Florida’s population recently surpassed 22 million and is growing at the eighth fastest rate in the country, thanks in large part to a flood of residents from the Northeast and Midwest moving south for better time and lower taxes. This influx is good for the economy of the state. But it also creates huge infrastructure problems, especially in transportation. As anyone who has sat through the infamous bumper-to-bumper traffic of Miami or Orlando can attest, the Sunshine State is experiencing one of the worst traffic jams in the country.
Luckily, the traffic might not bother Floridians much longer. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced sensor technology are poised to make public transportation much more convenient and engaging for potential riders currently stuck with the 10th worst commute times in the United States. Historically, Florida has been almost synonymous with car culture, as anyone who’s strolled South Beach’s Ocean Drive, admiring the ubiquitous Maseratis and Lamborghinis, well knows. In 2019, our state ranked 22nd in public transit use, far behind other densely populated states like New York and California. A federal study the previous year noted that only 1.7% of workers in Florida got to work via public transportation in 2018, compared to 4.9% nationally.
Yet a state government assessment five years ago found that 57% of Floridians live within half a mile of an “urban fixed transportation route” – that is, a bus stop or train station. That figure jumps to 84%, or more than 16 million people, if you include those who have access to on-demand transportation like “Dial-a-Ride.” In short, the potential for a dramatic expansion in transit use is there — if rider appeal can be enhanced.
And it is possible. Traffic levels on our roads nationwide have essentially returned to pre-pandemic levels, but transit ridership has yet to recover, and transit officials predict this will take a time. AI can play a key role in speeding up the timeline — and making Florida’s transit system the envy of other states.
In particular, artificial intelligence can address one of the most pressing concerns of any public transport user: safety. Consider how Brightline has embraced the AI system operated by Remark over the past year. The system’s AI-powered cameras monitor tracks, yard areas and platforms 24/7 and immediately alert security personnel of any unauthorized intrusion or suspicious activity. Human security can then step in and assess the situation, ensuring that potential threats are contained before they become larger problems.
AI can also help transit riders in other ways. Luminator’s AI technology uses sensors to automatically alert passengers waiting at upcoming bus and train stops of the number of seats available and their location on the train or bus, speeding up the boarding process and saves passengers the considerable delays that come with planning. taking an upcoming train or bus, only to find it full when you arrive.
In Miami, the average commute time by public transit is 58 minutes, longer than what passengers experience in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Miami commuters are also waiting longer for buses and trains. AI can provide transit managers with scalable data about who is riding where and when, allowing them to optimize routes and make timely adjustments.
Meanwhile, the more attractive public transit becomes, the less pressure we put on our roads and highways. AI can benefit Floridians, even if they never set foot on a train or bus themselves.
Florida has already done a lot to earn its reputation as a great place to live and work. Using AI to build a world-class public transit system is one of the keys to sustaining and improving it.
Stephen L. Precourt is a former transportation engineer for Dyer, Riddle, Mills & Precourt in Central Florida and a former member of the Florida House of Representatives.
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