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Amid Driver Shortages, Transit Agencies Struggle With Tech

A survey from a large transit software firm found that even as transit agencies deal with big issues such as driver shortages and the integration of electric buses, many are still using pen and paper or rudimentary tech.

There is a large — and growing — need for better software among transit agencies.

Public transit agencies are having a hard time hanging onto bus drivers, meeting passengers’ technology expectations and integrating electric buses into their fleets — and many of them lack robust software to handle those challenges.

That’s the conclusion of a recent survey from Optibus, a large international provider of transit software and one of the few gov tech unicorns. The survey of more than 250 transit professionals across the globe found that respondents consistently pointed to driver shortages as one of their largest challenges — and moreso in North America than anywhere else outside the Asia-Pacific region.

Perhaps as a consequence, 63 percent of respondents said that increasing efficiency of the transit network and reducing costs was their No. 1 goal for network planning in 2023. Roughly half were interested in making changes to schedules such as “lifestyle rostering” to make the job more attractive to drivers.

Real-time communication about route changes and delays, as well as the deployment of electric buses, also ranked high on priority lists for those participating in the survey.

Those are all issues that would benefit from specialized software. Technology has already begun helping transit agencies improve driver schedules, offer real-time updates on vehicle locations and schedule changes, and figure out how to keep electric buses charged without delaying service.

But the survey found that nearly two-thirds of respondents were operating without that kind of software: 22.5 percent said they were using basic tools such as Google Suite and Excel, while 7.5 percent said pen and paper rule most daily tasks.

The plurality of agencies, 46.6 percent, said they used integrated software that automates some workflows. Only 23.3 percent said they had an advanced platform to automate or improve most processes and provide data to guide decisions.