Commuter rail services bring travelers from the rural and suburban fringes to the inner neighborhoods and central business districts of many large metropolitan areas in the United States (U.S.). The isolated nature of these rural and suburban commuter rail parking lots makes it difficult and expensive to secure and safely operate these transit assets. Further, as the more than two dozen commuter rail systems in the U.S. try to avoid cash payments for fares and parking fees, they must embrace consumer friendly options and mobile phone-based payment systems that are not standardized and not easily integrated into large databases for “big data” analysis. This situation makes the validation of commuter rail parking payments difficult and increases the potential for systemic fraud and abuse. Using autonomous flight modes, the sUAS can provide high resolution imagery that can document each individual vehicle parked in a specific parking space at a specific date and time. The speed at which this data can be collected is at least four times faster than current methods.
The purpose of this study was to develop, and field test a prototype of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) and geospatial analytics in a “LivingLab” to enhance the safety, security, and parking revenue validation at small urban and rural commuter rail parking areas. A critical objective of this research is to use commercially available, off-the-shelf (COTS) products and services that meet the budgetary constraints of rural and suburban transit systems within existing transit technical staff resources.
Using a combination of three emerging technologies: 1) sUAS for remote sensing, 2) aerial imagery analytics, and 3) Edge of the Cloud computing based on a state-of-the-art communications infrastructure; the researchers developed a prototype approach to transit safety and security in a suburban Boston (MA) setting. The project addressed the issues of real-time transmission of drone imagery to local police in suburban areas, counting parked cars using 2D orthomosaics from drone imagery (without recording personally identifiable information), and creating solutions which are faster, cheaper and better than current transit industry approaches. The TCRP IDEA project demonstrated that the required infrastructure can be built and operated at the urban-rural fringe of a major metropolitan area using a university transit system and a regional commuter rail service as a LivingLab prototype. This prototype can be implemented locally and nationally using the U.S. DOT’s systems engineering approach that was modified by this research project.
Based on interviews with transit managers, police, and trade representatives; the safety and security services that these technologies deliver is needed immediately to secure our transit systems, make their operations safer, and validate revenue collection systems.
•Federal and State agencies have continued to support research efforts at universities and their cooperating transit partners to apply innovative technology to improve transit safety and security.
•Local and regional transit agencies in Massachusetts, as partners in supporting the Bridgewater State University’s “LivingLab”, are poised to implement the results of this demonstration using the BSU communications infrastructure backbone that currently exists from Bridgewater to Boston’s Internet Hub.