CitySwift

Reasons to be cheerful

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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 transit 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 riders 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 onboard their chosen service at any given time. Its use of big data and AI will encourage physical 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 transit 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 physical distancing, When2Travel will also deliver significant benefits in the future. Riders 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 transit operators to bring this important and timely technological development to passengers elsewhere. Watch this space.

Riders 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 organizations 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 during the pandemic 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 transit sector? Well, for many years transit operators have been seeking to encourage the use of alternative fare payment methods in a bid to reduce dwell times and speed up services. Paying with cash takes time when compared to traveling with a smart or contactless bank card or an app and in a time of ever-increasing traffic congestion; the quicker vehicles are on their way, the quicker riders 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 staff played a significant role in keeping key workers moving throughout the crisis and it’s encouraging to see their role finally recognized 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 endeavors.

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

And as economies around the world get moving again, mass transit 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 mass transit 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 transit 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 ridership. 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 transit sector. But we are sure the tenacity we have seen in recent months will continue into the future and it will, as ever, show our industry at its very, very best.

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