Safa Alkateb, CEO of Autocab, looks at how transport operators can empower passengers to help restore confidence in travelling post-pandemic.
As we emerge from this pandemic, we should expect people to act more cautiously when it comes to their transport choices.
Over the past year, up to one-third of people in some cities stopped using public transport completely because of Covid-19.
If we want those people to return to using it again in large numbers – be that on buses and boats or trains and planes – operators will need to take steps to restore confidence.
Passengers will want to know their well-being is being considered. So, can transport operators provide that level of reassurance to travellers?
Arm them with information
One thing is for sure, before passengers step out their front door, they will want easy access to all the information they need for each journey – so they know what to expect.
If they are planning to meet someone in the city centre for example, they may only be prepared to do this on public transport if they know they can avoid over-crowded services – and maintain physical distancing where possible.
This is likely to drive a demand for smarter transport apps that can provide more information. In addition to journey times, therefore, travellers may want to know how busy any given service is and what hygiene/safety protocols are in place.
If passengers can see this easily on an app, they can take quick decisions.
It may well lead them to choose an alternative means of transport, but it could also give them the initial confidence they need to venture out in the first place – and start using their preferred means of public transport again.
Provide choice and control
What would be ideal is if passengers could also see their full range of travel options.
This would help reassure them that they can get from A to B seamlessly – especially as a typical journey may involve a combination of transportation methods.
It might start with a taxi to the nearest train station, leading to a rail journey which is then followed by a Tube ride and another taxi on the other end.
Even before the pandemic, people were looking for an integrated app that could offer real-time visibility over all these means of transport. An app that could help plan travel and book numerous trip connections in real-time.
The experiences of the last year have simply brought forward the need for this level of mobility as a service (MaaS) solution to enable travellers to choose how they travel depending on their needs – be that the comfort and space afforded to them in transit or how quickly they can get somewhere.
Empowering the passenger
When it comes to giving passengers more power, the taxi and private hire sector has already taken great strides.
From consumer-facing passenger apps to corporate booking platforms, to virtual phone operators, the taxi industry is providing choice to consumers – allowing them to book how they want and when they want.
In addition, the sector has developed other solutions that could also help transport operators re-emerge from this pandemic.
For example, many taxi firms already help customers get information faster by deploying chatbots that quickly provide answers to their questions – whether these are about safety measures taken or otherwise.
Should restrictions need to be put in place again to control infection rates in future, this type of easy access to safety information will be essential to keep passengers up to date.
Another taxi industry solution that could help transport providers manage overcrowding is booking and dispatch data intelligence.
This analytics tool helps taxi firms predict busy periods so they can inform drivers when and where jobs are likely to be high.
Could public transport authorities develop similar solutions to identify when overcrowding is likely to occur, in order to inform passengers?
If we are going to get people moving in large numbers again, transport operators will need to be more ‘joined-up’ in both their thinking and their approach to transportation.
Collaboration between transport operators will, ultimately, move us closer to the MaaS solution of the future and a safer, more efficient service.
While the pandemic has been hard for everyone to endure, we need to learn from this and create a more resilient transport infrastructure.
We must first restore confidence, however, by empowering passengers and providing them with the solutions they need.