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Columbus, Ohio, to Build Multimodal Trip-Planning and Payment System

Smart Columbus and the Central Ohio Transit Authority have issued an RFP to develop a multimodal trip-planning platform to support ride-hailing and other transportation options.

Public transit in Columbus, Ohio, will take a significant step toward digital integration with a system that merges trip-planning and payment all in one easy-to-use app.

The city’s Smart Columbus initiative — in partnership with the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) — has released an RFP for the development of a multimodal trip-planning app, bringing together public transit, taxis, ride-hailing and bike-sharing. A second RFP will be released at the end of the year for the development of a payment portal that will handle payments for multiple modes of transportation under one system.

“We aim to provide a platform that integrates end-to-end trip-planning, booking, electronic ticketing and payment services across all modes of transportation — public or private — in one common system,” said Micheal Carroll, CIO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority, in a webinar Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018 to discuss the proposals.

“By employing a centralized account-based system, COTA will have the data to employ innovative fare structures aimed at reducing congestion, protecting the environment and encouraging public transportation,” he added.

RFP proposals for the trip-planning application are due by Sept. 10. 

“The first release of the trip-planning application will be in January of 2019, then we’ll have a go-live of the trip-planning application in July of 2019,” said Andrew Wolpert, project manager for Smart Columbus.

Because of the complexity of the common payment system, Smart Columbus officials are developing a “systems requirement” document to be completed in December 2018, along with an RFP.

The first release of the common-payment system will come in summer 2019, with a full rollout of the completely integrated system in January 2020.

The project is one of several smart city efforts in Columbus centered around transportation. The initiatives are funded by a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge grant awarded in 2016 to create a smart transportation system.

Columbus joins other cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Portland, Ore. in a move to modernize public transit by partnering with private transportation providers like Uber, Lyft, Jump Bikes, taxis and others, and placing all of these services under one local transit app. The most important feature will be setting up the back-end infrastructure that allows riders to pay for an entire trip — using multiple modes — with one swipe.

“We’re going to start off fairly lean, using providers that have been working with us all along, like Yellow Cab,” said Brian King, a consultant for Smart Columbus, speaking during the webinar. “But as we iterate through the developmental process we’re going to include as many providers as the developmental process will allot for in the time we have.”

Traveling across the Columbus region today — the 14th  largest city in the country — is often a fractured experience involving various providers each operating in their own “siloed” space, say officials.

“Travelers must create multiple payment accounts, involving different modes of transportation and rely on disintegrated ways of booking and planning a trip,” said Wolpert. “There is no single platform that links payments and accounts and allows travelers to seamlessly book and pay for any mode of transportation, as part of a single trip, regardless of the mobility provider."

The current system is composed of mobility services that are not designed to work together in a comprehensive way that is convenient for all travelers, according to Wolpert.

The new system will include a range of capabilities that allow riders to store travel preferences such as preferred mode of travel, maximum cost, trip time duration, accessibility and other criteria. The system will also take into consideration real-time events like traffic delays or congestion and offer alternatives.

Most users will likely engage the new account-based system via their smartphones. However, it will also be built to accommodate individuals who do not have bank accounts or a smartphone, say officials.

“We see this as a springboard for innovation in our city,” said Jodie Bare, deputy program manager for Smart Columbus.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.