Is Printed Bus Service Publicity Dying?

The Trapeze Team | July 06, 2015

Photo of timetable at a bus stopIf printed publicity is dying, it's probably not doing so at quite the rate some would have us believe. However, printed publicity is certainly changing – and of course it doesn't have quite the same level of importance it previously did.

Will printed material be with us in 20 years' time? The answer to that is almost certainly 'no'. But in five years? We would say it almost certainly will – at least in some form.

What is definitely dying is the level of reliance on call centres for information. 10 years ago phone numbers appeared prominently on all materials, and this was accepted as a key method of obtaining information. Of course austerity measures have ensured that it's just not economically viable to employ so many people for that purpose when similar information can be accessed either online or via an SMS service.

So what might the future of printed publicity look like? This article explores the trends in printed publicity and tries to make some educated guesses as to where it is going next.

Where we are

Printed material is already changing to incorporate interactive elements. Near Field Communication (NFC) and Quick Response (QR) codes are now fairly common at bus stops, enabling printed materials to be enhanced with specific information, and blending traditional printed schedule data with real-time elements.

However, we need to recognise that there are different types of bus users. The term, 'what you see is all there is' (as coined by Daniel Kanehman in the book Thinking Fast and Slow) is relevant here: the principle being that human decision making is not entirely based on rational thought, often placing unrealistic emphasis on what we see around us.

In the context of public transport information, it is easy to see that the author of this article – and in all likelihood most of those reading – could be accurately described as at least moderately tech-savvy professionals. As such we will own one or more Smartphones and may naturally expect everyone to do the same – since that is the case with the people we associate with on a daily basis.

However, while it is overwhelmingly the case that most people have access to Smartphones, that is of course not exclusively the case. In the UK, OfCom reports that in 2014, 61% of adults owned a Smartphone (compared with 51% in 2013).

While that is of course a significant majority, viewed from the alternative perspective, some 39% of adults do not have access to a Smartphone. We can't afford to leave them behind.

Furthermore, if you look at people over the age of 60 – of course a primary demographic in terms of use of public transport – the number of people with a Smartphone drops to 47%.

As stakeholders in the public transport sector we of course have a duty and obligation to deliver public transport to all who need it – and in doing so we need to recognise that for some users that still means materials at bus stops.

In the absence of universal Smartphone adoption, the obvious ideal solution would be real-time signs at every stop in the country – but of course that is not currently economically viable.

Therefore the requirement to provide printed material remains a key consideration for everyone involved with public transport – at least for the time being.

Photo of bus timetable in townSo if printed is here to stay (a while), how will it change?

The most immediate way that printed material will change is that it is going to have to become easier and cheaper to produce. Already the manpower required to produce printed publicity is reducing, thanks largely to automation tools such as our own NOVUS Publish.

Automation tools can take service changes and identify required output changes; then batch print them ready for installation at whichever stops need updating.

One interesting potential extension of such functionality might include the streamlining of the installation process. After all, this is a time consuming and costly exercise, so one of the things we are looking at is route optimisation for sign delivery and assembly processes.

A further change we may see is authorities charging operators to change materials. Some authorities already do this, but many don't. As austerity continues to bite, expect this process to become more common – perhaps incorporating charges relative to the frequency with which operators change services.

Perhaps the end goal here is a form of self-service printing, whereby users would be directed to a neatly formatted web page from which they can print their own personalised schedules from the comfort of their home.

Moving ahead, is e-ink a logical next step? Clearly there are benefits in terms of the ability to implement changes quickly and without additional cost. However, implementation costs may prove prohibitive for widespread adoption in the near future. Locations where service changes are common – for example busy interchanges – will probably make this more viable.

Finally, the visual appeal of publicity is becoming increasingly relevant. Some authorities are now investing more time and effort in order to create consistent, engaging materials.

Furthermore, integration of mapping is an increasing trend: after all, if you want people to use transport, you need to give them the information to enable them to make the most of their journey.

This is an interesting time for printed publicity materials. Reports of its death may have been somewhat premature, but we are undoubtedly in a period of transition, as printed material adapts to take advantage of emerging technology and combat continued budgetary constraints.

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About The Trapeze Team

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