Friday, April 8, 2011

From Wired: Smartphones provide the illusion of control, benefit public transit.

From a Wired article today:

The study asked 18 people to surrender their cars for one week. The participants found that any autonomy lost by handing over their keys could be regained through apps providing real-time information about transit schedules, delays and shops and services along the routes...

...The point is for transit agencies to provide enough information to put riders in control of their experience and have greater choice in when and where to ride. People don’t want to feel they are at the mercy of paper schedules, even if they are, and there’s nothing worse than waiting for buses that may or may not be on time.

The implications here are huge. Going back to my previous post - if we are able to empower individuals and give them the illusion of control - really, just better information - they are much more likely to choose transit, like it, and therefore, support it. This is just one way to target one segment of Metro riders - not everyone has a smartphone, and certainly not everyone is interested in using it to ride transit. For one segment, though, this would be a lifeline.

As a next step, how about apps for all major mobile phones, tied in with GPS, that provide:
  1. Nearest stop for bus or Metrolink
  2. Time of next departure
  3. Routing via Google Maps
  4. Points of interest nearby, including restaurants, stores, and cultural activities
Improving Metrolink isn't about replacing cars. For 99.99% of the population, trying to convince them to give up their car is tilting at windmills. We simply don't live in a city that's built for walking, biking, and transit only - unless you've got a lot of time or don't mind missing a lot. We can, however, turn even occasional users into supporters of transit as a concept and alternative. Seems that this is one way to do it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Marketing transit - make the casual user into an advocate

Last week, my wife and I went to Busch Stadium for opening day. Since we live about 4 blocks from the Shrewsbury Metrolink it was the perfect opportunity to take transit and avoid the hassles of parking, traffic, and drinking and driving. 

The train at Shrewsbury was packed. I'm used to half a dozen people boarding, and there wasn't a seat to be found. It was jammed with excited Cardinals fans with the same idea as us.

Riders at Shrewsbury Metrolink ready to go

From my discussions on the ride, most people were either first time riders or had only ridden to Cardinals games. They didn't commute, and didn't see why they would want to ride Metro on a daily basis. 

Metro needs to do whatever it can to make these trips spectacular. 81 times a year, Metro has the chance to convert some of these one-time users into advocates for the system and help continue to shed negative perceptions. Make it beyond a train trip into a pleasant experience for all involved, and help people get into the spirit of loving transit. One wonderful experience can erase the memory of hundreds of horror stories and comments.

Some suggestions:
  • Absolutely, positively, always have extra trains running for games. I realize it's an added expense, but the lines after the game are usually horrendous, and adding trains later doesn't help, as people are sore about having spent 30-45 minutes in line already. 
  • Position staff at ticket machines to help customers purchase tickets, instead of only having security checking tickets and guiding traffic on platforms.
  • Create some festive spirit both on the platforms and on the trains. Surly employees grousing about staying behind the grey line doesn't help. Cheery employees with Cardinals hats, shirts, or even buttons would get people into the gameday spirit. 
  • Look at working with the Cardinals to brand the Stadium Metrolink stop. Right now, it doesn't look any different than any other stop. That's a tragedy, since it's next to someplace most hold dear.
  • Relax the rules on drinks, just those days. Most other mass transit will allow me to have a bottle of soda. Why not Metro on the way to the game? 
If Metro has already done the hard part of getting them to the platform - why not make it the best experience possible and convert those people from users, into supporters, and ultimately, advocates for the system?