Don’t forget the passenger

The bus industry throughout the UK is facing challenging times. Never ending political upheaval; uncertainty at local, national and inter national levels; increasing costs due to a weak pound; and inflationary pressure from staff regarding wages. At the same time, air quality and congestion issues are greater than ever. The impact of these factors is seeing a reduction in bus use across the country. In an article for Intelligent Transport, Brian Masson, Director of Multi Modal Transport Solutions Ltd, gives his insight into what needs to be done to halt, and hopefully reverse, this reduction.

Don’t forget the passenger

How is the UK bus industry responding? The bus industry is investing in the future. Bus fleets in most areas are better than they have ever been. Accessibility issues are vastly improved compared with 20 years ago. The number of marketing tools available to companies and authorities is endless with most companies using social media and websites. Journey Planning systems like Traveline make the task of understanding availability of services easier than ever. Integrated, smart ticketing is the future with most operators and authorities implementing or starting to introduce schemes across the UK. Technology will rescue the industry. Or will it?

A recent report indicated that over 19 million workers in the UK are living in poverty and increasing inflation will make this matter worse in the short – term at least. Uncertainty due to the aforementioned issues has raised impact on individuals as much as the bus industry.

Technology is a useful tool but only if passengers can afford the cost of having access to smart devices, mobile phones, broadband and the internet.

When examining areas of the UK where passenger decline has been at its highest, like in Glasgow, it must be recognised that the high levels of poverty in the area are having an impact on public transport use. Bus operators in the city should not be criticised for their lack of investment. New rebranded networks, smart ticketing, journey planning apps, social media and new vehicles have all been introduced, yet there has been little or no impact on growing the market; in fact quite the reverse!

MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service) is the latest tool to become available to the transport sector; one payment for all of the passenger’s mobility needs covering all modes of transport, where the public can pay for mobility in the same way they purchase cable/satellite TV, energy and water. No one can doubt the advantages of such an approach. However, before we can hope to stem and reverse the decline in bus use in the UK we have got to fully understand the needs of all our communities and passengers and involve them in the design of products and services.

Also, the needs of disabled people are varied and complex. Each area of the UK has its own unique set of issues depending on the design of its towns, cities, geography, topography, location of hospitals and pedestrianised areas etc. Mobility is key to an inclusive society in which the bus plays an important part. The UK needs an appropriate framework to be introduced to support the development of multi – modal integrated services linking with schemes such as Shopmobility at transport interchanges. Accessible vehicles are only accessible if buses can reach the kerb. Parking regulations and enforcement are key to a fully accessible multi – modal transport network.

My involvement in the EU Horizon 2020 – funded CiPTEC project1 has demonstrated that involving passengers and communities in the design of products and services can produce beneficial results. Using tools like crowdsourcing, vast amounts of data can be gathered to aid understanding of passenger needs. The UK bus industry is beginning to wake up to the fact that the data it collects must be better understood and analysed in the same way as, for instance, the supermarket Tesco uses the data it collects from its loyalty card holders. Using analysed data and involving passengers and communities can help the industry to demonstrate that it can be customer – focused and meet the ever – challenging factors faced by all societies in the UK.

How many of our bus companies and transport authorities in the UK have user group forums? Passenger Focus does an excellent job of representing the needs of passengers working with operators and authorities, however there needs to be greater understanding by operators at a local level. Bus companies also need to get more involved in the community at local level, not just using social media.

The bus industry in the UK is also beginning to learn from other sectors and using techniques such as LEAN and Six Sigma to design customer – focused services, involving all stakeholders in the design of services and products.

Image is another issue. How can an industry that openly complains about congestion ever expect people to switch to public transport? Bus companies should accept that the design of their own services is a major contributing factor to the congestion and pollution in our cities. A single door bus can protect revenue but at what cost? Boarding and alighting times in the UK are the slowest in Europe. Smart ticketing systems should help slightly, but only if authorities in certain areas do not insist on operators having to give concessionary smart ticket holders a paper ticket as well for every trip!

The UK is in a fortunate position of having excellent operators, world class bus manufacturers and cutting – edge ticketing and IT companies. We have all the ingredients to produce world class services. Policy at local and national level must support the development of efficient, safe, affordable and clean multi – modal transport services. Planners need to design our towns and cities to allow the development of multi – modal services where the health of our citizens is recognised. Car ownership is not a disease that cannot be cured by bus alone. Cycling investment in our cities and sufficient interchange opportunities to link with bus, tram, train and the tube should be encouraged.

In times of crisis the UK has a proud tradition of rising to the occasion. The UK bus industry is no different. As Henry Ford said: “Look after the customers and the profits will look after themselves.” 




Brian Masson is a Transport Consultant and Business Improvement Specialist at Multi Modal Transport Solutions Ltd. He has gained considerable experience working over 40 years in the transport sector and provides advice on many aspects of multi – modal transport systems and mobility management assisting operators and authorities throughout the world. Over the past 15 years Brian has been involved in over 12 high profile EC and UK government – funded projects to develop and implement flexible transport systems, journey planning systems and Bus Rapid Transit networks in 22 countries. He was a member of the EU COST Project Buses with High Level of Service Working Group (2008 – 2012), Transport Research Board (TRB, Washington DC) BRT, ITS, Paratransit Committees and Scientific Committee Member for TransED 2012 (Delhi). In 2008 to 2009 Brian worked with the University of Aberdeen on a bid to bring the Volvo Research Foundation, World Centre of Excellence for Bus Rapid Transit to Aberdeen.