CitySwift

Reasons to be cheerful

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Opinion
Reasons to be cheerful

There’s no doubt that the last few months have seen great turmoil for us all.

Who could have predicted in January that we would be where we are? But now is perhaps a good time to look back and see what we - as an industry - have achieved during these unprecedented times.

They say that there’s triumph in adversity and the last few months have seen the creative thinking and tenacity of the collective bus industry at its best. So much has been accomplished in just a few short months and what has been achieved will generate genuine customer service benefits for bus passengers for many, many years. We have all risen to the challenge and we have delivered – necessity has driven innovation.

At CitySwift we have worked closely with The Go-Ahead Group to launch When2Travel - a powerful and innovative tool that allows bus users to check how many passengers are likely to be on board their chosen service at any given time. Its use of big data and AI will encourage social distancing and give passengers confidence as they return to work and school.

As the coronavirus crisis unfolded, there were conversations within Go-Ahead about what the group could do to help manage demand for travel, and how data could be used to help guide its bus operations through the recovery period. Martijn Gilbert, Go North East’s Managing Director, led the When2Travel project on the Go-Ahead side and he asked us to help. Within days we had the framework for a detailed and comprehensive solution that  reshaped and repurposed the technology contained within our bus data engine into an innovative customer service tool.

While its real strength is as a pre-planning tool for bus users keen to ensure they adhere to social distancing, When2Travel will also deliver significant benefits in the future. Passengers will be able to check what bus capacity is available at different times of the day, a particular boon for those, for example, with mobility issues who may be keen to ensure they get a seat, or smoothing out the peaks by allowing passengers to make informed choices about when to travel. We are already working with more bus operators to bring this important and timely technological development to passengers elsewhere. Watch this space.

Passengers will be able to check what bus capacity is available at different times of the day, a particular boon for those, for example, with mobility issues who may be keen to ensure they get a seat, or smoothing out the peaks by allowing passengers to make informed choices about when to travel.

Other organisations and operators have also made some big changes in recent months that will bring long-term benefits to passengers. From highlighting how, with advanced cleaning regimes, buses really are clean and safe spaces - something we hope will finally lay those negative (and wholly inaccurate) stereotypes about buses to rest -  to the introduction of more flexible and innovative ticketing products that will be of huge benefit to passengers as the pace of recovery quickens.

Speaking of ticketing, Covid-19 has hastened the move towards alternative payment methods at a societal level. For example many retailers have switched to a cashless payment model as lockdowns loosen and it’s driving a wider acceptance of the simplicity and ease of ‘paying with plastic’ (or phone, or watch). Both Mastercard and Visa have reported a 40% increase in contactless transactions for face-to-face transactions in the first quarter of 2020 when compared to a year earlier. 

What’s the relevance to the bus industry? Well, for many years bus operators have been seeking to encourage the use of alternative fare payment methods in a bid to reduce bus stop dwell times and speed up services. Paying with cash takes time when compared to travelling with a smart or contactless bank card or an app and in a time of ever increasing traffic congestion; the quicker buses are on their way, the quicker passengers get to where they are going. With more and more people accepting the convenience of switching from cash, and far quicker than we could ever have imagined until recently, there are huge opportunities for operators and passengers alike in reducing journey times.

With more and more people accepting the convenience of switching from cash, and far quicker than we could ever have imagined until recently, there are huge opportunities for operators and passengers alike in reducing journey times.

Meanwhile, transport workers played a significant role in keeping key workers moving throughout the crisis and it’s encouraging to see their role finally recognised in the wider public consciousness. We’ve all seen the pictures on social media of handmade posters and signs at bus stops across the land where drivers have been warmly thanked for their endeavours - and not forgetting the glorious #CheersDrive hashtag embraced by the residents of Cardiff, and then Bristol, to thank bus staff.

Transport workers played a significant role in keeping key workers moving throughout the crisis and it’s encouraging to see their role finally recognised in the wider public consciousness.

And as economies across Europe get moving again, public transport will continue to play a key role. We firmly believe the bus must be at the heart of plans to scale-up investment by connecting people with new job and skill opportunities. To do that will require new thinking, aided by the very latest technology and insight. As bus network design specialist Adam Hawksworth recently told us, unleashing the power of the bus in urban areas is data-driven, now more than ever before, so there are benefits to be reaped by adopting the very latest technology that aids decision making and helps to influence the industry’s key partners. 

We firmly believe the bus must be at the heart of plans to scale-up investment by connecting people with new job and skill opportunities. To do that will require new thinking, aided by the very latest technology and insight.

We are working closely with a number of operators to achieve those goals. At National Express West Midlands, what was a pilot of our bus data engine was rapidly rolled out across the company’s entire network. Our sophisticated technology is now taking big data from a wide variety of sources to provide schedulers and network planners with specific information on what drives passenger demand. It’s information that’s going to be of increasing value to National Express, and other operators who deploy SwiftMetrics, as the recovery progresses.

We have all been witnesses to an incredible period in our shared history; it’s important to pay tribute to the valiant efforts of front line staff, managers and partners in the transport sector. But we are sure the tenacity we have seen in recent months will continue into the future and it will, as ever, show the bus industry at its very, very best.

Bus Network Development Strategy for the ‘New Normal’