New York’s Hudson Link has improved the customer experience through a series of programs,...

New York’s Hudson Link has improved the customer experience through a series of programs, including mystery travelers, annual surveys, and “meet the manager” events.

Photo: TransLink

TransLink is a transportation network based in Metro Vancouver. It manages buses, trains, SkyTrains, SeaBuses, and more. 

A commuter's experience with transportation can make or break their day. Services such as free Wi-Fi, a tracking app, and braille signage and information throughout can make a commuter experience more enjoyable and make it likely they will continue to use the service.

METRO spoke with three agencies that aim to improve the customer experience. From enhancing technology to improving accessibility to fine-tuning the services they provide, these agencies try to create the best customer experience possible. 

Bringing Feedback to Life in Westchester County

HudsonLink is a bus service designed primarily for highly experienced commuters. Established in 2018, it transports commuters between stops in Rockland County, N.Y., to train stations in Westchester County across the 3.6-mile-long Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

HudsonLink Marketing and Customer Service Manager Andrea Caccuro and Assistant GM Marjorie Chin from Transdev explained how HudsonLink made it their mission to continuously improve and enhance the customer experience. 

Their team has several ongoing initiatives to always improve commuters' experiences while on the bus. Some of these include:

  • Mystery travelers.
  • A passenger information and payment app.
  • Annual surveys.
  • And "meet the managers" events. 

"The passenger's experience is a top priority for us. We really care deeply about them. A lot of them are our neighbors and community members, so we look at many angles to get the big picture," Caccuro says.

Building a Community

Transdev takes great pride in always improving the customer's experience for the Hudson Link as if they used the services themselves.

Caccuro says they look at many different angles to get the big picture. And most of those angles include getting feedback straight from the source — the commuters. 

Some of the ways they do this are through annual rider surveys, listening campaigns, and allowing feedback through the GoMobile passenger app.

To find out what the customers want, TransLink introduced ways to provide feedback. Customers...

To find out what the customers want, TransLink introduced ways to provide feedback. Customers can submit feedback on every type of transportation provided on its website or app.

Photo: TransLink

One such event called "Meet the Managers" allows commuters to talk with the public during heavy traveler hours. The managers of the HudsonLink set up tables after rush hour times, at transit stations and key bus stops, so they can meet as many commuters as possible and learn more about their experiences.

But the best part about learning about commuters' experiences and feedback is implementing the changes. 

In the few years the HudsonLink has been running, they have implemented the following initiatives based on feedback:

  • Extended routing to popular routes.
  • Braille on the stop request button for all seats. 
  • Added service frequency to the hours passengers use the most. 
  • Added more train connections.

Caccuro adds, "We spend a lot of time getting to know our customers, and their input is valuable to us because they're experienced commuters. So we've developed a partnership with our drivers to continually improve systems on how we manage their commute, and anything that we can do to make it smooth, convenient, safe, and effective."

The 'Undercover Boss' of Commuter Experience

One of the ongoing projects to always make sure commuters have the best experience on the HudsonLink is mystery travelers. These travelers are employed by the program and the commuters and bus operators do not know who they are. 

Their job is to evaluate the whole passenger experience. Around 20 to 30 rides are done on a variety of routes.

"The surveys and 'Meet the Manager' events give us a perspective of what the customer is seeing while commuting, but the mystery traveler program is proprietary to Transdev. It's something that we highly regard at HudsonLink," says Caccuro.

As the program is audit-based, some of the topics that are inspected are:

  • Safety and security.
  • The driver's friendliness and uniform.
  • Ease of use.
  • Cleanliness of the vehicle.

At the end of every month, the results of the experiences are shared in a scatter graph, as well as details of each individual trip. This allows Chin to dig through the specifics and narrow down all the positives and negatives. 

She adds, "As an example, if an operator did not greet the passenger, we would turn that into a learning moment for the operator. So every month, we have every bit of information for every part of our service we need so we can continue improving it. But I'm happy to say that by in large, the operators score tremendously high."

Reinventing Paratransit With Technology

County Connection provides paratransit service in the Contra Costa County, Calif., area. The service has 63 paratransit vehicles available that can be easily scheduled on an app. But it wasn't always that easy for customers to use the service when traversing the region through multiple agency service areas.

For traditional regional trips, clients would have to work with two or three call centers to schedule a trip and wait several days for the trip to be confirmed. During the ride, they would switch drivers when leaving each service area at meet points two to four different times to get to their final destination. 

Director of County Connection Specialized Services Rashida Kamara and Sr. VP, Business Development, for Transdev, WC Pihl are part of the dedicated team that streamlined the process and provided more accessible services.

CCCTA's paratransit services now have a "One Seat" program and a myTransitManager passenger app for tracking, scheduling, and best of all, staying with one driver during the whole trip.

"The beauty about this new process is that trips used to be so cumbersome, it would take anywhere between two to six hours — and suddenly it became completely streamlined, and they even have technology available to assist them,” Kamara says. “Before the one-seat ride program, traditional transfer trips were a transportation tragedy."

How COVID-19 Presented an Opportunity to Innovate 

CCCTA's paratransit program wasn't perfect for the last 20 years. 

One of the big roadblocks CCCTA faced when wanting to innovate its paratransit program was the necessary technology. Then the perfect partnership came in 2019. 

Transdev acquired CCCTA's contract and already had an app available for passengers. So now passengers could track or even cancel their ride. 

Then, the 2020 pandemic arrived, and having only one driver was more important than ever. When COVID-19 was at its highest, it was imperative to minimize contact tracing and maximize safety for riders. 

Luckily for CCCTA, it presented four perfect opportunities.

  1. It allowed the program to mitigate the safety issue of the non-shared ride service.
  2. It allowed them to get funding from the Cares Act to transport one passenger at a time.
  3. They could continue to work on innovation and studies without laying off drivers.
  4. They could roll out new technology and beta-test it before services are picked up. 

With a lot of hard work, funding, and feedback, the "One Seat" program was created. 

"This transferring between trips has been a transportation tragedy for as long as we can remember, at least the 20-some-odd years that I had been doing business as an operator. The cost, questions, and ability to study it were too overwhelming. It costs to run a paratransit service and it'll cost to streamline this product, but COVID afforded an opportunity where we have non-shared ride services. It was the perfect storm," Kamara says.

Putting the Passengers' Best Interest First

The "One Seat" program was created with the best interest in mind for the passengers. But it turned out that it's not only convenient for passengers, but it also saves for all the agencies involved. 

Pihl adds, "The amazing part of the 'One Seat' success is that it'd the best possible thing for the passenger. It's the most convenient thing they can do. Saving agencies money is also fantastic, but this is the best thing for our passengers so they wouldn't have to keep changing vehicles in a time of danger."

Looking toward the future, Pihl and Kamara want to extend the program from the current Contra Costa County and Alameda County to all of the surrounding agency service areas in the next couple of years. With that brings a greater level of independence for all paratransit passengers in the greater Bay Area. 

Implementing Customer Feedback to Improve Vancouver Transit

TransLink is a transportation network based in Metro Vancouver. It manages buses, trains, SkyTrains, SeaBuses, and more. 

One of its biggest goals is improving customer experience. To help achieve its goal, it started the Customer Experience Action Plan — a roadmap of actions to improve transportation services and customer experience. 

The first plan was implemented in 2019. The main goal was for TransLink to have a better understanding of its customers and how transit fits into their daily lives. 

"The more we appreciate and acknowledge our customers' unique needs and desires, the more we can create infrastructure, services, programs, and amenities that serve them better," CEO Kevin Quinn says.

To find out what the customers want, TransLink introduced ways to provide feedback. Customers can submit feedback on every type of transportation provided on its website or app. 

It even had a one-month campaign in 2021 where over 1,200 ideas were submitted on the service, technology, and amenities. 

As a result of the feedback, TransLink implemented:

  • More buses, routes, and bus shelters.
  • Real-time bus, train, and Skytrain information.
  • Improved accessibility features.
  • Replaced original escalators.
  • Increased number of bike facilities, and more. 
  • Convenience stores and stands at stations and hubs.

Since the start of 2019's plan, the results have been positive. According to Quinn, TransLink had its highest-ever customer experience rating of 8.2 in 2020. It also had 82% of its customer-facing projects delivered.  

The Next Era of the Customer's Journey

Because of its success, the 2019 Customer Experience Action Plan turned into an ongoing effort. TransLink recently introduced its 2022-2027 Customer Experience Action Plan, which includes 40 major projects and initiatives.

"The latest plan serves as our guide for the next era of Customer Experience at TransLink and its operating companies. As our region and TransLink expands over the next five years, we will continue to find innovative ways and opportunities to enhance customer experience. We will continue to compile customer metrics, improve ways of communicating to our customers, and involve them in their transit journey by asking for feedback. TransLink believes in transparency and involving customers in key decision-making is at the heart of TransLink's customer philosophy," Quinn says.

TransLink wants to always improve its services and customer experience constantly. It has lots of exciting ideas that the agency wants to implement down the road to achieve its goal. 

The five-year plan will focus on these top priorities to better personalize services and improve a system that aligns with customers' values:

  • A more personalized service tailored to meet needs and preferences.
  • Easier and more convenient services.
  • Timely and reliable transit.
  • Safe and pleasant for riders during any route and any time of day.
  • Give customers a better reason to ride and make a difference for the environment. 

"We know that there are things that our customers have come to expect in our transit system, and we aim to deliver every time," summarizes Quinn. "But to deliver a truly exceptional experience, we continue to listen to our customers, understand their unique needs, and look for those opportunities where we can go above and beyond."

About the author
Hillary Weiss

Hillary Weiss

Senior Editor

Hillary Weiss is a former senior editor at Bobit. She has a decade of digital publishing experience and a passion for all things related to fleets.

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