According to a survey of almost 50,000 fare-paying bus passengers by independent consumer watchdog Transport Focus, the most common passenger concerns are value for money, punctuality, frequency and journey times.
Value for money
Buses are one of the most cost-effective ways to travel. But fare structures are often over-complicated. Confused passengers are presented with too many options and can end up paying more than they need to. And for frequent passengers, daily bus fares can add up to a considerable amount. Simplify your fare structure as much as possible and reassure passengers that they will always pay the lowest possible fare.
Simplify your fare structure as much as possible and reassure passengers that they will always pay the lowest possible fare.
Consider setting up an NFC payment card scheme such as TfL’s Oyster or Ireland's popular TFI Leap. Passengers simply tap on and tap off, safe in the knowledge that they will never be overcharged. These schemes offer a high level of convenience, faster boarding and cheaper fares with daily or weekly caps. Some also enable tax savings for passengers who opt to have the cost of their commute deducted directly from their salary.
It's crucial that buses turn up when they are expected to.
Passengers increasingly use real-time bus information as a cornerstone of their journey planning. When this information turns out to be incorrect, there’s nowhere for the operator to hide.
There’s huge demand among passengers for real-time bus info, and a lot of pressure on bus operators to provide it. But unless you can ensure the information is accurate, you should avoid doing so. Unrealistic timings can do far more harm than good.
Ensure the technology behind your real-time data is solid and that the data itself is highly accurate. If it is, as well as using the data for your own website, apps and display boards, consider making it openly available to third party journey planning tools.
Ensure the technology behind your real-time data is solid and that the data itself is highly accurate.
In many areas, bus frequency has dropped along with local authority funding – particularly for less popular routes.
But while reducing frequency may please your shareholders in the short-term, it can draw you into a vicious cycle. As bus frequency drops, so do passenger levels and revenue. This can only result in further frequency reductions.
Passengers don't really care about scheduled headway or timetabled frequency. They care about how long they have to wait for a bus. If the answer is 'too long', they will choose another mode of transport.
The simplest (although not the cheapest) way to deal with bus frequency is to increase or – at the very least – maintain it. There’s a level of frequency at which concerns about value for money, punctuality and journey times all diminish. When passengers know they’ll have to wait no more than a few minutes for the next bus (even if they've just missed one), your services suddenly become a lot more attractive to them.
When passengers know they’ll have to wait no more than a few minutes for the next bus (even if they've just missed one), your services suddenly become a lot more attractive to them.
Bus frequency can also be improved through smarter scheduling. By revamping schedules to factor in traffic, weather and passenger levels, you can reduce bunching and ensure a more regular service.
Marketing has a part to play as well. 15 buses per hour may not seem particularly impressive. A maximum wait time of four minutes (or an average wait time of two minutes) sounds much better!
While there's no doubt that bus journey times are increasing, passengers often think in terms of elapsed time door-to-door (including the walk to/from the bus stop, the wait for the bus and the length of any interchange), rather than time spent on the bus itself. This increases their perceived journey time considerably.
Be realistic and tell the truth about journey times. There's no point in advertising a 30 minute journey that, more often than not, takes 40. If passengers know they can get to work in 40 minutes, 95% of the time, they will be much happier than if they are promised a shorter journey time that is regularly exceeded.
Improving reliability and giving passengers confidence in their journeys will also go a long way towards alleviating their concerns. Do everything you can to optimise your routes and schedules. By taking advantage of all the data available to you, you can add more certainty to your timetables. This level of optimisation may seem daunting, but it’s crucial.
By taking advantage of all the data available to you, you can add more certainty to your timetables.
Some larger bus operators already employ data analysts to work alongside their schedulers. But luckily, there is another, more cost-effective option. There’s technology available that can help improve your scheduling, for a fraction of the cost of an in-house data team (we hear this product is rather good!).