Faster. Cleaner. Connected. What is the transport industry lining up for the Commuter of Tomorrow?
By Alice Brown
No longer just imaginative concepts found in science fiction, these are real innovations the commuter can expect in the years to come. But customer expectations don’t just change every other decade – they’re changing right now. We’ve seen time and time again that if an organisation doesn’t put the needs of the customer at the forefront of their business, they will be left behind. The time for transport sector organisations to think about the Commuter of Tomorrow is today.
It wasn’t so long ago that people were predicting that improved technology, increased flexible working arrangements, and a more global business outlook would lead to the gradual demise of the daily commute. Between 2002 and 2015, the average number of commuting journeys per person per year fell by 12%. However, since 2015 this number has remained steady at 144 journeys, and some of the world’s largest companies, including IBM and the Bank of America, are reducing or even eliminating their employees’ ability to telecommute. Research analysis conducted by the TUC found that commuters spend on average 58 minutes a day on their commute, which is 5 minutes longer than a decade ago. It appears that, at least for the near future, the daily commute is here to stay.
There is however growing acceptance that the commuter experience needs to improve. Commuting historically has been found to have a negative impact on individuals’ happiness, sense of fulfilment, and anxiety levels. In addition, the environmental impact of millions of people travelling to and from work cannot be overlooked, and there is now greater pressure on employers to address this. For example, as part of the conditions for building the third runway, Heathrow has committed to reduce all staff car trips by 25% by 2030, and 50% by 2040.
So, what does this all mean for the Commuter of Tomorrow?
Low-fuss, high productivity
Firstly, priorities of commuters are shifting. A move to technology-centric customer service has answered the call for increased efficiency and reliability, with ticket machines, automatic barriers, and online journey planners replacing human interaction. In addition, today’s commuters value being able to use the time spent in transit making progress on their to-do lists, with free wi-fi becoming an expectation. Google has long provided its Silicon Valley employees with a shuttle bus for their commute with Wi-Fi and a place to work before they even get to work. How far are we from a future in which commuters have the option to rent desk space or even a meeting room on public transport to extend and provide greater flexibility in their working day?
As part of their quest for a quick journey, commuters are now far savvier at using data to drive their decision-making. The sheer quantity of data available is increasing all the time. TfL recently ran a pilot collecting depersonalised Wi-Fi data to track users’ routes through the underground network. This could be used to give real-time updates that enable commuters to replan their journeys in real time. As smart cities develop, the infrastructure itself will be able to react to the data being collected. In Barcelona, subway line 9 has been fitted with smart elevators that automatically move to platform level when a train is about to arrive, reducing both congestion and environmental impact, and this is just an early step in the journey to a truly smart city.
Commuters also recognise the value of actively sharing data; many commuters use social media to get updates from fellow commuters, and to engage in dialogues with transport providers. The same peer-to-peer approach that powers social media is finding a home in transport. There is an increasing number of transport apps available that make use of this willingness to share data in return for updates from others: Waze allows car users to share information about traffic jams, and Trainline has launched BusyBot to help rail commuters find seats.
The question for the Commuter of Tomorrow is therefore how to make best use of the volume of data available. It is already possible to get push notifications when a standard commute is disrupted, but the Commuter of Tomorrow will expect more. With the rise of AI, it is only inevitable that a commuter’s journey will soon be planned for them, to strike their individually-determined preferred balance between speed and comfort, and alert them while en route if the optimum journey has changed.
This ability to change journey plans midway will be of limited use in a world where an individual has to buy specific tickets for specific route. Transport for the North is in the process of rolling out a smart ticketing service over the next four years to help link bus and train services. In Helsinki and the West Midlands, Whim allows residents to pay for transport in a Netflix-style subscription model, with different tiers providing different monthly allowances across buses, trains, taxis, hire cars, and bikeshares. Trends suggest that the Commuter of Tomorrow will look for even greater flexibility across different modes of transport which will enable them to use different transport types all packaged under one fee.
The Commuter of Tomorrow will not be the only thing to change as a result of all the data available. Transport providers will be able to better respond to the needs of customers. Citymapper’s Smart Ride has already provided an example of how this works best. Somewhere between a bus and a taxi, it links up users with compatible journeys to make travelling more efficient both in terms of cost and time, an example of a data aggregator using commuter flow insights to disrupt the provider market. On a larger scale, we will see transport networks increasingly refine and adapt to ensure they serve the routes people actually want to travel, and to improve commuter experience in a profitable and sustainable manner.
The Commuter of Tomorrow is the first in a series of pieces on the Customer of Tomorrow by Moorhouse. It’s not about blue-sky thinking or looking into a crystal ball. It’s about being on the pulse of customer expectations and trends, and understanding what organisations need to do today, to meet the needs of the Customer of Tomorrow.
Each article in the series will identify a different Customer of Tomorrow and the key sector trends that organisations should consider when designing customer strategies or experiences.
Moorhouse has a proven track record of turning customer strategy into action for major private and public sector organisations. Whether it’s identifying emerging customer trends, optimising the customer journey, or developing business models that meet customer needs – we help our clients understand and serve the Customer of Tomorrow.
To discuss how your organisation can meet the needs of its Customer of Tomorrow, please contact: James Easterbrook.
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