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How to build an award-winning mobile passenger information system

Paul Everson | September 21, 2015

With Smartphone ownership set to hit 90% by 2017, demand for mobile information is increasing at an incredible rate.1 This is of course extremely relevant for providers of public transport, since studies show that passenger information plays a crucial role in increasing passenger satisfaction and ridership.2

This study by Transport Focus suggests that use of technology such as mobile push-texts, could significantly improve passengers’ perceptions of transport services in the event of delays,3 while, another detailed study indicates passengers using mobile information believed waiting times were significantly shorter than people with no access to these tools or information.4

But of course it’s one thing to develop a passenger information system and quite another to do so in a way that meets user requirements as effectively as possible.

Ahead of the game

Scottish Transpord Awards logo

One organisation that clearly does a great job of ensuring its passenger information strategies are in line with passenger requirements is Traveline Scotland, as evidenced by its award for innovations in journey planning solutions and passenger information at the 2015 Scottish Transport Awards.5

The innovation in question was the journey planning application developed for spectators of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.6 

But how exactly did Traveline Scotland create such an innovative, effective system, loved by passengers and critics alike?

Building an award-winning passenger information system

As with so many projects, success here is dependent on effective planning and preparation – which means understanding exactly what it is you expect your passenger information system will do. This means identifying specific challenges, and outlining target audiences and users, too.7 Of course, as suggested in this article, it is also critical to “ensure the app delivers the content that customers actually need.”8

This is certainly something that Traveline Scotland did, as Manager Stuart McNeill explains: “We regularly plan for large events, but the difference here was the number of venues we were dealing with at the same time; and specific requirements such as Games shuttle buses and services. Furthermore, with unprecedented levels of on-road disruption, we needed to completely reinvent our normal journey planning algorithms to meet the needs of our passengers.”

What’s interesting about the latest evolution of the Traveline Scotland app is how it expanded on the organisation’s original journey planning tool (which actually won the same Scottish Transport Awards category in 2010) to accommodate the additional requirements represented by a unique event like the Commonwealth Games. Of course, this meant a significant amount of change.

“Implementing so many changes across all of our web and app channels was demanding for everyone involved, but tight deadlines were met,” Stuart recalls. “As the Games approached, we were comfortable with our preparation but also aware that some challenges remained, such as coping with high visitor demand for the service.”

Coping with user demand

As Stuart notes, when it comes to building a successful passenger information system it is critical to be able to meet high user demand.

But by working with Trapeze, Traveline Scotland coped admirably with spikes in user demand. During 11 days of events, the apps offered over 1.4 million personal journey plans to 480,000 users visiting the 13 games venues.

“The Trapeze team helped us install additional capacity prior to the Games,” Stuart notes. “This helped us cope with the increases in demand we were seeing in the build up to the opening ceremony. On Monday 21st July for instance there were over 100,000 website and app user sessions, compared to 44,000 a week earlier.”

Adaptability – working with your supplier

While not all organisations will need to accommodate an event like the Commonwealth Games, the underlying principles should be relevant for any passenger information project. Key requirements here are functionality and adaptability; strong system design; and expert support engineers.

As Stuart explains, much of this means working closely with your app supplier, as well as with partner organisations: “Our part of this project was made possible by the knowledge and experience of Trapeze project planners and the flexibility of Trapeze customer service staff at Games Time itself,” says Stuart.

Clearly, choosing the right supplier is of paramount importance here, as a key reason for the success of the Traveline Scotland app proved the ability of the Trapeze support team to react quickly to resolve issues and make adjustments and modifications to the system.

“Some further minor tweaks were made to systems during Games Time itself to cope efficiently with the jump in user demand, but the flexibility and speed of response by Trapeze’s customer service team meant issues were resolved in hours, and had little visible impact to most customers,” Stuart explains.

Legacy planning

Of course, while the Commonwealth Games only lasted 11 days, the legacy of the passenger information system is set to ensure Traveline Scotland remains at the forefront of passenger information needs: “In partnership with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the same ‘venue-based’ technology is now being utilised to provide better public transport information for travel to main hospital sites, including the new South Glasgow Hospitals,” Stuart notes.

Of course, this kind of legacy doesn’t come about by accident, and must be planned from the outset – which again highlights the importance of that initial planning phase.

By ensuring your app meets all the requirements of your passengers, is able to cope with demand, and that your support team and supplier can resolve any issues quickly, you will of course build trust in your passenger information system – a vital consideration, as noted in this article.9  

Conclusion

Awards are excellent indicators that your passenger information portal is doing what it should – but perhaps the greatest indicator of its success comes through feedback from users.

As Stuart notes: “We were obviously delighted to win a Scottish Transport Award for our app, particularly against some tough competition. Our app has won several awards since it launched in 2010, and it's great to be recognised in this way. Even more rewarding is the good feedback we get from our app users, with the enhancements for Glasgow 2014 journey planning receiving lots of positive comments from them.

Perhaps this, then, is the most important rule to consider when developing a successful passenger information system: the most important people in public transport are the passengers themselves.

References

  1. ARTHUR, C., “The death of the featurephone in the UK – and what’s next”, Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/30/featurephone-smartphone-uk- (April 2014).
  2. “RTPI increases ridership, who knew?!” Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/blog/article/rtpi-increases-ridership-who-knew
  3. Passenger Information When Trains Are Disrupted” (Research Report). Passenger Focus, May 2014.
  4. EDISON WATKINS, K., FERRIS, B., BORNING, A., SCOTT RUTHERFORD, G., and LAYTON, D., “Where Is My Bus? Impact of mobile real-time information on the perceived and actual wait time of transit riders”. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, February 2015. Pp 839 – 848.
  5.  “Traveline Scotland receives accolades at Scottish Transport Awards” Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/news/article/traveline-scotland-receives-accolades-at-scottish-transport-awards
  6. “Traveline Scotland and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games” Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/case_study/traveline-scotland-and-the-glasgow-2014-commonwealth-games
  7. EVERSON, P., “Passenger Information: Does one size fit all?” Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/blog/article/passenger-information-does-one-size-fit-all
  8. FERRANDEZ, C., “How to cope with increased demand for Mobile Apps” Digital Doughnut http://www.digitaldoughnut.com/blog/blog/how-to-cope-with-increased-demand-for-mobile-apps-in-the-enterprise
  9.  “Passenger Information: it’s a matter of trust” Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/blog/article/passenger-information-its-a-matter-of-trust

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About Paul Everson

Paul Everson is Trapeze's Product Manager (Travel Information). He has been working in public transport for 18 years and joined Trapeze in 2008. Paul says: "My role within Trapeze is a mix of product and account management, which suits my interests and skillset. I find it exciting to be part of an industry that is constantly evolving".

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