In part one of this series, we discussed the Avoid-Shift-Improve approach to public transit during and after COVID-19, focusing on ‘Shift’ adjustments and service enhancements that can help win riders back as stay-in-place orders are lifted. Once we’re out of the smoke, so to speak, we’ll be able to see what ridership is like in the ‘new normal’ and take the next steps towards improving public transit to be more sustainable, safe, and digitalized, ensuring that public transportation is built for the public of the future. Here are a few key ways cities, agencies, and operators can start improving their services, starting today.
For a long time, public transit agencies and operators have used low-quality turnstile and ticketing data to inform their budgets, how they distribute and manage their fleets, and the services they provide to riders. Information is also kept in silos, so that cities, operators, and agencies work with different datasets.
Now is the time to start using high-quality data to inform these decisions. The anonymized user and transit data collected by MaaS providers, such as Moovit, go deeper and wider, enabling agencies to gain valuable insights on travel patterns, the mix of mobility options riders choose, rider purchasing behavior, and much more.
Data tools like these can help discover patterns before, during, and after the pandemic, helping create a baseline to work with. This data can significantly improve agencies’ capabilities in identifying gaps and opportunities to better meet customer needs and improve fleet distribution and management. High-quality data is also crucial in strategic transit planning, which will be necessary as the urban mobility landscape shifts after COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen cities, transit agencies, and companies rapidly adapt their normal services in order to respond to the reduction of riders and the need to continue serving essential workers.
In some European countries, buses will be running in an on-demand fashion and will require passengers to book their rides in advance. Not only does this offer confidence to the user, but it also enables the transit operators to redistribute their fleet based on actual demand, or reschedule riders if they see a certain bus would be too full.
The flexibility that comes with on-demand mobility allows cities to adapt their services according to their own safety regulations, automatically ensuring both riders and drivers can maintain a safe distance.
With automated dispatching, routing, and scheduling, on-demand solutions will enable smarter operating to ensure that routes only run when there is demand. The analytics provided with the service can help operators and agencies continue to optimize the service as ridership starts increasing.
The need to handle cash and touch equipment has caused real concern from passengers and transit workers and is one area where technology can truly help decrease that concern and keep people safe while implementing a future-proof, scalable system that offers plenty of benefits for agencies and operators. Fare Payments as a Service or Account-based Ticketing are two models of ticketing structures that are being implemented around the world. They allow agencies to plug into their ticketing vendors backend for a seamless integration that can be launched quickly and efficiently.
With zero-touch ticketing, agencies will be able to meet the ‘new normal’ needs of riders and staff while remaining flexible for future riders. In addition, cities and operators have the opportunity to introduce loyalty programs to incentivize public transit usage and reward citizens for responsible travel behavior. Incentives such as earning points towards future travel for riding during off-peak hours or for a daily commute are a great way to reward your most loyal customers.
Incentives can include giving riders points for every trip on public transportation, earning more points for a daily commute, or for traveling during off-peak hours. Allowing them to share points with friends on social media can help expand your customer base further. As service begins to return to normal, you can offer points to answer surveys that could give you even more valuable insights on their new needs, frequency of travel, and routes, straight from the user.
While COVID-19 isn’t forever, the needs and expectations of public transit riders have permanently changed as a result. In order to thrive in the post-coronavirus ecosystem, it’s imperative to implement more digital, customer-focused services and features that will both make riders feel safe and that they’re making the right choice by taking public transportation. Right now, cities, agencies, and operators have a chance never before seen to embrace new, improved technologies and approaches to win riders back and continue serving the public.