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Sozzi: The Boring Old Subway is Now Digital, and That's Pretty Awesome

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Look up from the Apple (AAPL) iPhone 5 during the morning commute (there's likely no service on the subway anyway, so what are you scrolling through?) and start taking in the surrounding environment. Notice something different compared to last year? You should; the subway is finally climbing out of the 1950s by weaving in the technology that is being used above ground by businesses and households. Clearly, Apple, Google (GOOG), and even Cisco (CSCO) should be licking their chops at the prospect of partaking in the subway tech revolution.

From free wireless connections in select NYC subway stations compliments of Verizon (VZ), to an app in Japan that shows information on the number of people packed in a car, subway systems' implementation of new technology is focused on improving the rider experience and safety, as well as driving badly needed efficiency. Indeed, the latter aspect is a key component of whether a subway system invests in XYZ project, as most subway systems are saddled with debt. Efficiency initiatives are critical, removing the re-investment burden from riders that already feel they pay exorbitant monthly sums to a government agency.

Here are a couple of the most prominent examples of new subway technology in play.

MTA, New York City

  • Verizon has equipped 35 NYC subway stations for wireless. Memo: there are 468 subway stations in the city.
  • There are 18 digital, touchscreen maps installed in New York's Grand Central Station that display departures, arrivals, delays, and outages. Advertisements are also placed on the screens - easy money for the man.
  • Motion sensors and thermal image cameras are being installed on subways to bring them to a halt when a rider falls, jumps, or is pushed onto the track. Considering 144 people were hit by NYC subways in 2013, with 52 of them dying, it's good to see this technology in the mix.
  • By 2019, the MTA plans to have a next generation fare payment system in place.  When your phone touches a turnstile, - boom! Money is taken out from your bank account to pay for the ride. By then, Starbucks (SBUX) will own Square, Apple will have sold millions of iBands, and you will be ordering food from a car dashboard.

Arlington Station, Boston

  • A system is scheduled to be in place that helps the blind navigate the subway, offering step by step voice instructions piped through a phone app.

Japan

  • A free app just went live telling the user which train cars are crowded and what the temperature is in each car. Wow, now you could assess the potential for smelly cars.

Stockholm

  • Digital billboards that respond to incoming trains are being installed. The goal: to scare you into paying attention to ads for consumer products, and then share that story to friends and family in text messages throughout the day.  Check this video out!


BTW, in the case of the MTA...who is paying for all of this tech awesomeness? The agency's budget gap is supposed to swell to $100 million by 2017 from $49 billion in 2015. Further, the debt load is projected to rise 19% from 2013 to $39 billion by 2017.

-- By Brian Sozzi CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, analyst to TheStreet.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

At the time of publication, Sozzi held no position in the stocks mentioned.

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