A guide to your city’s passengers: What you need to know

Passengers are people first, and they have busy lives. They generally don’t travel because they love riding a bus or train. They travel to do the things they need or want to do.

The destination is their motivation and they want the journey to be effortless on their way to work, a show, a football game, the airport, or wherever else they’re headed. And the truth is that, if taking public transport makes getting to the final destination cumbersome, or frustrating, they’re likely to drive a car instead next time.

Today, not all public transportation is working for passengers. There are many points of friction that must be addressed to make it the first choice for effortless journeys.

Four scenarios where public transit creates frustrations

Pierre is joining his friends in a bar. He doesn’t want to be late. He purchases his bus ticket on his mobile and heads to the bus stop. The bus will get him to the pub five minutes early. Unfortunately, that bus never shows up and he will wait 20 minutes for the next one, which means he will have less time with his friends.

The best part of Beau’s day is her 20 minute bike ride to pick up groceries after work. Her bike was stolen and she hasn’t bought a new one because her apartment doesn’t have storage. Beau uses the city bikes and when Beau walks to the pick up point, they’re all gone due to a holiday weekend and an influx of tourists. On the walk to the car, she wishes she could have booked the bike ahead of time.

Julia takes the bus to work each morning. At the end of the month, she checks her credit card balance to make a payment and notices her bus fees didn’t include her concession. She spends half an hour on a call with the public transportation department only to find she has to call a third party provider that handles their payments. After another hour, she decides driving will be a better use of her time in the future.

Antonio and his extended family are visiting the city. Everyone is excited to go to a famous art history museum. There are 12 family members, so they take a bus so they can all ride together. When the bus they’re planning to take arrives, it can only fit another 6 people. The bus after that can only fit 4. The third group lags far behind the rest of the group and gets less time at the museum.

Public transit often asks too much of passengers

86% of Europeans want to change their daily consumption to protect the environment and 77% of Europeans are within 10 minutes of a station or stop. When public transport is as accessible as this, the main issues holding many people back from choosing public transit over a car are the price of trips or the hassle involved.

If cities can offer a simple planning and travel experience, opting for public transit becomes an easy, sustainable part of their day-to-day lives.

Each of the scenarios above highlight a point of friction in public transit. When the bus never shows up, the public transit is at maximum capacity, or there is an incorrect charge, cities sabotage the trust of their commuters. Unfortunately, there are a lot of places where trust can erode; starting with ticketing.

Transit tickets can be purchased in many ways – in advance, at a station, on-board a vehicle, or using an app or website. Or pay-as-you-go using a bank card, smartphone, or pre-loaded transit smart card as your ‘ticket to ride’. If any of these ticketing and payment options add friction or frustration to the passenger experience, it can trigger more ‘downvotes’ for public transport – and perhaps more people trading public transport for car trips.

Sometimes, the mental gymnastics of public transit ticketing can be overwhelming for the rider, as they ask themselves questions like:

  • Which is the right app to download?
  • How can I book in advance?
  • Can I see capacity in advance?
  • Have I got the best value ticket for the different legs of my journey?
  • How can I get a concessionary rate?
  • Do I need my phone charged up and switched on?
  • What does an inspector need to see?

The less familiar a commuter is with the mode of transportation, and the more questions they have to answer, the higher their anxiety. If the rider has previously had a bad experience, that can add to the anxiety, too. To alleviate these concerns, the ideal transit ticketing experience would require little to no preparation or forethought. Riders could just turn up, sit down, and move towards their destination.

How can cities improve the passenger experience?

Technology, like the solutions provided by Flowbird, helps cities create the seamless experience riders want. Below are two ways to make the passenger experience better, which can increase ridership and the overall sustainability of your city.

1. Provide seamless payment options

Julia needs to know that her card will apply the correct amount to her fare each time she boards the bus – and she isn’t the only one.

Payment choices must provide accessibility for all. Pre-pay options, like topping up a transport card, or buying a ticket in advance make public transportation accessible for those who use cash. But these methods do involve friction and place the onus on the passenger to figure out their journey beforehand.

Most people would rather not try to join the dots between tickets, fares, and their journeys every time they ride. They’d rather just go. And that’s possible when they have the option to tap or scan their smart watch, phone, or card on a reader to access transport, and the transport provider calculates the correct charge.

With this kind of ticketing, as provided through Flowbird’s account-based ticketing and open payments, passengers will always pay the correct and best-value fare, with concessions and any daily, weekly or monthly fare caps automatically applied. In the near future, passengers will also be able to put their phone in ‘transit’ mode, so their phone will still tap a validator even when it’s out of battery.

With Flowbird, you can lean on our expertise here. We’re a long time provider of account-based ticketing and open payments, with solutions across the globe from Perth, Australia to Helsinki, Finland and Edinburgh in Scotland.

2. Use a centralised hub of information

Flowbird has been reducing barriers to transit by providing effortlessly accessible ticketing information and journey planning. A passenger can use a City app driven by Flowbird’s white-label MaaS app to find out their best options for travelling using different transport modes.

Flowbird apps can evolve into a full scale Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) system that provides information like bus ridership capacity, bespoke accessibility information, and even enables citizens and tourists to pay for city parking, bikes, buses, trains, e-scooters and bikes with a single account.

Anonymised app data containing journey details and customer preferences helps transport authorities to improve the passenger experience. Since these improvements will be based on real passenger habits, rather than the assumptions and expensive intermittent surveys, the improvements are more targeted and likely to result in an increase of frequent riders and new users.

While the future of public transportation is complex, it’s not hard to determine our next steps. Riders’ habits are already telling us everything they want, and need, to choose public transportation for their journeys.

To see more examples of how we’ve partnered with operators and cities to serve passengers, see how we eliminated queues for tickets and made transport simple in Amiens, or how we created an all-in-one Mobility-as-a-Service solution for Monaco.


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