Juan Antonio Barros Moreno/123RF

Blockchain In Public Transportation: 7 Possible Use Cases

  • 3 December 2018
  • Sam Mire

Compare your view on the environment circa 1995 – if you’re able – to how you feel today. Odds are you’re more conscious of the impact pollution, poor sanitation, and waste have on our world.

Societies are moving towards efficiency and sustainability, which means embracing public transportation. Movements to reduce pollution through public transport have helped reform the image of old, dingy public buses. In La Paz, Bolivia, the Mi Teleferico is a cable car network that zips high above the city. It’s been likened to a “subway in the sky.” It’s one of the most scenic, cost-effective, and time-conscious ways for La Paz’s working population to get from their homes in the mountainside into the city for work each day. Mi Teleferico is the sort of outside-the-box solution that pairs practicality with aesthetic beauty and sustainability.

Another example of the future of public transportation is the Hochbahn in Hamburg, Germany. It’s a bus network that’s incorporated charging systems for electric buses. The stations can charge an array of different vehicle models from various manufacturers. The Hochbahn is a blueprint for the many passenger vehicles that will need to juice their batteries in the future. Embracing this innovation and pairing it with technologies like the blockchain will impact smart cities for the better.

There are several ways that blockchain technology will assist the mainstream-ization of public transportation. It could secure fleets of rented bike, help coordinate ride sharing, and disseminate critical data – as a start to its potential use cases.

Blockchain in public transportation - Possible use cases

More Transparent Public Transportation Data

Blockchain use cases in public transportation - Transparent Public Transportation Data

If your car’s broken down, you can’t get to work. If the bus breaks down, 50 people can’t get to work.

Knowing how well public transport vehicles are functioning is key to a system running smoothly and sustainably. One of the strongest arguments for broadening the use of public transportation is an overall decrease in pollution emissions But vehicles have to be up to environmental and performance standards for that goal to be realized.

We have well-established benchmarks for how efficient public transportation can be when vehicles are maintained. High-functioning buses use 8.7 percent less energy per passenger per mile than the typical automobile. Buses emit 20 percent less carbon monoxide per passenger than single-occupant vehicles, and 10 percent less hydrocarbons per passenger. But these figures can only be trusted if systems are in place to ensure that public vehicles are functioning as they should.

A database of information about public transportation fleets on the blockchain will increase public awareness. Because blockchain ledgers are immutable and permanent, they are suited for publicly-consumable information.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Omnitude – Partnering with Maltese government to use blockchain for improving transit.

Better Maintenance Data Tracking / Improving Safety

The public should be able to safely assume that buses aren’t driving around their city with faulty brakes or a combustible engine.

When you’re driving your own vehicle, you have the peace of mind of knowing you did, got the oil changed, the brake pads are up to date, and it’s generally safe to operate. With public transportation, that peace of mind is hardly as apparent. The rise of the “curbside” bus industry has caused a lack of safety and maintenance standards across the industry, adding to concerns about the safety of public transport.

A 2011 report found that “buses and other commercial motor vehicles (CMV) have a higher likelihood of fatal accident involvement per registered vehicle.” Rome is just one of the many cities with a failing public transportation system. 22 public buses exploded in 2017 and 14 went up in flames the year before. A bus explosion was reported in China, while a crash involving a public bus in Baltimore killed at least six and left at least 10 injured. While some of these instances may be inevitable, it’s clear that public transportation needs better maintenance and safety measures.

Advocates tout the blockchain for its automation and accessibility by multiple parties. It could help delegate maintenance requirements. The blockchain could also be a vehicle to issue automated alerts and usage reports for fleets of public vehicles. These benefits would take much of the burden off of public and private employees, who are often forced to rely on outdated maintenance systems.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Fleetio Blockchain-powered fleet management platform.

Universal Transit Payment/Ticketing

Blockchain use cases in public transportation - Universal Transit Payment Systems

When people endure less than desirable circumstances daily, granting them small victories matters. Most bus riders don’t do so by choice, and they’re used to dealing with second-class conditions. It’s time to change that.

Amtrak — the most well-known name in rail transport — reported record ticket revenues of $2.14 billion in 2016. Those strong ticket sales were the result of 31.3 million passengers riding American railways, a 400,000-passenger increase compared with 2015.

But the process for obtaining and utilizing tickets, especially across different modes of public transport, is often fragmented and time-consuming. Those who want to ride multiple trains, hop on a bus, and then rent a bike might need to execute four different transactions. There are plenty of reasons to shun public transport already. New York City subway riders continued to decrease for the second straight year in 2018. Creating more efficient systems for ticketing is one way to help woo those riders back.

Through blockchain-linked platforms and unique “mobility” coins, there’s hope that purchasing and applying tickets for public transportation could become simpler. No longer would commutes involve the time and effort of visiting multiple ticketing desks or kiosks. Instead, a single platform for the purchase and storage of digital tickets will replace outdated processes.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Dovu  Early entrant into unified payment and rewards for mobility services.

Mobility as a Service Economy

Consider this: public transportation as an economic stimulator. Hear me out.

Many believe the economy will benefit from the further growth of ridesharing, autonomous vehicles, and public transport. The concept of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is “a better, faster, more connected and personal transportation that can bring benefits to cities, communities and transit agencies.” The European Union’s Mobility-as-a-Service Alliance goes further, stating that MaaS is “the integration of various forms of transport…into a single mobility service accessible on demand.” The service provides “an alternative to the use of the private cars that may be as convenient, more sustainable, help to reduce congestion and constraints in transport capacity, and can be even cheaper.”  

According to Accenture, services associated with the future of transportation will outpace the revenues from vehicle sales. It’s expected that profits from car sales will have shrunken from roughly $142.5 billion to $138 billion by 2030. Revenues derived from “mobility services” associated with Mobility-as-a-Service are anticipated to increase to as much as $1.35 trillion.

In order to coordinate the many aspects that make up the MaaS model — ride sharing, public transportation, and manufacture — the industry may turn to blockchain technology. The blockchain can be utilized as a single platform capable of withholding records and facilitating transactions, as a start. It could facilitate the transition towards a communal transportation paradigm.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Whim Blockchain-powered mobility application from MaaS Global. 

Transit Equity

Blockchain use cases in public transportation - Transit Equity

All men are created equal. But a man in Florida may be subjected to completely different rules and regulations than a woman in California. That doesn’t seem fair.

When we talk about transit equity, we are alluding to the ability for drivers and passengers to be treated fairly regardless of where they may be, within reason. The disabled illustrate the unique needs of motorists and riders is the disabled. In the UK, as many as 10 percent of the nation’s licensed drivers are disabled, and they face serious barriers to obtaining insurance. The number of disabled drivers in the United States has fallen by as many as 80,000 over the course of two years. But there’s still a need to accommodate the truly disabled while weeding out scammers taking advantage of the system.

The expense of parking in major cities has led many people to apply fraudulently for meter exemptions that are reserved for the handicapped. It’s no wonder why. In Boston, it can cost as much as $6,000 per year to park. In Michigan, fewer than 2 percent of the 510,000 applicants for handicapped placards ultimately qualified, implying that shysters are attempting to game the system.

What if somebody who qualifies for a handicap sticker or insurance policy in one township moves? They’d obviously like to have the same rights in their new home. An interoperable database of rights data would maintains privacy, enhances equity across borders, increase efficiency, and reduce fraud.

Fewer Paper Trails

Blockchain use cases in public transportation - Fewer Paper Trails

Virtually every industry is moving towards paperless operations. While this rubs the old heads the wrong way, it’s environmentally responsible and, considering new technology, a no-brainer.

The public transportation sector is no stranger to systems of physical, paper-based documentation. But there are signs that the industry is moving away from paper-based systems. Metro announced in 2013 that they’d stop selling ticket books that they had offered since the 1970s. Riders didn’t seem to mind, either. Eliminating the books was a decision coordinated with falling demand, in fact. 25,000 Metro ticket books were sold each month in 2009. By 2013, that figure had fallen to 3,000 per month. The world is moving toward reusable, paperless systems, and there’s no system more reusable than a digital one.

Regardless of the industry, blockchain ledgers can serve as reliable replacements for paper-based records systems. This is also the case for those in the business of public transportation, whether it’s municipal governments, private train operators, or bike rental services. A digital system for ticketing, receipts, confirmations, and other aspects of travel will reduce hassle and the dreaded “Did I leave my bus pass at home?!” realization for commuters and travelers alike.

Decentralized, Non-Traditional Public Transportation Services

Blockchain use cases in public transportation - Decentralized - Non-Traditional Transportation Services

Look at a city you consider to be progressive and you’re likely to see a disproportionate number of public transportation users. Not just regular old bus riders, but bike and scooter riders, too. These cities are most reflective of the developed worlds of tomorrow. The rise of non-traditional modes of public transportation are an essential aspect of these cities’ DNA.

Among the cities continually shifting toward sustainable practices are the “Top 15 Most Bike-Friendly Cities”. They include Amsterdam, Portland, Copenhagen, Tokyo, and Barcelona. And while China has discovered that an overabundance of bike-sharing services can lead to a city flooded by abandoned and broken bikes, plenty of other cities have figured out how to implement bike sharing programs successfully. They do so to help decrease pollution at a reasonable cost. As scooter use continues to increase globally, it’s almost certain that similar programs will pop up for other forms of public transport.

The blockchain could facilitate the rewarding riders with tokens, tickets and other rewards for using public transportation. This will help speed the movement towards non-traditional modes of public transportation as a mainstream way of getting around.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • DAV Token Platform and payment system for autonomous vehicle services.
About Sam Mire

Sam is a Market Research Analyst at Disruptor Daily. He's a trained journalist with experience in the field of disruptive technology. He’s versed in the impact that blockchain technology is having on industries of today, from healthcare to cannabis. He’s written extensively on the individuals and companies shaping the future of tech, working directly with many of them to advance their vision. Sam is known for writing work that brings value to industry professionals and the generally curious – as well as an occasional smile to the face.