Covid-19: Staying Ahead of the Curve through APC Data

By Charles-Gabriel Deslauriers, Jr. Eng. & Data Analyst at Infodev EDI

Whilst transit agencies and operators from around the world are responding to COVID-19 and are adapting to the changing situation, the key question we are all trying to answer is: what’s next?

  • What should the new schedules be in the coming months?
  • How will riders respond to the reopening of the economy?
  • Will passengers be back overnight or is some of the lost ridership permanent?
  • How do we handle back-to-school? Overcrowding? Schedule adherence?

Although answers to these questions will vary by region and populations, here’s how you can get those answers: through data.

Science-based decisions have been the number one solution in this pandemic. Therefore, data science has an essential part to play in helping to protect people. Through our Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) technology, installed all over the world for over 25 years, we’ve been looking at ridership data and how the situation is affecting transit operations. Our expertise has been to make the most of ridership data and help decision- makers with accurate and reliable information.

For this reason, Infodev would like to share with all transit agencies some insights, ideas and solutions on how to respond to this unprecedented crisis. With the benefit of our accumulated experience, our team of experts in collaboration with clients has come up with answers to some of these questions.

How Ridership Insight Can Help

Health officials are saying: if we want to know how the virus will spread, we need to know how people are applying the recommended measures.

In fact, many of our clients have listed Infodev on their essential service-provider list because informed decisions are the best way to fight the virus. Upper management and executives are reviewing every day the information provided by our systems to guide their decisions. Since the propagation of the virus is strongly associated with person-to-person transmission, understanding the movement of people throughout the transportation network is now an essential part of health and safety for organisations.

APC systems are specifically designed to monitor and report the statistical behaviour of passengers in public transport and are an essential tool for transit and public health officials to get information regarding the flow of people and social distancing. This information can be accessible quickly and can help transit authorities and managers make the right decision or evaluate the impact of measures already taken. Furthermore, Infodev’s new AI-based Seat and Space Occupancy will be helpful in managing passenger flow and distribution in real time.

Counting people may seem like an easy task, but the accurate counting of people can have far-reaching implications, more so in these times when transit is changing at an unprecedented rate. At Infodev, we have been tackling this challenge for decades by reporting when, where and how many people are using transit. APC is not just for counting passengers, it reveals the flow of passengers mapped through time and location. Furthermore, Infodev can give you access to your ridership data in real time allowing you to react and adjust your operations almost instantly.

As we are slowly reopening parts of society, officials from various departments (health, education, economy and transit) are using data provided by our systems as a key performance indicator in their decision-making process.

Essential Tools for Smart Cities

We offer various software and tools for transit agencies and operators. Within the portfolio of tools two of them are particularly suited for this situation:

Daily Report and Trends Analysis

After the data is automatically collected by the vehicles, it can be viewed, aggregated and analysed through our reporting software suite. Dozens of analyses can be used for different purposes or usages. Right now, ‘overcrowding/ underutilised trips’ and ‘schedule adherence’ are reports analysed on a daily basis to support decision- making. Planners, schedule makers, management and people reporting transit data are using these reports to monitor the impact of measures associated with the fight against COVID-19.

Real-Time Information

Dashboards, including graphs, maps and tables, offer a unique capability to monitor overcrowding, schedule adherence and general operational performance in real time. People with experience in our systems are capable of predicting issues and reacting to them based on the information available within a web- based environment. Supervisors and operational managers are especially interested in these capabilities as they allow for a rapid response to problems. Furthermore, critical information can be communicated live to all interested parties, including passengers, ensuring a cohesive approach to transit.

Our solutions can be fully stand- alone or integrated, functioning and reporting 24/7 so that you never miss a thing.

A Glimpse into Ridership Data & Future Trends

The first few weeks have been difficult for all transit agencies: our systems have been reporting that ridership is down around 80% in buses and 90% in trains in large urban areas. Ridership is significantly affected by the various measures put into place by governments, regardless of the country, mode of transportation or city size. While some of the ridership will probably return to normal in the long term, two questions remain:

When Will Passengers Feel Comfortable Going Back into Crowded Vehicles?

We can’t know for sure. Think of it this way: everyone has been told by their government for weeks to avoid at all cost being physically close to other people. In their mind, public transit is associated with being in close proximity to other people twice a day for an extended period of time. High-density areas are even more affected by this.

So when will people feel comfortable coming back? Probably when the authorities tell them it’s okay with proper guidance. Regardless of personal protective equipment or hygiene measures, making sure you plan to avoid overcrowded vehicles is essential prior to reopening. Reducing the service and reducing the number of passengers per vehicle are opposite elements, so achieving a workable balance is key here.

Will Some of the Lost Ridership Be Permanent and How Big Will That Loss Be?

We expect some decrease in ridership even when the economy if fully back on track. With the work-from-home phenomenon, some workers are starting to enjoy this new daily routine. Avoiding crowded buses or trains, being more relaxed, adapting their schedule and enjoying more time with their family will certainly lead to at least some part of the workforce changing their habits in a permanent way. Some of these workers might go back to the office only two or three days a week or only during certain periods of the day. However, other societal trends might compensate for this phenomenon. Ridership changes will be driven by multiple factors and how quickly society can adapt will depend on accurate data.

This is why having the ridership information aggregated over regions and time is necessary to detect trends in different populations. A best guess will never beat an accurate measurement and that’s why Infodev can help you and your team get the ridership information needed.

We invite you to share with us any questions or suggestions you may have on how we can assist you to get the most out of your APC data, either provided by us or other sources. Together, we will get through this difficult time.

APC Data

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