CYBERSECURITY and AI took centre stage in the conference programme for the second day of IT-Trans 2024. A keynote session at the event in Karlsruhe, Germany, supported by the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), focused on developing the full potential of artificial intelligence (AI).

A cultural reluctance to use public transport, difficulties in predicting passenger demand since the Covid-19 pandemic, and inefficient routes developed on the basis of past experience and manual surveys are just some of the challenges facing the sector, according to Mr Wellington Toapanta, head of flows and operation management at Hitachi Rail.

AI could be leveraged to overcome many of these challenges, even with existing data, he explained, by connecting digital sources with an Internet of Things (IoT) platform to create a digital twin from which value-added services could be developed. But, he warned: “we can’t separate AI from cybersecurity. Machine learning can be attacked by cybercrime.”

This was followed neatly by a later conference session focused on reassessing the business challenges posed by cybersecurity. “Not long ago, cybersecurity used to be anti-virus software and a firewall and nothing more,” observed Mr Ho Wing Chan, deputy general manager of the operating innovation hub at Hong Kong metro operator MTR. “We need to be more proactive now,” he said, detailing the steps MTR has taken to assess and address cybersecurity risks. “Don’t forget about insiders - whether disgruntled employees or staff negligence,” he advised, adding that the biggest damaged caused by an attack on an operator was now to its reputation.

The digital data that is both the bedrock of AI and target of cybercriminals is now much more efficiently exchanged by public transport operators in Europe, thanks to a four-year European Union (EU)-funded and UITP-led initiative.

“The results of the DATA4PT project show that stakeholders are now much more confident in sharing data, which is key to changing behaviours,” says Mr Efe Usanmaz, UITP’s IT & digitalisation manager. “Member states are now publishing and using data in concrete ways,” he says. “We are moving from static to dynamic data and towards observed data.”