Industrial Automation

Modernizing Mass Transit to Reshape Operator Roles and Improve Ridership

Pradeep Kumar

Aging infrastructure, the impact of single-passenger vehicles on the environment and passenger demand are taking mass transit systems on a journey toward modernization. Take a look at what the journey looks like.



Today, as nearly 12% of workers in the largest U.S. cities commute via mass transit, the transportation systems they rely on are supported by outdated infrastructure.

In fact, decades of underinvestment have created a $105 billion backlog in repair needs for mass transit across the country. If these upgrades aren’t addressed, then even more delays and disruptions are sure to follow—which will negatively impact the use of mass transit in the future. Agencies and authorities will also have to deal with and budget for continuously rising maintenance and operations costs.


Take the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), for example. It’s finally making major investments in enhancements like Wi-Fi infrastructure to support smartphone use and signaling systems to update fundamental technology that dates back to the early 1900s.


The nation’s current infrastructure may have carried us through the last century, but now it’s time to make sure it can support the next century and beyond. These infrastructure investments will pay off in other ways, too: According to the American Public Transportation Association, every $1 invested in public transportation generates $5 in economic returns.


Aging infrastructure—combined with the impact of single-passenger vehicles on the environment and passenger demand for fast, frictionless service—is taking mass transit systems on an inevitable journey toward modernization.


Ready or not, here comes modernized mass transit—and here’s what these changes mean for operators and passengers.


Modernized systems and infrastructure


Modernizing mass transit systems means modernizing end-to-end services and connectivity capabilities. This means not only upgrades to existing technology, but also the deployment of new solutions, such as:

  • Wi-Fi to help passengers and staff stay connected, no matter where they are
  • Hands-free fare collection for faster boarding without riders having to use their smartphones or tap/swipe a card
  • Facial recognition for safety
  • Mobile apps to streamline the passenger experience
  • Digital signage within trains and stations, along with and geo-location services for safety and wayfinding
  • Sensors to track everything from air quality to wheel speed
  • Intrusion detection to monitor for obstructions or attempts at damage
  • Surveillance and video management systems to detect suspicious activity and weapons, as well as pinpoint areas that need attention or improvement
  • Automatic passenger counting systems for capacity management
  • Network management systems that allow operators to easily understand what’s happening with the network


Modernized workflows for operators


As technology changes mass transit, operators are also modernizing the way they work.


Automation can help bolster the mass transit labor force, optimizing available labor resources by shifting effort away from tasks like fare collection, ticket sales and security monitoring so workers can focus on other, more critical projects.


Data-driven dashboards will connect workers to real-time operational data that reports on the safety and reliability of service experienced by passengers.


A video wall inside the operations control center will provide real-time camera monitoring to offer operators insight into everything from traffic flow to line status so they can better control traffic, identify and respond to mechanical problems or emergencies, and communicate with passengers about delays or changes.


These changes will help operators keep mass transit systems running safely, which is the No. 1 goal. Every time a transportation system stops, revenue also comes to a halt. When potential problems are recognized and addressed before delays or disruptions occur, money and passengers keep moving.


Modernized passenger ridership


Hassle-free ridership is the ticket to passenger satisfaction. Passengers have increasing expectations about how intuitive the experience should be. They want the ability to manage their own daily travel without needing to interact with lots of people or wait in lines.


Modernizing the transportation experience means that the entire travel process is frictionless and automated. Riders will no longer have to stand in line to pay for a ticket, wait for someone to verify the ticket or stand in line to board—and they can pay using whatever format they choose. Real-time updates will always be available on large display screens, as well as on mobile apps.


Building your own reliable backbone


The mass transit experts in our Customer Innovation Center are here to help agencies, authorities and integrators identify what needs to be improved—and which legacy systems can be preserved—while creating a tailored solution that addresses your goals and requirements for communications, safety and operations.


Our designs also ensure that, if there’s ever a problem on the network, operators can determine right away where the drop occurred—and why—so it can be addressed immediately, significantly reducing troubleshooting time.


Belden’s Validation Lab lets you simulate scenarios and discuss challenges without creating downtime on your real network. We also make sure that your operations and maintenance remain online during infrastructure projects.


When it comes to modernized mass transit, the goal should always be a trustworthy, reliable backbone built on MPLS-TP technology. We’ll make sure your network never fails—no matter what systems and applications it supports.


Learn more about how we can help you control, manage and visualize your entire mass transit system—trains, tracks, trackside, stations and operational control centers—on one powerful communication network.


Related resources:

The Role of Mass Transit Automation in Passenger Satisfaction

Digital Transformation and the Mass Transit Industry

All Aboard the Train of the Future