Passenger numbers on UK public transport have nosedived since the Covid-19 pandemic started. With new commuting habits now deeply ingrained, transport operators face a challenge to tempt people back to their services.
Also, improving and expanding public transport will be vital for cities’ and nations’ plans to minimise pollution and reach their net-zero targets, such as Sadiq Khan’s plan to charge motorists by the mile. Although, thanks to a single operator and the extensive use of the Internet of Things, navigating the English capital is fairly simple and hassle-free, many networks aren’t so lucky.
At the heart of these challenges is the need to improve the customer experience – and to convince passengers that taking the train or bus is as convenient and efficient as getting a cab or driving their own car.
To do this, it needs to be a seamless network of interconnected, accessible routes and providers; all held together by effective data collection and management. The Internet of Things will be vital in collecting this data, but it is how it is used that is the challenge, and the key.
When the hassle outweighs the benefits
For many, using public transport can be a stressful and confusing experience. Journeys with more than one mode of transport take time to plan, and rely on the timetables and services of various operators working seamlessly together.
A single delay or cancellation can throw the whole journey off schedule, and send the passenger scrabbling to find alternative routes and services. Often with several timetables to cross-reference, and only static travel information to inform them.
This is clearly bad for transport operators, as every lost customer means a loss of revenue. So, what can they do to stop this from happening?
Making public transport attractive again
The answer lies in changing the way passengers perceive and experience public transport. At the moment, many transport networks are often considered disjointed, inefficient and difficult to navigate. A mishmash of loosely connected modes of travel, run by a confusing array of operators.
What it should be in the public’s mind, however, is a single, tightly interconnected system. One where trains, buses, trams, and even ride-sharing services work in perfect harmony to give passengers a simple, seamless journey from A to B – no matter how many changes, connections and modes of transport they need.
With a multimodal system like this, passengers can plan their journeys quickly and easily in a single app. All their timings and connections are laid out clearly for them, removing the mental load of planning. And their itinerary is updated in real time, based on live data shared between trains, buses, trams and other modes of transport.
Thanks to this highly coordinated system and the data inside it, operators can also adjust their service levels to match passenger needs in specific locations and services: an added benefit.
Unlocking the data that fuels multimodal transport
Multimodal public transport of this kind has customer satisfaction at its core. However, for it to work, real-time data must be shared freely between the different modes of transport.
The Internet of Things will be vital in this undertaking – but we know that. IoT has been banded around as a solution to many problems, and is already used extensively in modern transport systems, such as the London Underground’s use of digital twins. However vital IoT is, it is nothing without using, storing, and deploying the data effectively to those who need it in real-time.
Therefore, revolutionising the way data is used is the fundamental core of creating the transport system of tomorrow. Data silos, where each mode of transport collects and guards its own data in its own way – must be broken down. And using a muddle of digital tools and physical logbooks to store information must become a thing of the past.
Instead, what’s needed is a digital single source of truth. One central hub – updated and accessible 24/7, with data from every mode of transport and every department within the operating company.
Data can be collected by employees on the ground through a simple app, and by sensors on vehicles and platforms. This helps build a holistic view of data across the organisation – from service punctuality and ticket sales to cleaning, maintenance and customer satisfaction.
The data can then be used to provide up-to-the-minute travel information, allowing operators to zoom out, join the dots between their fleets, and deliver a highly responsive multimodal system that fits around passengers; not the other way around.
Data is at the epicentre of delivering not only an improved passenger experience, but also making seamless, multimodal transport a reality.