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The Shift to the Mobile World: Is Transit Shifting Too?

Feb 13, 2018
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Person looking at a phone on public transit

Do transit riders prefer to use your app or visit your website? Where do they spend more time? And what can this indicate about your ridership numbers?

If you don’t know, that’s fine since I’ll be talking about the mobile world we’re in and the three mediums that people use to find information – desktop, mobile web, and mobile apps. People use these three mediums in different ways. But, as it becomes more socially demanding to give information instantly, what does this mean for your transit agency?

Dealing with limited funds means you need to be strategic on where to invest. And with the issue of ridership decline at the forefront of most minds, the search to allocate budgets on items that will counteract declining ridership becomes apparent. One thing helping increase ridership is traveler information (TI) and its connection to passenger satisfaction.

It’s All in the Numbers

When trying to decide where you should spend your effort and resources developing TI tools, these numbers show you that you need both – app and web. To break it down in the simplest way possible: riders find you and your brand through the web, but they spend most of their time in apps.

Where do we Spend our Time?

The amount of time spent in any given medium showcases how much engagement there is with your product. So, the more time spent on your agency’s website or app allows you to assess your ridership. If time is up year over year, that should indicate that more people are using your app/website and if more people are using your service, it should mean ridership is beginning to increase.

There are three different forms of media to consider: mobile apps, desktop (web), and mobile web (using your mobile device’s browser).

Since 2013, all of these have seen incredible growth – mobile apps top the chart with an increase of 111%. Mobile web is up 62% since 2013 but is starting to level off as it only saw a 5% growth from 2015. Desktop usage is still technically up from 2013, but is actually on a downward trend, dropping 11% since 2015. This isn’t to say desktop usage is dead but instead indicates that when we search the web, we are doing so more on our mobile devices.


Mobile App vs. Mobile Web

The full audience of each medium (a.k.a. the reach) has risen over the past few years. Since 2014, the average monthly audience for mobile apps is up 45%, but mobile web is up a whopping 82% - which goes to show that web usage is still going strong. This data strengthens the argument that you shouldn’t try to limit your TI spending on just one option (app or web). 

Making this case more interesting, even though unique mobile web visitors is up 82% since 2014, actual time spent (minutes per visitor) is down 27%. So, while more people seemingly find your website through a browser, they are drawn to use an app after their initial discovery of your agency. So, this means that riders are likely to search for your agency and if you have a link to download your mobile app on your website, download the app and use that for the remainder of their trip. 

Comparing unique monthly visitors and average monthly minutes drives home the point that you need both a web and app presence to satisfy society’s trends of finding and using information. People are three times more likely to find something about your agency using the web than searching for an app. However, their time spent on your app is 20 times higher compared to your website.

To reiterate: your agency needs the web to cast a big net to get the eyeballs looking, which then generates a bigger audience for your app.

Traveler Information is Omni-channel

Presenting your riders with information isn’t limited to web and mobile apps. There are so many other ways that you can help give your riders information: wayside signage, call centers, automated phone systems, SMS text notifications, on-vehicle (on-car) signage – and the list goes on and on. It’s been said before, but information empowers your riders to make their own decisions. Therefore, the more chances you have to give them the information they crave, the more likely their satisfaction will increase. If their satisfaction increases then ridership has a chance to increase as well.

Digital technology has changed the environment– it’s a new playing field. So, while you are likely dealing with limited funds, to improve customer satisfaction (and, in turn, increase ridership) with information requires an omni-channel strategy. Everyone is figuring out the best way to adapt to the digital world. Even luxury brands, often prone to stay in their traditional lanes, are starting to expand their use of the digital environment. Why? Because it is essential to change with the times or choke on the dust of the past.

What’s Next?

Technology is shifting how we deal with and find information. And it will be evolving forever. Only time will show us what will be the next breakout medium. This is an exciting area to keep a watch on to see how TI develops. Are you ready for what’s next?

Check out some of my other blogs that deal with the importance of your traveler information:

Your Riders are Okay with Delays (As Long as You Let Them Know the Cause)

Usability: Can Your Riders Find Information Easily?

Bruce’s 25 years of experience in building, designing, and implementing Traveler Information solutions for the Public Transit Industry have afforded him a rich and diverse industry, solutions, and technical background. Bruce develops the strategic vision and detailed plans for the Trapeze Traveler information suite, makes important contributions to the design and functionality of the products and he ensures that the ongoing development of is driven by customer and market needs and demands.
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