Roundtable: Delivering a seamless and enjoyable passenger experience
Posted: 11 March 2022 | Angela Trainor - Nomad Digital, Kyle Rowe - Spin, M.J. Maynard - Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTCSNV), Marc Atkins-Turley - Stagecoach Group plc | No comments yet
This roundtable brings together key experts to discuss how the industry can work to deliver seamless and enjoyable passenger journeys in order to encourage more people to choose to travel by public transport, as well as to ensure the loyalty of those who already do.
As the public transport industry looks to increase the rate of its post-pandemic recovery by regaining passenger confidence and increasing ridership numbers, ensuring that the passenger experience is both seamless and enjoyable will be key to encouraging people back onto public transport and avoiding a car‑led recovery.
This roundtable brings together key industry personnel and those passionate about sharing their opinions on the passenger experience to discuss how the industry can work to deliver seamless and enjoyable passenger journeys in order to encourage more people to choose to travel by public transport, as well as to ensure the loyalty of those who already do.
|Product Manager, Nomad Digital||Commercial Director, Stagecoach Group plc||Chief Executive Officer, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTCSNV)||Global Head of Government Partnerships, Spin|
Public transport is continually working to improve the passenger experience. Why is this so important?
By placing greater emphasis on improving the quality of the passenger experience in public transport, operators have great opportunities to retain existing passengers and, of course, encourage more people onto public transport”
Trainor: Public transport does so much more than just getting passengers from A to B. It’s no longer just about getting the passenger on and off the bus, train or tram. Nowadays, operators put real consideration into the passenger experience before they travel, while they travel and after. By placing greater emphasis on improving the quality of the passenger experience in public transport, operators have great opportunities to retain existing passengers and, of course, encourage more people onto public transport and out of their private car.
Atkins-Turley: The customer experience is incredibly important to the public transport industry for a number of reasons. At an individual level, passengers are understandably increasingly expectant that the experience they receive when using private transport, such as taxis and cars, is replicated in their experience of public transport. From end to end, this means that they expect to be treated as consumers rather than passengers. It is important that operators recognise this and aim to improve the customer journey and experience in order to meet individual needs and, in turn, attract more people to buses. If customers don’t enjoy the experience, then they are likely to choose a different mode of transport and, therefore, are unlikely to make public transport their first choice.
On a broader level, improving the customer experience will see more people switch from their own cars to public transport – which brings other benefits, such as reducing emissions and pollution; easing congestion in towns, cities and communities; as well as reduced stress levels due to less driving on busy roads and more walking. This, in turn, has a positive impact on overall quality of life, reducing pressure on the healthcare system and, for these reasons, it is paramount that operators continue to seek to improve the passenger experience.
Maynard: Transportation is on the threshold of transformative change in urban mobility, calling into question the appropriateness of solutions that the transportation industry has relied on for decades. One only has to look at the last 10 years of urban mobility to know that the future will look dramatically different from the past. We know that we can no longer deliver mobility policies, services and infrastructure that rely on yesterday’s solutions. A failure to keep pace could result in public investments that are ineffective, inefficient and inappropriate.
Urban mobility, consumer expectations and technological capabilities are evolving at an extraordinary rate and disrupting how we traditionally deliver transportation services. We need to leverage technology and forge partnerships to develop multimodal options that can create safer, more reliable and efficient transportation systems that connect people to opportunities and services, reduce congestion, improve mobility and enhance safety.
In the greater Las Vegas metropolitan region, we are engaging in pilots with advanced mobility technologies to enhance the transportation experience for transit customers and commuters. Our RTC-OnDemand micro-transit pilot provides universal service to an area of the valley that previously did not have access to fixed-route transit. Customers can get picked up from their doorstep and dropped off near multiple locations in the service zone or at a bus stop that connects them to the fixed-route system.
Rowe: Encouraging people to use micro-mobility and public transit instead of their personal cars will make for more sustainable and more efficient transportation systems. In micro-mobility, the quality of passenger experience is shared between the public and private sector – companies like Spin make it seamless and fun to hop on two wheels, and the city is on the hook for safe and intuitive infrastructure. When both are working well, people don’t require much nudging to get outside and enjoy a bike or scooter ride.
Passengers’ expectations are constantly changing. Currently, what are the most important features that public transport passengers are looking for during their journey?
Trainor: Fundamentally, passengers’ underlying needs haven’t changed – they have an expectation that their journey will be as easy and frictionless as possible. However, now more than ever, we need to put passengers in control of their journey. This involves a range of different solutions, from consistent signage, to paying for tickets with their phone, to excellent maps.
Clearly, technology also plays a big part in supporting this personalised and frictionless travelling experience. As part of Nomad’s strategy to leverage the power of digitalisation and data, we’re focusing on using technology and innovation to provide better information. This includes initiatives such as CCTV-based passenger density sensing and optimisation to analyse crowd position, flow, sentiment and mood without tracking or personally identifying individuals. Sharing this data with passengers means that they can then make informed decisions for a safer, more comfortable and enjoyable experience. Engaging with passengers in this way also helps operators to manage passenger expectations.
Atkins-Turley: Based on research carried out by Passenger Focus, the top three priorities for customers were buses running more often to more places and on time. These continue to be something expected of operators and, to meet these expectations, we matched timetables to demand when COVID-19 restrictions began to ease.
We need to ensure that we communicate our processes and strategies around cleaning, hygiene and safety, much more so than we did previously”
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness around passenger expectations regarding cleanliness and safety, with individuals being more likely to ask what operators are doing to keep people safe. We need to ensure that we communicate our processes and strategies around cleaning, hygiene and safety, much more so than we did previously. However, at Stagecoach, these features have always been an important aspect of the customer journey and business model.
Value for money is another important expectation, as are simple ticketing structures, ensuring that both drivers and customers know which tickets offer the best value. Stagecoach is currently working towards fare simplification, which sees a reduction in single fares with a move to easier-to-understand zonal tickets and day tickets, so that customers can travel further and more frequently for the same price as standard returns. We have also introduced Flexi tickets for those who don’t need to travel as often as they used to.
There’s also been a more recent demand for fairer multi-operator and multi-modal ticketing to match the changes in lifestyle and commutes to make the experience as simple as possible. Other key expectations are loyalty recognition and being able to deliver services with simple, reliable digital technology options.
Maynard: With the widespread availability of rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, many consumers have come to expect transportation on-demand and from point-to-point with as few transfers as possible. In addition to convenience, safety and reliability remain top priorities for transportation customers.
Rowe: We’ve found that our riders value safety features, as well as a smooth and easy user experience with as much vehicle access as possible. By allowing riders to reserve vehicles and by making sure that our deployment strategies meet the needs of our riders, we ensure that vehicles are available when and where they are most needed. We also offer alternative pricing structures that allow riders to buy a Spin Pass and ride as much as they want for a flat rate. We have several safety features aimed at creating a more comfortable experience for riders and surrounding pedestrians, including turn signals and oversized brake lights to increase visibility. Spin’s destination feature helps riders to map their journeys, optimising for existing bike lane infrastructure to ensure a safer ride.
How does access to public transport play a role in delivering an exceptional passenger experience?
Atkins-Turley: Accessibility has a key part to play in delivering an exceptional passenger experience; having an effective geographical range of routes (that optimises connectivity for as many individuals as possible) will ensure that a greater number of people feel included, improving the customer experience before a journey has even been made. When a high level of geographical accessibility is matched with fair pricing structures and equal access for all social groups – most specifically, but not exclusively, people with disabilities – the experience can only be a positive one.
Independent research by transport consultants has consistently found that Stagecoach offers the lowest average weekly bus fares of Britain’s four main national operators. In addition, we’re also using smarter technology to provide easier journeys and are working closely with users who represent a wide variety of disability groups. All of our local bus fleets in the UK are fully accessible as a result of significant investment over many years. Stagecoach has signed a charter with UK sight loss charity the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) that commits to meeting the needs of passengers with a visual impairment. We have also worked with partners – including Guide Dogs – on “Swap with Me” initiatives to raise awareness among our employees of potential barriers to travel among excluded groups.
Accessibility plays a vital role in public transportation, in both providing service to customers as well as delivering an exceptional passenger experience”
Maynard: Accessibility plays a vital role in public transportation, in both providing service to customers as well as delivering an exceptional passenger experience. Our RTC-OnDemand micro-transit pilot connects customers who live in an area without many transit options to the larger RTC transit service area. While we may not be able to add new routes or extend existing routes due to limited funding, we are able to pilot a micro-transit service at a lesser cost to provide access to more than 185,000 residents who previously did not have transit access.
Rowe: With free-floating micro-mobility, a common pain point for users is the availability or distribution strategy that ensures that they can get to a scooter or a bike quickly when they need it, often for unplanned trips. That requires us to predict where demand will come from – which is a complex problem that we solve with geospatial planning pre-launch and rebalancing automation tools. Contrary to fixed-route public transit, our customers decide that they want our service spur of the moment and where they are located at that given time – at that moment, our passenger experience can be great, or can already be frustrating for the user.
How are digital solutions supporting public transport in making the passenger journey more seamless and enjoyable?
Trainor: The public transport industry is facing dramatic changes. Now’s the time to accelerate and drive at pace the use of technology to help operators to become more responsive. To support this, Nomad Digital is investing in developing transport solutions of the future – initiatives that strengthen operators’ core business and make it even more attractive for passengers to travel collectively and environmentally friendly.
One of the biggest opportunities is about providing door-to-door journey information. Trains, buses, taxis, e-scooters and bikes are closely linked, and Nomad Digital is developing new services that give passengers confidence in all of the stages of their journey. This includes digital products which can be paired with trains equipped with the latest sensor technologies; advanced algorithms; and leveraging different partnership players to provide a next-generation passenger experience. For example, a journey-planning app that’s based on a common, coordinated and integrated platform to let passengers relax and enjoy the ride. An app that includes essential information, sends alerts to let passengers know when their stop is coming up and, in the case of delays or cancellations, can scan the schedules and recommend alternative routes. All of this rich data in the palm of a passenger’s hand.
Atkins-Turley: Digital solutions have already helped to improve many aspects of the passenger journey on public transport. From enhanced information provision – including live vehicle displays, to increased digital means of paying for and using your tickets – increased digitalisation is helping us to reduce barriers to travel and create more seamless journeys. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have enhanced our Stagecoach bus app with the launch of a “busy bus” indicator, to help customers to plan their journeys with confidence. The feature uses extensive data and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide a traffic light indicator to help customers to choose quieter services and maintain social distancing.
However, we still have a long way to go and have big plans to take this even further for our customers. This includes increased availability of pay-as-you-go travel and daily and weekly fare capping; improved end-to-end journey planning and purchasing; and better integration between all modes of public transport and emerging mobility modes. We want to create the sort of seamless experience that can make a journey on public transport as easy as getting into a private car, which will support a shift to more sustainable modes of travel and help the UK to deliver on its carbon reduction targets on its way to net zero. However, we also have to ensure that digital solutions don’t leave anyone behind, and that public transport remains inclusive, accessible and affordable for every member of society, especially those that rely on us the most.
By integrating digital solutions into one convenient place, customers can access information and payment options easily, making their journeys more seamless and enjoyable”
Maynard: By integrating digital solutions into one convenient place, customers can access information and payment options easily, making their journeys more seamless and enjoyable. Our rideRTC app enables customers to plan their trip, buy their pass and find their bus. And, for customers who have smartphones but not a credit card or debit card to link to their account, they can add cash to their rideRTC account at more than 300 locations in the Las Vegas Valley to purchase their bus pass. Additionally, they can view how crowded their bus is in real-time before it arrives and sign up to receive text alerts if a bus on their route is delayed.
RTC bus passes are also available on three other apps: Uber, Lyft and Transit. Because these platforms are so widely used, tourists who come to Las Vegas can purchase an RTC pass without downloading another app. In effect, the convenience and options inspire loyalty and repeat customers.
Rowe: Scooters provide a low cost, flexible mobility option for short trips, particularly those connected to transit. They serve as a last mile solution, connecting riders from their origin or destination to the nearest public transit stop. The use of the Spin app allows for a seamless and more enjoyable experience by helping riders to locate the nearest scooter or parking infrastructure to them and determine a route that optimises for bike lanes. We also have digital features within our app that enhance the user experience by providing safety information and incentivising riders to park their scooters in a designated area, resulting in reduced sidewalk clutter.
What were the biggest changes that had to be made in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Atkins-Turley: Passenger safety and confidence to travel by public transport has been a constant focus for us during the pandemic. For example, we significantly increased the amount of cleaning undertaken on all of our vehicles to help to mitigate passenger concerns about COVID-19 transmission, as well as reducing the amount of cash being handled on board and encouraging a big increase in the use of contactless payment for safe, easy transactions.
Communication to customers was also extremely important. We had to ensure that our communications regarding cleaning, face coverings, social distancing and timetables were as clear as possible and communicated through a variety of channels to ensure that it reached individuals using our services. This, in turn, helped to build confidence that it was safe to use public transport and that we could continue to serve communities across the UK.
Maynard: At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to make investments in innovative technology to institute safety measures for the health and wellbeing of our customers, operators, security officers and staff. Those safety measures, which were part of our 14-Point Safety Plan, included: installing driver enclosure extensions on all buses; implementing a real-time bus crowding feature for customers to monitor capacity in real time; installing ion air filters; enhancing contactless payment options; and implementing social distancing by sending in relief vehicles when buses neared 50 per cent seated capacity.
Rowe: Since our local teams are W-2 employees of Spin, we have full control over operations and safety procedures. When COVID-19 hit, we engaged global experts to determine how to keep our riders and staff safe. Spin then implemented strict disinfecting regimens on all scooters daily and enforced social distancing among our warehouse staff.
As a single occupancy, open air transit solution, e-scooters became a safe way to travel to essential businesses during the pandemic. We adjusted our deployments in many cities to address a shift in rider demand and to fill the gaps left by transit service interruptions.
How can different modes of public transport collaborate in order to encourage multimodality and improve the door-to-door passenger journey?
To encourage multimodal travel, we need to make it as easy as possible for customers to combine different modes of transport and communicate the benefits of doing so in a seamless way”
Atkins-Turley: To encourage multimodal travel, we need to make it as easy as possible for customers to combine different modes of transport and communicate the benefits of doing so in a seamless way.
This means making it easy for customers to plan their journey. For example, through an end-to-end journey planner, ensuring that they can buy a ticket that offers great value for money across the different modes of transport whilst operators make sure that timetables work for the most common multimodal journeys. By working together, this will enable customers to readily transfer from one mode of transport to another without having to walk too far or rely on a private car or taxi.
However, bus operators alone can’t deliver this – we need all of the relevant transport providers to come together to collaborate, and we need the support of local and national government to develop the timetable, ticketing systems and physical infrastructure that we will need.
Maynard: If different modes of public transportation could collaborate to offer their services and payments on a universal platform, that would greatly encourage multimodality and enhance the point-to-point passenger experience. In Las Vegas, we have integrated our bike share system into our app, so that customers can plan multimodal trips that may include bus, bike, rideshare and walking.
Rowe: In Pittsburgh, we’ve facilitated this idea through our Move PGH pilot, a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership that will give residents access to a menu of diverse transportation options by bringing together scooters, bikes, buses and shared cars in a seamless experience, all available online in the Transit app and offline at hubs. It represents the Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) concept, which is the integration of various forms of transport services, both digitally (in-app) and physically (at mobility hubs) into a single mobility service that is accessible on-demand.
COVID-19, Journey Planning, Mobility Services, Multimodality, On-Demand Transport, Passenger Accessibility, Passenger Experience, Public Transport, Ticketing & Payments, Travel & Passenger Information
Issue 4 2021
Nomad Digital, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), Spin, Stagecoach Group