Public Transit Users Demand Digital Services

Public transportation providers would be smart to heed riders' expectations for smartphone-based e-tickets and social media communications, finds Accenture study.
IBM Smarter Cities Challenge: 10 Towns Raise Tech IQs
IBM Smarter Cities Challenge: 10 Towns Raise Tech IQs
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A new global report from management consultancy Accenture highlights how high passenger expectation is rising for interactive services on public commuter transportation.

The study, released Tuesday, suggests travelers expect to have the capability to use their mobile phones as electronic tickets as early as this year, for example, and they have equally high expectations of public transit when it comes to communications via social media.

The study suggests 52% of global public transit users would be willing to pay at least 10% more for technological improvements, such as using a smartphone as an e-ticket. Meanwhile, fewer than 25% percent of consumers surveyed said they receive communication from public transportation companies via social media on a daily basis, but 90% said they would like to hear about the latest ticket prices and promotions, late-running trains and alerts, changes in timetables, and new technology through such channels.

On a global basis, Accenture found little difference across age groups on social media acceptance. Of respondents over 65 years old, 63% say they intend to (or already) follow public transportation providers on Facebook and 42% on Twitter.

[ Can analytics lead to a smoother commute? Read Dublin Points Big Data Tech At Traffic Jams. ]

Meanwhile, local differences shine through: only 44% of New Yorkers say they would be inclined to switch to paperless travel for environmental reasons, compared to 61% of Los Angelinos. In London (perhaps unsurprising to those of us used to the unique peccadilloes of its transport systems), 83% would like to see punctuality as the biggest public transit improvement they would like to see. (Hear hear!)

The pressure is now on for transit planners to deliver against these technology-based demands, said Accenture. "Consumer technology is driving a huge expectation for flexible travel -- an expectation that transit agencies cannot afford to ignore," said Philippe Guittat, global managing director of Accenture's transportation practice.

The consultancy said that it's not referring to so-called "smart transportation," though, when it talks about new ways of improving traveller experience through tech. "We generally use the word 'smart' in this report when referring to innovative technologies that can aid consumer interaction with a transport operator's services," Mark Elliot, Accenture U.K. travel and transportation lead, told InformationWeek.

"'Smart transportation' seems to be a broader concept that encompasses all manner of intelligent systems available to a transport operator, both operational as well as customer facing, like open payment technologies that meet changing consumer needs and result in faster customer experiences," Elliot said.

Instead, he said, the study's focus is more on the changing consumer and how passengers' preference for more digital interaction with transport operators will "change the face of transport over the coming years."

The lesson for transit chiefs that don't want to raise the technology bar? They risk "further frustrating consumers," Elliot warned, as well as missing out on opportunities to better engage with each passenger throughout their daily lives "before, during and after their journeys."

IT professionals working in transit need to to think about being "fundamentally digital," he said. "Mobile and digital will touch every interaction consumers have with your business. As a result, expectations will increasingly be for every service you offer to be digitally enabled and transparent to the consumer."

Elliot also suggested transit sector IT leaders should look to harness both big and small data, as the digitization of an operator's business will create a flood of rich information sources at all sorts of levels. Finally, IT chiefs should get ready to be "agile and move at consumer speed," as being customer-centric means nothing if you can't move at speed.

All in all, he advised, "Do not underestimate the growing power of the passenger and their ability to exploit online networks such as social media."

Accenture's analysis is based on a survey of 4,500 urban travelers in nine major cities in Brazil, France, Germany, South Korea, Spain, the U.K. and the United States in August, September and December 2012. It also performed a September 2012 European passenger rail survey to understand expectations in terms of information and technology, involving 3,600 travelers in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K., and gathered data from a rail survey of 4,211 frequent and occasional travelers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. in the same timeframe.