The technology leader at a key central Texas transportation agency, who spearheaded development of a transit app that was among the first of its kind in the nation, will retire effective Aug. 31.
Joe Iannello, vice president and chief information officer at the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (CapMetro) confirmed to Government Technology he will step down next month. CapMetro offers a variety of transit services, including bus and paratransit, to more than 1 million customers in Austin and several neighboring cities. It’s unclear exactly when and how the agency will replace its CIO of seven years, but Iannello said it’s his understanding the agency will post the job in the near future.
The CIO, whose resume includes time in the retail, luxury wearables, and gas and oil industries described his first public-sector role as very enjoyable. But, Iannello said, he’s looking forward to relaxing and pursuing other interests.
“Honestly, even though the time is right for me, I also have mixed feelings because I really enjoy what I’ve been doing here. Even though we’ve done a lot and have made a lot of progress, right now, we are in such an important time in our evolution. And not just Capital Metro but transit agencies in general. While there are challenges, there are also such great opportunities,” Iannello said, citing autonomous vehicles as an example.
Earlier this week, CapMetro began testing and mapping for an autonomous minibus shuttle project to offer free passenger service in six vehicles around downtown Austin. Autonomous vehicles were considered important in the agency’s strategic plan, which covered 2012-2017; but, Iannello said, their advance moved faster than was predicted, “beyond the planning horizon of that particular strategic plan.”
His early years at CapMetro were marked by a modernization of internal systems, the CIO said, but around 2014, the agency pivoted to customer-facing solutions, systems and innovation. One example was its powerful mobile ticketing app, created in 2014 and available for Apple and Android smartphones. Among the most highly rated of its type at the Apple store, the app’s popularity now accounts for up to 27 percent of the agency’s ticketing revenue.
A new release of the CapMetro app, planned before the end of the year, will include multimodal trip planning and combined ticketing, Iannello said, merging the agency’s bus and rail services with ride-share, bike-share and scooter-share services in real time with a primary focus on first- and last-mile. It will feature a redesigned, quicker user interface with fewer clicks and more payment options.
“The whole purpose is to make it a very easy seamless experience. We just see that as an added value in ease of use for the customers,” Iannello said. Another agency app launched during his tenure was Pickup, a free ride hailing pilot that debuted in 2017 and let residents schedule door-to-door service on demand in areas of northeast Austin. Its run ended June 2, but the CIO said it offered important lessons, and officials expect it will be an important service that will be carried into the future.
The agency was also recognized earlier this month at the biennial World Cities Summit in Singapore for its partnership with the app BlindSquare; Bluetooth beacon maker BlueCats; and tech firm Connecthings to deliver a beacon demonstration downtown that pushed real-time bus information to the smartphones of visually impaired riders as they neared bus stops.
“Of course, the awards are nice but it’s been great because we feel from a technology standpoint and an innovation standpoint, we’ve made a difference. And the team has been great,” Iannello said.
Along the way, CapMetro has streamlined its procurement, originating a “fast lane” for demonstration agreements that reduced them to just a few pages capable of being finalized within days. Limited to specific purposes and durations, it required no vendor commitment afterward and generated no cost for the agency — but was just right for proofs of concept or pilot technologies. The agency was able to capitalize on that process to gain vital experience, Iannello said.