“If we can get real-time weather, why not real-time transit alerts?”
In an age of instant gratification, this is a very fair question. Communicating with your riders is not a luxury service for them anymore, it is a must. They want their information and they want it yesterday.
Just over a year ago, I put together a focus group to figure out what riders really care about while using public transit. There were a few surprising tidbits we learned which bridged into a larger discussion in a Customer Advisory Board I host – to gauge if the findings were shared by agencies across North America.
One of the more surprising nuggets we learned is that passengers are generally understanding of the complexity of running a transit system. In fact, they are even tolerant of inevitable disruptions (the ones agencies have no control over). The caveat? They need to be made aware of the situation.
According to Forbes, the top three reasons people give up on transit are:
- Delayed on board due to transit vehicles backed up or problems on the transit route downstream
- Experienced long wait at a transfer stop
- Missed departure due to wrong real-time information
All of this relates to the thing riders crave for the most: real-time information.
General traffic apps might be able to help you figure out the best route for you to take, but it doesn’t mean that the times displayed are accurate. Using transit as an example, most of these applications just pull schedule data from the agency’s website. But because of this, they won’t be able to take into account any possible delays which come into play – causing frustrations with passengers waiting for a bus that just won’t show up.
When looking at the issues of traffic apps as a whole, their main problem is that most use the same pool of information. They probe for data, but because the granular details aren’t accurate, it can cause issues in the big picture.
The difference is agencies that use automated vehicle location tools (AVL). AVL helps provide real-time information to its riders as well as its operators. The simplified understanding is that AVL tools will provide your agency with the exact location of the vehicle. However, having this technology doesn’t mean that every app will now have access to the real-time information riders are looking for.
The Best Alternative – The Human Element
Even if riders are using your app that pulls information from the AVL tools, the information may still not be completely accurate. It will definitely give you happier riders in the grander scheme, but the thing is, while automated trackers/AVL are always improving and getting more accurate by the day, there are still a few hiccups here and there. Until the technology is 100% perfected, the goal is to be able to provide them with as much information as possible, whether that is through the app or by other means.
What most riders don’t know is that many of their inevitable alerts have a human hand behind them. You can’t plan and automate messages for when an accident happens, at least not yet. In order to combat the inevitable delay, King County Metro (KC Metro), for example, has a three- pronged approach to keep passengers in the know. Emails, SMS text and Twitter are all ways KC Metro try to communicate with their passengers.
What You Can Do Now
My best recommendation is to put systems in place so you can make your passengers aware of the unexpected situation. Input a notification into your app, make sure a tweet gets sent out, have electronic signage at stations, and give information to your drivers to spread it on to your riders – even shout from the rooftops if you have to. The absolute most important point learned from this whole process is to make sure your riders are informed.
Riders want to be able to plan their day. They want to be on time for their appointments, friends, work, etc. They overwhelmingly feel that the more information they have will allow them the means to do this successfully.
Information empowers riders to make their own decisions.
I’m excited to keep this conversation going. Come back soon to read part two on how the usability of your apps affects the way your riders gather information.
Andrew has been with Trapeze since 2001. He came from TransLink in Vancouver BC, Canada. In his 10 years at TransLink Andrew held a number of different roles, including Customer Information Representative, culminating with Customer Information Senior Systems Administrator. While with Trapeze, he has also filled the roles of Traveler Information Sr Technical Product Specialist and Product Manager Demand Response Mobile Computing. In 2015 Andrew returned to the Traveler Information family taking over the role of Product Director.