Public Transit and AI-based Search

Is your transit agency positioned to take advantage of impending AI-based search revolution? It all starts with good data.

In a previous blog post, I discussed the necessity for businesses to evaluate the implications of AI-based search on their operations. I recommend reading that post to gain a comprehensive understanding. This article delves into the specific implications of AI-based search within the public transportation sector. It focuses on how public transportation agencies will be affected by this technology in the coming years.

Understanding AI's Impact on Transit Agencies

To fully grasp AI's requirements for comprehending transit agencies, the significance of accurate content cannot be overstated. The ability of AI to effectively represent an agency digitally hinges on the precision of the content. A primary challenge faced by transit agencies is the fragmented approach they take in meeting customer-facing demands. These may include maintaining a website, a real-time data portal, route and schedule PDFs with varying levels of detail, and even third-party platforms consuming GTFS data. Each of these systems, whether owned or third-party, will shape AI's future impact. The question remains: how can the accuracy of operational content across these platforms be assured?

The Role of AI-Based Search in Transit

Currently, when one seeks to use public transportation, the responsibility of identifying suitable services lies with the individual. This involves exploring trip planning options, navigating website pages listing routes, accessing PDFs of published routes (if available digitally), and consulting third-party websites containing transit information. As a commuter, obtaining the right information to make informed decisions can be challenging.

In the future, AI-based search is poised to revolutionize this process. With AI-driven planning, presenting relevant information to commuters is likely to transform. Drawing from the analogy of Jeeves (formerly of Ask Jeeves) as a personal AI assistant, envision a future where transit planning might involve a conversation like this: "Hey Jeeves, I'm heading to Portland this weekend. Should I use public transportation from the airport? If so, how do I reach my hotel?" The decision to even ride transit may be influenced by AI and certainly the decisions of what services to use and when will be up to AI. However, the efficacy of AI in today's transit websites is contingent on its ability to discern the most accurate and up-to-date data. This is a particularly significant threat to modern transit agencies.

There are some simple things that transit agencies can start doing now to position themselves to be better communicators regarding services and published schedules.

Prioritizing Data Quality, Organizing GTFS Files

The solution lies in reimagining content not as mere website material but as data. All digital assets, whether CMS-based webpages, campaign landing pages referencing routes and schedules, or vendor real-time data portals, should draw from a unified data source. Establishing a foundation of reliable GTFS data shared among partners is crucial for location-based information and published schedules. Inconsistencies arise when different versions of schedules circulate among vendors, leading to disparate information for commuters and AI systems.

Implementing Content Expiry

A seemingly straightforward yet impactful step involves assigning expiration dates to route lists and schedules. This extends to setting expirations for published route PDFs, which might persist on forgotten webpages, blog posts, or social media. Aligning these dates with GTFS service expiration simplifies the process of informing commuters to access updated timetables for their routes. Moreover, content related to schedules on websites should also feature clear notifications of new versions, along with automated redirects for users and search engines. This facilitates AI's comprehension of changes and enhances data presentation for both human users and AI systems.

Enhancing Experiences Through Improved Data

At eTransit, our focus extends beyond current challenges in public transportation, as we anticipate the rise of AI. To address the digital divide exacerbated by AI's ascent, developing an ecosystem catering to both human and AI audiences becomes paramount. This preparation is essential to minimize friction between riders and services. Are transit agencies adequately prepared for this shift? Anticipating future hurdles, it's crucial to acknowledge that smaller agencies might find it economically challenging to navigate the digital landscape effectively. eTransit, as a comprehensive transit website and marketing solution, was created to solve this issue.

While the concept of "Mobility As A Service" gains traction in the transit sector, involving subscription-based models to access operational software for optimizing transit, the parallel notion of "Website As A Service" remains underdeveloped. This discrepancy is evident in the state of transit websites, which still have room for improvement. eTransit is at the forefront of addressing this gap, pioneering advanced functionality tailored for transit agencies. This ensures their relevance amidst the ongoing rapid evolution of technology.

It is time now to start discussions within your agency regarding what digital communications will mean to you when you juxtapose your core mission with the acceleration of digital communication needs.

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