Friday, 27 June 2014

Joined up journeys

One of the advantages that the car has over public transport is that it takes the passenger from A – B, door to- door, no changes, no hassle. So as well as being the ultimate consumer product, it is also convenient and easy. But with the costs of motoring rising, and roads becoming more congested, the car is losing much of its shine. Urban planners are focused on reducing the number of private vehicles on the road, and getting travellers onto the public transport network. The challenge for transport operators is how to give travellers as easy and comfortable a journey as possible.

One element that would improve the experience and encourage the shift from private to public transport would be to improve the interchange between different stages in the passenger journey. The need to interchange can arouse strong emotions in passengers – it is something we’d rather avoid, it’s a moment of stress and uncertainty, it is a point where we see the difference in service quality between the different parts of our journey. Rarely have different operators invested in eliminating the gaps created where two systems come together.

And complete journey is the important concept. That is what we take. But on public transport different legs are provided by different operators and take different forms. But each has to work and work together for the journey to pan out.

The success of transport is about multi-modal systems and making them work effectively. In the UK great steps are being taken to integrate; in particular, HS2 offers opportunities to create seamless interchanges which will be necessary to make the high-speed, high volume, high frequency network operate reliably.  HS2 has been designed from the ground-up with the needs of passengers at the very heart of the trains and station interchanges.  In the Middle East places like Jeddah are building a whole transport system in one go. Future smart cities thinking may provide a platform to support all of this.

So getting it right is about understanding those joins but across the piece – architecture & space, service, information, etc. If we are to do interchange better they need to work seamlessly together and be passenger focused – transport in the UK is run as a commercial enterprise by individual organisations – hence interchange doesn’t go as far as services waiting for a delayed inbound service. However, as transport operators are increasingly seeing the commercial value in being more passenger focussed , there is the prospect of change for the better when collaboration between operators can deliver better interchanges within a successful commercial model.

It’s about how we better support journey planning. At the moment we still have to interact with each provider – we can’t buy a door-to-door journey ticket. But why not? We don’t get many opportunities when the interchange is free – e.g. in London if you make a journey by tube and
then transfer to bus you pay twice…why? By contrast, Hong King has the Octopus card which does have the ability to allow free interchange to a certain extent. Data is supporting the whole journey planner although these are more often provided by third parties rather than the actual service providers.

At the moment technology doesn’t really support interchange in any meaningful way. We might have
some token efforts to provide some information displays say in a station about the bus or metro service. The passenger has to do the work to get real-time information. More apps are being developed, again usually by third parties. But there are no real mechanisms to help passengers respond to problems in real-time, or to rebook a leg of the journey, for example. Integrated ticketing and data is needed.

There are also opportunities for smarter technology. For example, if “the system” knows you are getting off at a station to transfer to the local tram system, then a smart system might reserve your train ticket to put you in a carriage near the right exit at the station. There is a great opportunity to support passengers better and great more personalized and adaptive services.

Then there is the physical environment – how does the architecture and urban space help?
Fundamental is good wayfinding but that can be extended into providing better  information before arrival – such as the process for queuing for taxi ranks which varies from one location to another.

As new stations and airports are developed, they are usually well designed to accommodate future anticipated growth in capacity. They sometimes perform less well in accommodating future interchange growth – so the taxi rank or bus stops or cycle racks don’t have similar space
to grow.

Often the problem for passengers is it doesn’t feel like a single ecosystem. Each operator brand their bit differently, has a different operational model so it behaves differently as the passenger views it and critically the service quality will vary. The experience of say arriving on a Virgin train and transferring to the tube or a bus puts you into two very different experiences.

Key messages – getting interchange right is key to great customer experience; making it work for passengers means seeing it as an integrated journey and therefore focus on the joins; all the bits have to work in harmony and this requires a change in service attitude (providing a graceful & planned handover rather than being dumped on the pavement!). The lesson service providers must learn is to look beyond their own boundaries are consider the passengers journey end-end – that means looking outwards rather than just within.

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