Using 3rd parties as a transport business resource: 6 considerations

The Trapeze Team | July 07, 2015

With local authority transport budgets increasingly stretched, the possibility of utilising the public as a business resource has obvious appeal. After all, doing so frees existing staff from the burden of data entry, enabling them to focus on tasks that really benefit the organisation.

However, this is not a simple process to deliver effectively. Having learnt a number of lessons when successfully delivering public-facing booking portals at Leeds City Council and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), below are the essential considerations to keep in mind.

1. Keep it simple

You cannot assume that third parties will understand the complexities of a full booking system in the same way your staff do. Members of the public don’t have the benefit of attending training courses and are unlikely to read help files to find out what to do.

At Trapeze we involve User Experience Engineers to see that usability and aesthetics are given equal importance, and ultimately to ensure the interface is sufficiently intuitive that the average user can immediately understand what they are seeing and get started without any questions.

Additionally, your portal should have a simple scope (the KISS principle is a good rule to follow here). Don’t bog your system down by trying to cater for every possible scenario; instead, focus on creating a tool that can quickly and effectively manage the bulk of your ‘standard’ jobs, leaving those with more complex requirements to your existing staff.

Trapeze’s Web Worker and PASS-Web systems enable public users to book their own trips in as little as 30 seconds, and their effectiveness can be seen at Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), where some 2,500 trips are processed online each month.

2. Provide visibility

When booking trips online, third parties can’t speak to someone as they previously would, so may lack assurance that their booking has gone through successfully. If you don’t offer that assurance then two things can happen: 1) Staff become burdened with phone requests for confirmation, and 2) Confidence in the system is damaged.

Fortunately there’s a simple way to resolve this: Ensure total visibility relating to any bookings made through the portal. Third party users should be shown full booking details via a confirmation page, backed up by automated email and SMS updates relating to any changes that occur.

3. Maximise the opportunity

If your portal is able to handle the bulk of ‘standard’ jobs then your staff aren’t going to be dealing with calls non-stop like they were in the past. So what are they going to do?

Your portal is an opportunity to ensure precious resource is directed to deliver on organisational objectives. Perhaps that means an increased focus on scheduling efficiency; or maybe attention on delivering quality service. It is important to decide how to focus your efforts – and then ensure that your team has the personnel and skills to deliver on your objectives.

4. Help your users

A new system – even a well-designed, simple and intuitive one – will be daunting to some users, and its effectiveness is heavily dependent on uptake. While users can’t be expected to read through help files, it may be wise to create a simple screen-captured video (with voiceover) that promotes the ease of use while showing users how to actually use the system.

Such a video can be easily created using free online tools, hosted on YouTube, and embedded directly into your application, ready to be viewed whenever it is needed.

5. Consider mobile portal users

While device use naturally varies between user groups, it is extremely likely that a significant proportion of your portal users will be using a mobile device. After all, in terms of passenger information we are now finding that mobile visitors are the dominant user group.

It is therefore extremely important to understand your portal users and the devices they are likely to use – and factor this information in when creating your portal.

6. Have a great system behind your portal

There is no point having a great booking portal if the underlying scheduling and dispatch system can’t effectively deal with the work that is processed. The successes enjoyed by Leeds City Council and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) are built on the PASS infrastructure: a proven transport scheduling system with integrated mapping, eligibility certification, customer communication management, real-time vehicle location and mobile data communication.

Additionally, be aware that new ideas and potential functionality will emerge as a consequence of implementing this type of technology, so make sure you have a platform – and a software partner – that can help you adapt your offering as new opportunities arise.

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The Trapeze Team are here to bring you news and information from Trapeze Group (UK) and the public transportation industry.