The elephant in the room

I just returned from BusWorld in Brussels, and my feet still hurt. My FitBit told me that walking the show, end to end, was over six miles. It was a massive show that combined what we know as both public and private transit equipment, technology and services.

Europe is ahead of the U.S. in many aspects of the motorcoach industry, but they are especially advanced when it comes to electric buses. They will beat us to the electric bus punch for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the European Union is pushing them harder to get there. I believe Europe’s push toward electric coaches will ultimately be a good thing for us here in the states. They will work out all the bugs and most likely drive down the cost of the equipment by sheer economies of scale.

While the advancement in electric buses seems like all good news, it also comes with some other sub-currents that I find remarkably interesting. If you have ever driven or been in a Tesla, you may have noticed the amount of data that is available to the driver is extraordinary. Where traditional cars have a remarkable focus on controlling the explosions that are happening under the hood, electric cars have allowed manufacturers to spend more time looking beyond that.

They have begun to make the driving experience more data-driven. Drivers can learn about their driving habits with the tap of a screen. From battery statistics and G-force to braking and tire data and the nearest charging station, all the data you could ever need is available at your fingertips.

This connected world is driving an unparalleled level of visibility about what is happening in near real-time. Soon the days of a blinking check engine light will be as distant a memory as a rotary phone or a fax machine, and it will be replaced with a detailed diagnosis of issues that are forecasted to happen in your vehicle. So how in the world could this be a bad thing?

In the U.S., we have a very specific difference from our cousins across the Atlantic. That difference is in our ability and propensity to sue one another. This singular difference between the two locales drives some of the most critical issues, including the stifling insurance cost in the U.S. vs. the EU.

As I walked around the show and saw technology being demoed, everything from driver behavior monitoring, where real-time video is being used to monitor drivers for distraction, to suites of products designed to consolidate every conceivable sensor in a vehicle and create dashboards of real-time vehicle health status, I could not help but think of the unintended liability that this could create.

The more I saw, the more I realized that this is the elephant in the room for us as an industry in this new frontier of visibility and connectedness.

Imagine yourself sitting in a deposition with a plaintiff’s attorney reviewing data that you didn’t even know you had. Imagine yourself on a witness stand trying to defend why an accident happened when you had data that could have shown that there were risks. If that thought doesn’t give you the chills, it should.

Data is not just a tool; it is a responsibility and even a liability—one that we must take very seriously as we look forward to tomorrow. While data should be something that we use to refine and develop our business, we also need to make sure that we don’t allow it to become a noose. The cold, hard truth is that there will no longer be a defense of “we didn’t know” when we have data that could have prevented the incident.

While data can and should be a big part of our plan to refine and develop our business and to make us safer and more efficient, it requires that we use it wisely. We must constantly monitor it and not allow it to pile up unattended if we want it to be an asset rather than a liability.

The fact is, we will continue to see technology evolve in the future of our industry. We will continue to see advances made in the ability to track every part of our business. Unfortunately, we will also see a continuation in the trend toward more and more lawsuits where data will play an important role.

Now is the time to take a look at how you use the data you have access to. Now is the time to make sure that you are using your data responsibly. It is time to realize that while more and more data will become part of our next chapter as an industry, it will require us to take a good, hard look at our operations and make sure that we adopt it in a way that is good for business.

The future is exciting and connected, but like all changes, it will require us to take the initiative to look at what we do know and to find ways to integrate this new frontier of real-time data into our existing operations.


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