Transportation plays a key role in attracting businesses
When Amazon announced its contest for a second headquarters (HQ2) in September 2017, cities nationwide created proposals to woo the retail and technology giant. When the two sites, Long Island City in New York and Crystal City outside of Washington, D.C., were finally selected over a year later, it seemed that other cities never stood a chance.
Amazon had laid out specific requirements for its new host, among them a robust mass transit system that could handle an influx of new employees. This is something to which very few American cities can lay claim, and which made transit-rich NYC and metro Washington, D.C. obvious choices for the new headquarters.
Businesses like Amazon seek cities with excellent transit for several reasons. Without transit, the 25,000 new workers to the area would place a significant strain on the traffic network, which makes it difficult to recruit and frustrates residents. In addition, the type of technology workers Amazon would like to attract often prefer to commute by transit, as they tend to eschew driving for greener and less expensive options. Finally, areas well-served by transit tend to be enticingly walkable and trendy, which helps the company recruit top talent. 
Besides having helped to attract Amazon’s twin HQ2s, New York and D.C.’s transit agencies have another thing in common: they use Opticom Transit Signal Priority (TSP) to speed buses up and keep them on schedule. While they approach TSP in different ways, the result is the same: faster, more reliable bus service that increases rider satisfaction and attracts new ridership. This excellent transit service helps drive these cities’ strong economies.
The Washington D.C. metropolitan area, which also encompasses Alexandria, Va., and Arlington, Va., is not only the nation’s political capital but a major economic center. More than six million people in the region work in such industries as biotechnology, defense contracting, and tourism, sustaining the fifth highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the nation.
All these people need to get to work somehow, and the region’s roads are notoriously clogged during the workday commute: in 2018, Business Insider ranked Washington, D.C. as having the 6th worst traffic in the nation, with Washingtonians spending an average of 63 hours per year stuck in traffic. 
Thankfully, the Washington Metropolitan Area Metro Transit Authority’s (WMATA) bus service, Metrobus, provides D.C. commuters a more relaxing and eco-friendly alternative to suffering in snarling traffic. The transit agency uses 1,595 buses which cover 1,500 square miles in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. WMATA boasts higher ridership than the national average, with 37.4 percent of employees commuting by transit.
However, like most U.S. transit agencies, it has seen an overall decline in ridership since the Great Recession. To recover, the agency needed to determine how to best use its limited funding to improve services for current riders and draw in new ones.
WMATA and GTT
WMATA turned to Global Traffic Technologies (GTT), the market leader in smart city priority control solutions, to help speed their buses up and keep them on schedule. Together, GTT and WMATA deployed a transit priority system on 600 vehicles and 180 intersections in 2015, which will be expanded to include all remaining buses by the end of 2019.
WMATA is unique among transit agencies in that it serves over 17 different jurisdictions including municipalities, emergency services, and other transit agencies. GTT had to deliver a priority control solution that worked within the infrastructure of every single jurisdiction. Ultimately, GTT developed an integrated software-based solution for the vehicles that uses the cellular feed from the bus’s Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) to communicate with the Opticom hardware at the intersection. The system allows buses to request an extended or early green light at an intersection, so they can keep to their schedules and move along the route faster. This more reliable service makes commuting by bus an attractive and logical option for riders who want to avoid getting stuck in car traffic on their way to and from work.
While Opticom TSP solutions have helped WMATA improve services, they are not WMATA’s only initiative to do so. The agency is also using data to evaluate routes to make sure major population and employment centers are being adequately served. The more data that WMATA gets from GTT and other solution providers on travel time, schedule adherence, passenger counts, and other variables, the better they can design bus routes for the places people want to go.
WMATA’s increasingly reliable and speedy bus service, aided by GTT solutions, has helped to shape the D.C. metro area into a great place to live and do business.
Moving millions of people in New York City
New York City, the hotbed of culture and tourism in the United States, is also one of the commercial capitals of the world. Over twenty million people live and work in the New York metropolitan area, with many commuting to their jobs in the finance, media and real estate industries both from within and outside the city.
New York City has the highest rate of transit ridership of anywhere in the United States, and the lowest rate of vehicle ownership. New Yorkers of all stripes unequivocally rely on public transit to get them where they need to go, including to and from their workplaces.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) operates New York City’s extensive bus and subway system. With more than 6,000 buses, they are the largest transit agency in the nation; unfortunately, MTA’s bus service is also one of the slowest. On some routes, buses have historically crawled along barely faster than pedestrians. For a while, the agency had been losing passengers, and realized it needed to improve its services to retain current customers to recover lost ridership.
GTT and NYC
In 2013, the MTA began working with GTT to implement transit priority solutions that give buses intersection priority throughout the city. The goal was to reduce dwell time and speed the buses up.
The MTA collaborated with GTT and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) to develop a TSP solution adapted to New York’s unique infrastructure. The city has so many intersections and the MTA has so many buses that it would have taken years to deploy a traditional hardware-based system with equipment on each vehicle and at each intersection.
New York needed a TSP system that required no hardware at all and that could be managed through the MTA’s data center. To achieve this, GTT developed a centralized software-only platform where the vehicle sends the request over cellular communication to GTT’s Central Management Software (CMS) at the data center. The CMS then sends the request to the city’s Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS), which relays the request to the traffic controller at the intersection. This solution is completely scalable as vehicles and intersections can be brought online with very little effort. It also gives the city control over when TSP was requested by limiting requests to conditions such as times of day and directions of travel.
When the city tested the system out in 2013 on the M-15 route from Broadway to the Financial District, they gained an 18 percent improvement to travel time with no impact to traffic on side streets. Increasing the speed of the buses not only helps current riders get to work on time, but it also makes taking the bus a more attractive option for riders who may decide to ditch their cars and take public transit instead.
Buses are one of many methods of transportation in New York City. Many New Yorkers use them in conjunction with subways and walking to their destinations. New York is also determined to become a world-class city for cycling, and built 20.9 miles of bike lanes in 2018, with plans to expand even further in the future. People appreciate having these options for their commute to work as well as other daily tasks, which is why cities across the U.S. look to New York for its progressive policies on non-car transportation.
By implementing Opticom TSP solutions, MTA is signaling to the city’s more than 200,000 businesses and their employees that the bus is a reliable way for employees to arrive to work on time. New York’s premier transit system, with service enhanced by GTT transit solutions, have made the city one of the most attractive places to do business in the U.S.
A blueprint for others
Cities that want to attract new business ought to pay attention to Amazon’s public transportation requirement. It remains to be seen whether traffic congestion will increase in NYC and D.C. when Amazon moves in, but it is probably safe to say that their public transit systems will mitigate the strain. The two cities’ vibrant, walkable neighborhoods, supported and enabled by MTA and WMATA bus service, will also help Amazon recruit choice workers.
The mobility landscape of commuting is evolving as youngest generations of professionals choose to walk, bike or take transit to work over driving there alone in their cars. They also prefer to live in dense cities where these methods of transportation are viable options. As people move into urban areas, investment in public transit alongside cycling and pedestrian infrastructure will need to take a leading role to draw in residents and business. In the coming years, public transit services will need to be expanded to accommodate growing urban populations, but transit agencies can also improve the effectiveness of current services by implementing proven technologies such as Opticom Transit solutions.
Looking for more information? Get in touch with an Opticom specialist today:
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