Put user needs at the heart of the urban Public Transport business.
The aim is to measure and interpret behaviour, and evaluate citizens’ expectations in the area of public transport travel. Identified user needs contribute to service improvements and optimisation of the urban bus service.
Mode choice is not only determined by hard facts like travel time and comfort features, but to a large extent by the image of the respective mode in public discussion. Consequently, the perception of users and non-users of public transport has a large influence on market penetration: The higher the satisfaction of passengers, the greater their acceptance becomes, followed by increased usage and recommendation of public transport to others.
Customer satisfaction is an important area for public transport agencies and providers to pay attention to. Where bus services are contracted, surveys are likely to be carried out to map passengers’ satisfaction levels in order to decide and calculate the operator’s bonus or penalty (where such a scheme exists). Furthermore, surveys help to clarify user needs and expectations.
Users should be carefully categorised into various user groups (users withsimilar patterns), including
Regular / non-regular users
Special users (tourists, elderly etc.).
Users could also be grouped by trip purpose. The most relevant groups are often segregated into commuting (work / education), provision of service (shopping, medical services etc.) and leisure.
A fairly simplemethod to monitor user and non user perception is the ‘customer barometer’. In various European countries, a number of local / regional public transport networks are taking part in an overall benchmarking scheme to compare user / non-user perception between the companies / cities. Usually, these surveys are done by telephone interviews. The customer barometer provides data for target-oriented marketing measures and the definition of a quality-oriented corporate strategy.
In some countries (e.g. Italy), national surveys are launched with the initial goal of measuring and interpreting behaviour, and evaluating citizens’ expectations in the mobility area. These surveys are conducted countrywide. Their results can be refreshed annually through direct telephone interviews throughout the country.
Sometimes, stated preference surveys / conjoint analyses are used to investigate preferences for different quality elements, the value of travel time and / or ‘soft’ quality attributes such as information provision, staff attitude and vehicle comfort. Both methods are used regularly within telephone interviews, written questionnaires or Internet based studies, but require a commitment to the use of high-level market research programmes.
An approach to attract new users is the ‘free ticket’ to potential users to make them try the service. Interviews with these new users will then reveal useful information on user perception and likely improvements.
An open participation process is also used in some cases (in some European countries), which enables city officials to identify user needs based on their opinions. The surveys and participation process enables the identification of needs in terms of new lines, new frequencies, new timetables, new itineraries, etc.
Equally important for the investigation of user needs and expectations, and for optimising involvement in the public transport planning process and operation, can be forums withconsumer organisations, expressing their needs to the public transport authority and / or the operator. Consumer organisations involved are often:
Organisations of public transport users
Organisations of cyclists
Organisations representing schools / students
Organisations of elderly / retired people
Organisations of disabled persons
Chambers of Commerce (organisations of companies)
Organisations for traffic safety.
Furthermore, systematic analyses of user complaints can help in learning more about user needs.
It is recommended that surveys be repeated on a regular basis (e.g. every year).
When carrying out such research it should be recognised that users and non users (or potential users) could be part of the same market group. Where this is seen to be the case public transport authorities or operators tend to carry out perception surveys which cover both users and non-users.
Germany: Since 1999 public transport operators and associations have taken part in a nationwide benchmarking study (“ÖPNV-Kundenbarometer”) on a voluntary basis. In 2008, 32 participants (most of them medium and large enterprises) measured customers’ satisfaction with 32 performance criteria such as overall service provision, frequency, connections, punctuality, cleanliness, comfort, information, friendliness, and the degree of cost-coverage.
Larissa (Greece): An extended survey with questionnaires covering user groups, trip purposes, customer needs, customer satisfaction etc. was conducted in the year 2001. Data updates have been performed regularly since, mainly using passenger counting methods.
Luzern (Switzerland): An international mobility research institute has conducted a comprehensive mobility analysis in the Luzern region. A written questionnaire, telephone surveys and personal interviews covered the topics: "inner city", "potential for public transport" and "travel behaviour". The study referred to all transport modes used in the region and aimed to understand citizens’ travel patterns.
Ljubljana (Slovenia): In the city of Ljubljana methods for travel demand and market investigation are used regularly by the municipal administration, including Internet surveys, household questionnaires, telephone surveys, and manual passenger counting.
Martin (Slovakia): In the city of Martin several methods are used to identify travel demand and market investigation, including Internet surveys / internet panel, in-bus questionnaires, and automatic passenger counting.
Sweden: The Swedish association SLTF regularly carries out measurements of customers’ satisfaction with public transport. All cities participate in the Swedish Public Transport Association’s (SLTF) "Satisfied customers’ barometer" (“Kundbarometern”). Telephone interviews are carried out every month, ten months a year. The interviews include 25-30 questions regarding the inhabitants’ attitudes towards local transport. As regards customer satisfaction a Satisfaction Customer Index is calculated (Nöjd Kundindex, NKI). The index is measured on a scale from 1 – 100.