a transit app to rule them all


If a person living in Logan Square, Chicago’s hip neighborhood in the city’s northwest, ever wants to travel to the Naperville suburb to visit family without taking a car, they’ve got a multi-stage trip. in front of her. of her. She could take the Chicago L Blue Line, which would drop her downtown, where she could walk 15 minutes, or catch a bus to Union Station. Or, if she wanted to, she could hop aboard Divvy, the city’s self-serve bicycle system and ride all the way to the station. Still, she would have to buy a separate ticket for the commuter train line to the suburbs.

It’s far from an impossible trip, but juggling multiple transit services requires paying for multiple passes and having a good understanding of the timing of everything: if this passenger wanted to time her L trip and transfer. by bus to put her at Union Station just as her train to Naperville was getting ready to leave, she would have to know exactly when to leave the house for that to happen.

Cubic Transportation Systems, a company that works with the Chicago Transit Authority, as well as Transport for London and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York, developed an app that would basically do all of this for them.

[Image: courtesy Cubic Transportation Systems]

On this new application, which will be deployed in Chicago, as well as in Boston, Los Angeles and New York, in the coming months, a user will be able to access a mobile version of the ticketing service of each local transport operator. In Chicago, it could be Ventra – which works with the L and the city’s bus network – alongside Metra, the commuter rail operator. In New York, passengers could access digitized Metrocards, which pay for subways and buses, as well as mobile commuter train tickets, and those in Boston would work the same. In Los Angeles, the city’s 26 different services are all supported.

Under the various mobile passes, a passenger can enter their position and see an overview of all the transport options available near them. A second-to-second tracker will tell it when the next bus or metro is arriving at the nearest station, and Cubic also integrates with local bike-sharing systems to map nearby docking stations and the number of bikes available (soon people will also be able to pay for bike sharing on the app).

Users of the app can also add favorites if they tend to use certain lines or transit systems more than others, says Robert Sprogis, global director of mobile products at Cubic.

The app, called Cubic Mobile for Travelers, sums up a lot of the energy around streamlining and re-prioritizing public or car-free transport for users. Uber, for example, recently announced that it will display transit data on its app as well as integration with some bike sharing options, and other apps, like Transit, which displays the departure times of rides. public transport, are also starting to integrate bicycle sharing. However, Cubic goes one step further by incorporating mobile payments and ticketing, often a sticking point in planning multimodal journeys.

[Image: courtesy Cubic Transportation Systems]

For local bus and metro systems, which often use swipe cards and turnstiles to collect payments, the Cubic app acts as a mobile ticket kiosk. Users can either save their credit card information on the app or connect to existing mobile payment options like Apple Pay to purchase one-time transit passes or top up their multi-use passes. “If you drop below a certain value on your card, you have the option of setting up automatic payments to top it up,” says Sprogis.

The way commuter train tickets are handled on the app is slightly different. Often, rail services require passengers to purchase and display a visual ticket which drivers then check on board. For this, app users can purchase an in-app ticket, which appears as a full screen image, the background of which slowly and subtly changes color. “The goal is to eliminate fraud – it proves that I didn’t just take a screenshot of another ticket or photoshop,” says Sprogis.

The Chicago Ventra app, which Cubic also developed and launched in 2015 as a kind of pilot for this new app, already does all of this for the most part, and according to Mike Gwinn, director of revenue and pricing systems at CTA, has been very popular, but it will be replaced by the new Cubic platform in the coming months to provide more capacity.

While Chicago has been an important testing ground for technology, “this app is designed to have global capabilities,” says Sprogis. While it looks different in each region that incorporates it (local transport authorities all give their opinion on specific designs of the app), it will essentially serve the same function wherever it is deployed. This doesn’t mean, however, that if you live in Los Angeles and travel to Chicago, you can use the same app for both cities. For now, says Sprogis, each city will have unique apps that must all be downloaded separately.

Since the app aggregates and streamlines payments for all public transport made on a single trip, there are obvious implications for fare adjustments based on income or other metrics. But Sprogis points out that the respective transportation authorities that Cubic partners with are the ones that ultimately decide whether they will use the system to implement a fare cap or other fairness measures.

Matt Cole, vice president of Cubic Transportation Systems, hopes they will, and he also has another overarching hope for the rollout of this new app: that it begins to drive city dwellers away from private car addiction and to return to public transport systems. “There just isn’t enough space for everyone to travel in space-saving vehicles,” he says. By designing an app that eliminates the hassle of organizing different payment methods and the gamble of guessing when buses and trains arrive, he hopes public transportation will soon be as smooth as hopping in a car.