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Conference on Wireless Communications in Transit: Updates from Washington, D.C. [free access]

July 1, 2019


The deployment of wireless connectivity in public transportation has opened up the path to tremendous benefits, including improved operational performance and safety, reduced costs, and enhanced passenger amenities. The solutions include on-board Wi-Fi systems integrating various applications such as condition-based monitoring; wireless communications in subways and stations; VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) for landline phone replacement; fleet tracking and scheduling; emergency response; intelligent video; etc.


To better understand the current significance and future potential of the deployment of wireless technology in transit, Global Mass Transit organised its fourth conference on Wireless Communications in Transit at The Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C. on June 19–20, 2019.


The conference comprised 10 sessions: Introduction; Regulation and Standards; System Architecture; Applications for Safety; Applications for Operations; Applications for Customers; Financing and Delivery of Projects; Integration and Interoperability; Synergy with Digitalisation; and Future of Wireless in Transit.




Al Short, Chief Information Officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, Metro) delivered the keynote address at the opening session. He provided an overview of the Metro and its role in igniting the smart movement in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area; opportunities in mobility-enabled intelligent transportation; and the benefits of using wireless communications for enhancing transit services. Figure 1 indicates how wireless could deliver smart services at the Metro.



Figure 1: Metro’s Influence Plan for Wireless



Velvet Basemera-Fitzpatrick, Program Manager, Transit IDEA & Rail Safety IDEA,Transportation Research Board (TRB)/ The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine provided an overview of the current TCRP projects utilising wireless technologies, their current status, andthe expected outcome. Table 1 lists the projects.


IDEA Project




Location Aware Networks Optimising Use of Transit

Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), Detroit, MI; Capital Area Transit Authority (CATA), Lansing, MI


Development of pathNav: A Pedestrian Navigation Tool that Utilises Smart Data for Improved Accessibility and Walkability

Pittsburgh, PA. Deployment downtown and the east-end business districts and surrounding neighbourhoods (e.g. Oakland, Shadyside, East Liberty, Squirrel Hill)


Dynamic Vehicle to Infrastructure TCIP Communications Laboratory Proof of Concept

Not available


sUAS-based GeoINTEL for Commuter Rail Parking in Rural and Suburban Areas

Bridgewater University


Frank Douma, Director, State and Local Policy Program, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesotadiscussed legal and data privacy issues as well as the collection and handling of customer data by transit agencies.


Alan Tilles, Attorney at Law, Chairman – Technology, Media and Telecommunications Department, Shulman Rogers, and Co-Founder, Government Wireless Technology & Communications Association (GWTCA)provided anoverview of FCC’sregulations and licensing for city governments and transit agencies. He notedthat all licensees are responsible for full knowledge of the FCC rules governing their authorisation, but that FCC may grant waivers of virtually any rule upon the showing of good cause.


Cristina Fonseca, Senior System Safety Specialist, Sound Transit discussed the safety and security certification system of Sound Transit, the Safety & Security Information Management System (SSIMS). It provides a cloud-based service that can be accessed from any device with internet access and utilises a system that is supported by Sound Transit’s IT Department.


Alan Rowe, CTO, Xentrans discussed the next-generation trainline architecture being deployed along the Capital Corridor (San Jose to Auburn) in California. The platform supports multiple applications and its open data architecture allows data sharing between applications. In another session, Mr. Rowe provided important learnings with respect to alternative financing – how to avoid technology pitfalls: obsolescence and lifecycle management.


Figure 2 illustrates the next-generation trainline.


Figure 2: Next-generation trainline



John Toone, ITS Program Manager, King County Metro discussed the relationship between communications and application architectures. He emphasised the need for open communication between technology and managerial/finance executives at transit agencies.


Ahsan Baig, CIO/CTO, Department of Innovation and Technology, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit and Philip Bockrath, VP- Wireless Technology, Clever Devices discussed VoIP implementation at AC Transit.


Keith Rhodes, VP Sales, Commercial Markets, PowerTrunk discussed mission-critical voice and data communication for public transportation. He covered case studies of NJ Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).Figure 3 illustrates the various transit solutions that Tetra offers.


Figure 3: Tetra’s solutions for transit


Mark Kroncke, Partner, Invoke Technologies, California discussed Los Angeles Metro’s multi-modal service platform (TAP), which aims to achieve MaaS. The platform will be launched in phases and will cover regional operators such as Long Beach Transit.          


Stephan A. Parker, Senior Program Officer, Transportation Research Board discussed the State DOT Wireless Communications Census: Summary Results from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.


Patrick Pham, Executive Director and Vice President, Information Technology, Long Beach Transit, California discussed the conceptualisation and implementation of the project to install mobile gateway routers on buses.


R.J. Mahadev, Global Head, Managed IoT Gateway Solutions, Cisco discussed digital solutions for mobile assets of transportation service providers. Figure 4 indicates the four stages of transit connectivity.


Figure 4: Four stages of transit connectivity





Edward Thomas, Senior Advisor, Global Mass Transit discussed 5G and the opportunities available to transit agencies to play the role of merchants and to earn revenue.


Kyle Connor, Global Transportation Industry Principal at Cisco Systems and Officer of the Board of the Government Wireless Technology & Communications Association (GWTCA) provided an overview of various communication technologies – V2X, CBRS, FirstNet, Wi-Fi, 5G – and discussed how the agencies should consider theirimplementation.


Girija Subramaniam, Founder and Technical Consultant, Forcing Function LLC discussed adapting satellite technology to the world of transit.



The conference explored issues concerning regulatory guidance; planning, funding, and procurement; available solutions; and best practices. The participants included executives, managers, and decision-makers from public transport authorities and operating companies, policymaking and regulatory bodies, wireless infrastructure developers, and technology and service provider firms.


We are hoping to organise the fifth edition of this conference in June 2020. Please plan to join us there!