The NextGen Way to Get Around

With urban congestion increasing, how can transportation networks stay up to speed?

If you’ve ever lived in Chicago, you’ve likely used the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) or Pace trains and buses on your daily commute. How did you pay for your ride? Just a few years ago, you likely owned a chip-enabled Chicago Card that was reloaded at kiosks using cash or a credit card. But, this system is becoming obsolete. In fact, the Chicago Card chip, built from the same equipment that was used to produce chips for the 90’s Game Boy, is no longer being made [1]. All over the world, major transportation hubs are dealing with outdated technologies and infrastructure that will need a refresh in coming years.

Cubic Transportation Systems (Cubic), the subsidiary of Cubic Corporation responsible for intelligent transportation applications, is leading the charge.  Cubic holds the leading market position in automated fare payment systems, best known for installing and operating the London Oyster Card, the New York MetroCard, the San Francisco Clipper, the Sydney OpalCard, and the Brisbane GoCard.  The company’s transportation operations serve over 38 million people daily [2]. In 2014, Cubic began replacing the Chicago Card with a breakthrough solution for commuters to access three transit systems from a single app.  On the Ventra app, users can reload value, get status push notifications, and find real-time bus and train arrival times.  On October 20, 2016, the Ventra app hit a milestone with 1 million downloads [3].

Ventra and contactless payment isn’t the only way in which Cubic is staying on the cutting edge of digital solutions for metropolitan transportation. For example, their NextBus app uses a proprietary algorithm that gives riders a more accurate view into bus arrival times. ParkPlus fuses together smart technologies such as license plate recognition, solar-powered pay meters, and mobile devices. This allows drivers to pay more conveniently through their mobile phones, and helps cities more efficiently manage parking availability. NextAgent combines a virtual ticket office and a video-linked call center, providing support in remote locations.

These products are meant to all feed into Cubic’s vision for the future of transportation, which it calls NextCity. In this new world, a person living in the suburbs would be notified early in the morning about a disturbance on their normal commuter route. They would receive a push notification via mobile phone with a recommendation to take the bus instead of drive. The app would let him or her know when to be at the bus station in order to avoid being late for work.  As a perk, he or she might also receive a coupon to redeem at the Starbucks next to the bus station. He or she might rush to the bus station, grab a latte, and happily start the day on time – while the city would also benefit by avoiding significant congestion near the accident site. Integrated technologies would use data on consumer behavior to inform both operators and passengers, allowing information to become predictive and targeted, and to ultimately spread traveler load. Despite increased demand, the availability of trains, buses, and roadways is limited. What Cubic seeks to do is to utilize digital technology to increase capacity through improved efficiency.

Cubic gained its advantage in the 1970’s with its first major automated fare collection contract in San Francisco [2]. Since then, it has installed devices and back office systems and provided services and repairs, all the while staying on the edge of new technologies. Digital transformation continues to push Cubic to innovate – and now, to revamp and replace outdated technologies with next generation systems.

The key trends that Cubic identifies in the space are urban congestion and demand for mobility and convenience [2]. Cubic seeks to differentiate itself by creating and capturing value through using technology to exploit these trends and make systems more useful to patrons and more efficient for transportation authorities. The company’s efforts have already successfully driven new revenue streams from adjacent markets, enabling Cubic to expand beyond its core capability of automated fare collection [2]. In addition to its current initiatives, Cubic may consider taking into account or integrating other modes of transportation that have arisen via digitization – for example, ride-sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft. Cubic is also poised to take advantage of the immense amount of data its apps could collect about not only travel behavior, but a variety of other consumer behaviors. If integrated with other systems, this information could be useful for a variety of constituents – whether that be retailers attempting to understand store traffic or insurance companies seeking driving patterns and reliability. (771)


[1] O’Neil, Kevin. “3 reasons why the CTA is switching to Ventra card payment system.” Accessed November 16, 2016.

[2] Cubic Corporation 2015 Annual Report. Accessed November 16, 2016.

[3] Cubic Corporation Press Release. “Cubic and Chicago Transit Authority’s Ventra Mobile App Reaches Milestone with One Million Downloads.” Accessed November 16, 2016.


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Student comments on The NextGen Way to Get Around

  1. Very interesting and insightful post!! The use of apps to recharge oyster (and alike) cards and getting real-time information is extremely valuable. Yet, the apps and oyster cards are still separate, forcing the user to always carry both around. It would be a lot more convenient to use the technology of Apple Pay or alike to have everything centralized on one device (at the risk of running out of battery and needing the real oyster card). Cubic has a lot of information/data, it could also leverage this data to create more of a sustainable approach, e.g. matching drivers going the same direction every day in order to do car pools or encourage the use of bikes.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article! As I was reading this, I was reminded of how the NYC subway system is currently looking to revamp its MetroCard system. The idea is to completely replace MetroCard with a new alternative. It will be interesting to see if Cubic is involved in this new system. If it is, will NYC agree to use some of the newer technology you discussed above? The NYC subway system is quite old-fashioned, where riders cannot even see advance notice of when trains will arrive on certain lines. It would be great if Cubic could provide a solution for the payment method and other things, such as train arrival times.

  3. Thank you for the interesting post! Having lived in NYC for the last few years, I can understand firsthand the frustration with traffic issues and congestion getting in and out of the city. Drivers are forced mostly to rely on apps like Waze, which uses crowd sourcing to pinpoint areas of traffic and then suggests alternate, faster routes. I like NextCity an alternative because it seems to be focused on earlier prevention, notifying the user with a push notification before he/she begins driving so the choice can be made whether to drive or to use public transit. I wonder though if NextCity has a mechanism to let users know when a train or bus becomes too full – perhaps there is highway construction so a disproportionate number of people choose to take the train. Will the app be able to convey how full the line is at a particular stop or how many seats are already occupied so that users do not waste time letting a full bus/train pass and waiting for the next?

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