S.D. operator of Compass Cards hopes NextCity’s big data will help simplify public transportation

Not long from now, transportation agencies not only will tell you when gridlock clogs the freeway that you take to work, they’ll suggest alternatives on your smartphone with incentives, such as bus fare discounts or toll credits – maybe even a coupon at Starbucks for your trouble.

Sound farfetched? Pieces of this vision are happening today. They are the centerpiece of a package of new technologies that San Diego’s Cubic Corp. is bringing to the transportation industry.

While best known as a maker of military training systems for the Defense Department, Cubic Corp. also has a large transportation business, which topped $515 million in revenue last year.

The company’s transportation arm provides fare gates and electronic fare collection services to some of the world’s largest transit agencies such as London, New York, Chicago, Sydney, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It operates the Compass Card payment system used on San Diego buses and the trolley.


Matt Newsome, Sr. vice president and general manager of Cubic Transportation Systems, displays the company’s new NextWave app for smart phones on Tuesday in San Diego, California. Users will be able to pay for mass transit fares and tolls with this app on their phone and then tapping their smart phone on a validator.

But Cubic is building and acquiring technologies that move well beyond fare gates, transit cards and back office payment processing. It’s pushing big data, predictive analytics, smartphone trip planning and payments and other technologies to allow people to better navigate around crowded cities.

Cubic calls this effort NextCity. “This vision of NextCity is to bring all of that technology together to better support patrons by making travel easier and better, as well as help the operators better plan by bringing this data together that isn’t coming together today,” said Matt Newsome, general manager of Cubic Transportation Systems for the Americas.


One example of how big data might be used, said Newsome, involves how transit agencies handle a strike by transit workers, which occasionally impact San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains.

“BART usually knows when there is going to be a strike,” said Newsome. “So everybody rallies and puts a bunch of buses everywhere.”

But if transit officials used data analytics to understand and predict what happens to travel patterns when BART isn’t operating, they might better pinpoint alternatives, said Newsome. Those might include adding more ferries to certain routes or reworking toll/express lanes on bridges or helping commuters find and reserve parking spaces in the city.

Competitors such as Siemens, IBM and Xerox are offering pieces of Cubic’s NextCity program today, and some transit agencies are developing similar services on their own.

But Cubic is one a few company working on a comprehensive package that spans everything from smartphone payments to real time bus arrival information to data analytics.

“Cubic in the 1990s was in tolling, then they got out of tolling but now they are coming back in because they see that as a transportation choice,” said James Dreisbach-Towle, principal technology program manager for the San Diego Association of Governments.

There are hurdles to Cubic’s NextCity vision. In some cities, data isn’t available in real time on buses, trains and other transit services. Instead it’s downloaded at the end of the day.


Privacy also is a concern as transit agencies weigh the benefits of collecting information about where travelers are and how they’re getting around.