It is a transformative point in time in our history. Much as September 11th redefined how we travel and handle security, the COVID-19 pandemic will define the ways we work, socialize and travel. As CEO for Transdev U.S., a global provider of mobility, our team is working to reimagine mobility and our evolving role. We take pride in ensuring that the health and safety of our employees, passengers, and the communities we serve remains our highest priority and at the heart of everything we do. But, what about the future? Given everything we have done in response to the pandemic, which of these actions will be permanent? How will our role change?
While we do not pretend to be the predictors of the future, talking with our friends and colleagues across the country and the world reveal some emerging trends.
Can Mass Transit be “Mass” Anymore?
The days of packing people onto transit vehicles are likely behind us. Yield management will become the new term defining our role of managing demand in real time. Sophisticated technological tools will allow us to measure demand, predict trends, and direct resources in real time. Fluid load management will likely emerge as a new discipline. Teams will better assess real-time demand using passenger counters, video, and even crowd-sourced data to quickly adjust service as demand changes.
Does the Bus Need a Makeover?
During the pandemic, transit agencies around the world moved to rear-door boarding, stopped collecting fares, installed plexiglass barriers around the driver, and cordoned off seats for social distancing. But these were quick fixes. Going forward, we will see the redesign of the vehicle itself for reasons beyond just the pandemic, including driver safety and improving the speed of service. Fare collection will no longer require passing by the driver at the front door. Instead, vehicles will have multiple entry points, touchless fare systems, the use of super hygienic materials, UV lighting, and multifaceted communication tools that will create a new relationship between passenger and bus.
Will our Transit Offering be Different?
Without question, our offering will change in response to new customer demands. Commuter patterns will both change, and in some cases, be eliminated as more of us work from home. Transit peaks will flatten, making our transit resource utilization better. The digital age will make possible the interconnectivity of transportation resources, which in turn will usher in a new era of micromobility that directs resources and defines vehicle movements based on individual customer demands. Pathfinding will apply to our passengers as they utilize MaaS solutions to travel from origin to destination, but it also will apply to our vehicles as algorithms calculate optimal solutions based on real-time factors of demand, space availability, and travel time.
How Will our Relationship with our Passenger Change?
While transit has traditionally responded to passenger demands in very prescribed, fixed manners often defined by work rules and pick schedules, the passenger will define demand and the parameters of acceptable mobility solutions. With an increasing stable of affordable mobility solutions available to them, consumer choice will define our product offering. New mobility will place greater weight on travel speed, health and safety, personal space, and convenience. Farebox recovery ratios will become an antiquated concept and will be replaced by measuring and attaining community goals of access to jobs, reduced congestion, improved air quality, and access to affordable housing. Equity is at the core of the discussion framework. Decisions and solutions focused on broader social issues will be key to our success.
What Will Stick?
It is still too early to tell what will “stick” in the years to come. However, the pandemic offers us the opportunity to reshape transit to better serve passengers by being more responsive to demand. Now is the time to explore all possibilities. It is clear that strategic investment, innovation, and new technology will be required, along with new mindsets and skills.
One can’t help but be curious about how all this will evolve. These are exciting times we live in filled with possibility and imagination. It will be fun as our industry figures out our future together.
Dick Alexander is CEO Transdev U.S.