Demand data is now the most important metric in bus network planning

Informed analysis backed by the use of real-world data and machine learning is going to become ever-increasingly important in accelerating the recovery of bus patronage.

In the first part of a series on how important data has become in the bus industry, we explain why it is now more crucial than ever before to have the right data to hand in order to restore bus usage in the post-Covid world.

As the pandemic recedes, bus operators are working harder than ever to restore passenger demand to those important pre-Covid metrics. But the world has changed, and it has changed rapidly. Covid-19 has put rocket boosters on trends that were already well established alongside the curveball of new ways to work, shop and play that have emerged in response to the pandemic. 

Of course, the jury is still out on how long these trends will remain - after all, many businesses that functioned very well with the majority of their staff working from home have now taken the decision to recall colleagues back to the office for at least some of the week. 

Meanwhile, the online shopping behemoth Amazon, which did very well from the online shopping revolution of Covid-19, recently reported that the wave it has ridden during the crisis may have started to dissipate

These trends are now immune to the bus industry. It too is seeing some fundamental changes that are affecting demand, with patronage struggling to return to the figures seen in early March 2020 in many places. In this series, we will explore some of these themes in detail.

At the recent ALBUM Conference in Blackpool, Graham Vidler, Chief Executive of the UK bus and coach trade association CPT, said that he expected the fare-paying patronage figure to reach 90% of pre-Covid numbers by October when emergency Covid support will end in England.

Meanwhile, there are growing concerns in the UK that concessionary travelers - i.e. those with free bus travel entitlement - are failing to return to bus services. While Graham Vidler told ALBUM Conference delegates that fare-paying passenger numbers are presently at around 85% of the Pre-pandemic figures, it is 70% - and lower in some areas - for concessionary travelers. This is of growing concern for the industry and there is no clear view of why it is happening.

It seems to me that what’s happened is that discretionary travel has almost entirely stopped among that group,” he said. “People are still going on the journeys they need to go on… but the idea of taking a discretionary journey seems to have disappeared.

But it isn’t all bad news. While the industry struggles to recoup its bread and butter weekday and concessionary travelers, weekend and leisure travel is buoyant. The most recent figures from the UK's Department for Transport suggest patronage is slowly recovering from Covid-19 in Great Britain, but that at weekends is exceeding that of weekdays in many cases.

Regional bus services outside London are now regularly reporting patronage in the high eighties at weekends, up from figures in the early seventies on weekdays. This is also true in London where patronage is generally around 70% on weekdays but at the mid to late 80% mark at weekends. 

Award-winning and highly respected bus operator, Transdev Blazefield, has also reported a similar trend. While overall recovery has reached 94% across its network, Route 72 between Skipton and Grassington is at 109%, perhaps influenced by the revived “All Creatures Great and Small'' TV series which is filmed in the village of Grassington, indicating how important the leisure market could become.

It is clear that these fundamental changes to the way in which bus passengers travel will have implications for both the operators and wider stakeholder partners alike. It is not just the collapse and recovery of patronage as a result of Covid that is unprecedented, it is the changing nature of travel demand and how the industry can rise to that challenge. 

In this new era, demand is now the most important metric in network planning and it is critical to have the very latest industry-specific data technology to hand.

How Mobility Intelligence Helps You Uncover Demand

CitySwift’s Mobility Intelligence as a Service platform gives bus network providers the service demand insights needed to adapt to modern passenger demands, without disruption. 

CitySwift integrates with existing systems to process siloed and hidden data sets – eliminating the barriers and complexity associated with data access and analysis. For the first time ever, blend GPS, scheduling, and ticketing data to reveal brand new insights into network movement and performance.

You can use CitySwift to:

  • Gain full, birds-eye view down to stop-level insight into all aspects of your network performance, including boarding and alighting information
  • Understand where there is pent-up demand, and areas of overserved demand, for network redesign and planning
  • Generate AI-powered runtimes based on demand, vehicle movements, and existing timetables for quicker, more efficient, and punctual journeys.

Using the very best technological solutions is what separates a successful business from the unsuccessful - and data is the tool that will enable successful bus operators to make those decisions. Are you on board for the bus data revolution?

Learn more about CitySwift’s Mobility Intelligence platform, request a demo or contact us to discover how CitySwift can help you run a network based on the most comprehensive picture of the latest passenger movements.