); Parking Technology - Location Inputs Per Block - (Bluetooth Beacon x 2, NFC Touchpoint x 2, QR Code), Integration - (Birmingham Transportation Wallet, Partner App), Outputs - (Partner E-Ticket)

Figure 15. Kiosk and Parking Technology

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