How we can get more people to take the bus

 

Is it possible that Londoners are falling out of love with public and sustainable transport?

New figures from Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Mike Brown revealed that the number of bus and cycling journeys has dropped since April while car usage in the capital has increased.

In fact, there were eight million fewer Tube, bus and train trips taken in the first quarter of 2018 than during the same period last year. In comparison, traffic volumes across London rose 0.8% over the same time period – the second such rise in as many years.

This could in part be linked to more online deliveries but it raises an important question, what can be done to encourage more people to use public transport and ultimately drive down this seemingly growing dependency on private vehicles?

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One important factor is getting the data right. Only then will people start to put their trust in alternative modes of transport and adapt the ways in which they get from A to B.

Perfect timing

Today, if you go to a bus stop or a train station you’ll see the running board and countdown clocks that make your journey easier and hassle-free. Apps on your smartphone work in much the same way, complementing the physical infrastructure of the transport network.

While these services work, many could be better. Transport operators need to make sure that more and more data becomes available in the future, so that it can be used to provide more accurate and relevant information to the end user.

When this is done well, and travellers know they can trust what their app is telling them (e.g. arrival and departure, platform, and delay information), people will be far more likely to take in the information they’re being provided and decide what mode of transport is best suited to them - whether it be a traditional mode of public transport, or perhaps a bike-share scheme or on-demand bus service.

It is critical that this high-quality information is delivered in real-time and made available for all legs of a journey to deliver the best end-to-end service for passengers. After all, information informs decision-making.

Quality control

But as we increase access to data, we should also increase its quality. It is important to get this right because with better, real-time and trustworthy data, people not only use more public transportation, but they also distribute themselves more efficiently across the network.

Inaccurate data, such as a single error point in scheduled transport information, can easily result in a passenger being inconvenienced by a variety of problems, for instance standing on the wrong side of the road when waiting for a bus.

In order not to overwhelm the end user and dilute the customer experience, we also need integration of apps and modes of transportation. If you look at the urban mobility landscape today in London, there are at least four different apps for bike-sharing services simply to find out where these bikes are located.

If you turn to the new bus services provided by the likes of Via, Ford Chariot and Citymapper SmartBus, there are five more apps that you need to download onto your phone. This experience is daunting to the end user, and not useful at all for getting around your city seamlessly and quickly. It is no wonder, then, that people revert to the ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable’ option of their private cars.

Increased use of public transport and shared mobility services all comes down to Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which is centred on providing an integrated, fit-for-purpose transportation service that brings multiple modes of transportation together through a service app interface, removing all the points of friction from booking to payments, and ultimately reducing or eliminating the need for private ownership of cars entirely.

The future of mobility

There can be no denying that the future of public transportation hinges on data.

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From our experience in partnering with cities and transport providers around the world, if you make data available, people will make better choices in how they move around their city. It is up to transport service providers, as well as mayors, transport commissioners and city authorities, to share data and put measures in place to guide the behaviour of individuals to drive wider societal goals.

We need to better encourage people to ditch the car and see public transport, bicycles and their own two feet as reliable methods to get around - using taxis only when necessary.

Therefore, get more people using the bus (and other forms of transport) within cities, the experience needs to be just as convenient and accessible as using a private car, and it also needs to be affordable.

People will only put their trust in alternative modes of transport if the information they receive is accurate and if they have consistently seamless journeys. For this to happen, we need to turn operational data from transport operators and city authorities into human navigable data and make it high-quality and real-time to ensure people have access to seamless experiences when travelling across cities.

Johan Herrlin is CEO at data transit specialist Ito World.

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