The state of public transportation in the U.S. is painfully subpar when compared to the rest of the developed world. In Sydney, Australia, for example, people can use their Opal card to ride the ferry around Sydney Harbour or take a trip to the Blue Mountains for less than a gallon of gas.
This begs the question: Why can’t we have that here in the U.S.? To answer that, we must examine what a public transit experience should look like to convince customers to ditch their cars for the bus, train, or ferry.
Stepping into the Customer’s Shoes
Public transit agencies in the U.S. have had to compete against the fundamentally American ideal of owning one’s own car for decades, and now rideshare companies, such as Lyft and Uber, have come in to offer customers the experience of riding in a personal car without having to worry about costly insurance and repairs or finding a parking spot in a busy area.
To win customers over and beat out the automotive industry, public transportation agencies must step into the rider’s shoes. What leads people to choose driving in traffic and paying for parking overriding the subway? What about the rideshare experience convinces commuters to choose that over a much less expensive city bus that covers the same route?
How to win over curious customers
There are several strategies transit agencies should focus on when reaching out to new customers and trying to convert long-time car owners:
1. Take notes from private industry
Uber and Lyft have revolutionized how people can travel in large cities. Agencies need to learn from how they succeeded as well as what customers like about the rideshare experience and implement what they can to public transportation.
A major appeal is the ability for the rider to download an app and see where the car is, when it will arrive, and how long the trip will take. They also offer various riding options at different price points.
Transit agencies are well within their ability to offer greater precision and flexible riding options depending on the rider’s priorities whether it be the fastest trip, the lowest fare, or the most environmentally friendly.
2. Use incentives to create loyalty
Public transit is a cornerstone of most cities and towns, so it only makes sense to put more effort into weaving public transit agencies further into the community. They can inject much-needed boosts to local economies by partnering with small businesses.
Such partnerships could mean riding incentives such as free drinks at a local coffee shop along their route in exchange for choosing public transit. This becomes a win for all parties involved; travelers are rewarded for their loyalty, and businesses get the chance to reach many more customers.
3. Keep it simple
The companies with the greatest impact in the last decade have been the ones that made life a lot easier for their customers. Google brought all the knowledge in the world to our fingertips, and Amazon became a one-stop shopping experience with every product under the sun.
Public transportation agencies have the power to bring the customer this kind of simplicity, as well by consolidating all modes of transportation into a single account for travelers to explore and get to wherever life takes them. A seamless travel experience can turn public transport into a go-to service for their customers.
Mobility can have a bright future in the U.S., if transit agencies put the customer at the center of their work and create a service that makes riders excited to leave their car at home and try something new.