Passenger numbers on UK public transport have nosedived since the Covid-19 pandemic started. And with new commuting habits now deeply ingrained, transport operators face a challenge to tempt people back to their services.
At the heart of that challenge is the need to improve the customer experience – and to convince passengers that taking the train or bus is as convenient and efficient as getting a cab or driving their own car.
When the hassle outweighs the benefits
For many, using public transport can be a stressful and confusing experience. Journeys with more than one mode of transport take time to plan, and rely on the timetables and services of various operators working seamlessly together.
A single delay or cancellation can throw the whole journey off schedule, and send the passenger scrabbling to find alternative routes and services. Often with several timetables to cross-reference, and only static travel information to inform them.
When they finally reach their destination, as you might imagine, they feel tired and frustrated. And the next time they’re faced with a similar journey, they may well consider it quicker and easier to simply take a taxi or drive instead.
This is clearly bad for transport operators, as every lost customer means a loss of revenue. So what can they do to stop this from happening?
Making public transport attractive again
The answer lies in flipping the way passengers perceive and experience public transport. At the moment it is often considered disjointed, inefficient and difficult to navigate. A mishmash of loosely connected modes of travel, run by a confusing array of operators.
What it should be in the public’s mind, however, is a single, tightly interconnected system. One where trains, buses, trams and even ride-sharing services work in perfect harmony to give passengers a simple, seamless journey from A to B – no matter how many changes, connections and modes of transport they need.
With a multimodal system like this, passengers can plan their journeys quickly and easily in a single app. All their timings and connections are laid out clearly for them, removing the mental load of planning. And their itinerary is updated in real time, based on live data shared between trains, buses, trams and other modes of transport.
Thanks to this highly coordinated system and the data inside it, operators can also adjust their service levels to match passenger needs. So if, for example, there’s a spike in demand for buses in one part of town, it’s easy to identify quieter routes and shift the free capacity where it’s needed most.
Unlocking the data that fuels multimodal transport
Multimodal public transport of this kind has customer satisfaction at its core. Everything is geared towards making journeys as simple and frictionless as possible. But for it to work, real-time data must be shared freely between the different modes of transport.
For that to be possible, operators need to modernise the way they gather and share data. Data silos – where each mode of transport collects and guards its own data in its own way – must be broken down. And using a muddle of digital tools and physical logbooks to store information must become a thing of the past.
Instead, what’s needed is a digital single source of truth. One central hub – such as mpro5 – updated and accessible 24/7, with data from every mode of transport and every department within the operating company.
Data can be collected by employees on the ground through a simple app, and by sensors on vehicles and platforms. This helps build a holistic view of data across the organisation – from service punctuality and ticket sales to cleaning, maintenance and customer satisfaction.
The data can then be used to provide up-to-the-minute travel information. And it allows operators to zoom out, join the dots between their fleets, and deliver a highly responsive multimodal system that fits around passengers. Not the other way around.
Some operators may be wary of the cost and perceived complexity of digitising and centralising their data in this way. But the process can be tackled piece by piece, over time, meaning it’s neither as complex nor as expensive as it may seem.
And ultimately, if it creates a system that increases passenger numbers, loyalty and operational efficiencies without compromising service quality – at a time of unprecedented challenge – then it must surely be an investment worth making.
Data is at the epicenter of delivering not only an improved passenger experience, but realising multimodal transport and making a seamless journey in the UK a reality.