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Two coaches on coach tour holiday driving along empty road

The biggest travel trends of 2019 for the coach tour industry

By | Coach Tour, Feature, Holiday, Travel | No Comments

As we near the end of the decade, travel is shifting to offer a more personalised experience. Fuelled by the rise of social media and a new appreciation for unique cultural experiences, today’s traveller expects to be able to create their own adventure. 2018 was the year for TV tourism (think Game of Thrones tours in Northern Ireland) and eco-tourism. 2019 will see more of the same, but new developments in technology and changes in traveller attitudes will inspire new trends. So what should tour companies expect this year, and, more importantly, how can they deliver the best experience to their customers?

Wellness holidays go mainstream

‘Self-development stays’ have existed in some form for decades, but they’ve become increasingly popular in the past few years. Wellness tourism worldwide was worth £500bn in 2017, and last year grew at more than twice the pace of tourism overall. An emphasis on better emotional self-care, driven in part by the rise in Instagram-inspired wellbeing retreats, has brought the wellness trip into the mainstream.

In January, VisitScotland published its annual review of travel trends. The review noted an increase in demand for holidays centred around improving oneself, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. The UK coach tour industry, then, is well placed to respond to this trend. 2019 is the year to start offering trips that cater to this new client base, whether through curated retreats, ethically-minded hideaways or traditional local events.

Wellness travel becomes the next travel trend

Eco-conscious excursions evolve

Just like the wellness travel trend, 2019 will be a big year for “green getaways” – trips focused on getting back to nature and respecting the environment. Sure, eco-friendly travel has been a hot topic for a few years now, but it’s only in the past year that travel companies have begun to grasp the potential value of them. Not only do they help conserve the environment for future visitors, but a travel company’s eco-credentials can also entice a new generation of environmentally aware travellers.

A recent study by Booking.com found that 86% of global travellers would be willing to spend some time on activities that offset the environmental impact of their stay. That’s why coach tour companies should use 2019 to begin integrating more eco-friendly features on your tours. If you can adapt your vehicles to reduce the environmental impact, do it. Adding tree-planting, wildlife conservation or wild camping to your tour itineraries could open up a whole new world and simultaneously conserve our own planet. What’s not to love?

Travelling on an eco-friendly coach tour is the new travel trend

Authenticity beats package

Just as eco-holidays grew from an increased awareness of the impact of travel on our environment, the demand for authenticity in travel has been fuelled by an increased focus on the impact on local cultures. Travellers in 2019 don’t want to be a spectator, they want to be an active participant, and, just as importantly, they want to learn. In fact, over half (56%) of global travellers claim they learned invaluable life skills while travelling.

This push for authenticity was apparent in the rise in domestic tourism last year. Travellers want to be immersed in a culture, even if it’s the culture of a neighbouring town or city. For coach tour companies, that means pushing activities over sight-seeing. Partner with local businesses to allow travellers to develop new skills based on local knowledge and practices. The more visual the activity (think pottery-making or gin-distilling) the better. After all, behind the push for authenticity is the ever-present desire for social-friendly photo opportunities.

Personalisation is the travel trend

The one-size-fits-all model of holidays will no longer cut it. Travel companies have responded by shifting to curated experiences that deliver hyper-relevant individualised content direct to the customer. Coach tour companies might want to study the following statistics found in the Booking.com study:

  • 34% of travellers now expect travel recommendations for them
  • 41% want travel brands to use technologies such as AI to make travel suggestions based on past travel experience.
  • 52% would be excited about tech travel innovations such as a digital tour guide

New technologies are at the heart of helping travellers create their own adventures. For coach companies, this means identifying a customer’s interests and catering subsequent offers to them. A customer who books a hiking tour in the Scottish Highlands, for instance, would be more receptive to additional offers for hiking gear than someone who’s booked a city break.

Personalisation as an essential travel trend of 2019

Social media is still essential

That means try to get your coach tour company included in the post, either by a direct @ of your company or through a hashtag (for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Of course, you can offer incentives to passengers, such as being entered into a prize draw, if they include your custom hashtag in their posts.

Social media will also continue to be an invaluable marketing tool. The only real difference will be a bigger focus on targeted content. Even the smallest of tour companies now have access to tools that allow them to optimise their message for different audiences. Customer personas and social analytics software allow you to narrow down your branding to laser precision. After all, it’s not just about getting your content in front of as many people as possible; it’s about targeting the right people at the right time.

Smartphone in travel

Micro-trips become more common

2019 will see a rise in the number of travellers looking for short-breaks. And when we say short, we’re talking as little as one to two days. This is in part due to financial constraints – paying for two weeks in the sun is not an option for everyone, after all. But it’s also due in part to travellers opting for a genuine ‘travel’ experience over a ‘holiday’. Travelling to multiple locations requires more planning and is usually more expensive than staying in a single setting. That’s why modern travellers will often opt for several short-stay trips spread across the year.

The popularity of the micro-vacation can also be attributed to the rise in ‘bleisure’ trips, where the traveller combines a business trip with a few days of leisure. It makes sense, after all, to take advantage of time in a new country that you might not otherwise visit. But these ‘bleisure’ trips offer coach tour operators a unique opportunity too. Single day round-trips and even half-day packages could be just the ticket for time-strapped passengers. Be warned, however, as one- day round-trips can entail a significant amount of time on the road, so make sure to stock up on onboard entertainment features.

Retrofitting your public transport

Using onboard analytics to improve services in coach hire

Onboard analytics: The secret to enhancing your transport services

By | Analytics, Feature, Passenger Wifi, Technology | No Comments

As industry leaders call for mobile phone location data to be used to plan out new bus and rail routes, we look at why it’s not just governmental transport bodies that can benefit from onboard analytics.

In passenger transport, data comes from every stage of the customer engagement process – from booking to boarding to using onboard amenities. With the advent of web analytics services, any business owner can acquire the metrics from their website and begin to streamline the customer purchase process. The real problems arise when operators try to quantify what’s taking place on their vehicles.

That’s because many transport companies lack the time, staff, or tools to tap into these ‘data warehouses’. Large operators, meanwhile, can afford to pay data analysts to study these metrics and draw up actionable strategies to optimise sales and improve the passenger experience.

But with the Sygnal Dashboard, any coach company can tap into the invaluable onboard analytics gathered from a whole host of in-vehicle processes. It’s only with this data that operators can begin to optimise the travel experience and develop a flexible service that meets the changing needs of today’s commuter.

Identify peak times

Transport operators across the world still struggle to adequately cater to fluctuations in passenger numbers. Of course, not every transport network is unable to anticipate passenger numbers, but until recently, services were largely based on feedback from drivers and, to a lesser extent, passengers. But with the advent of accessible data, companies can now pinpoint how many passengers board their vehicles at specific times.

This data can then be used to direct vehicles to specific routes at key times. Likewise, operators can allocate different capacity vehicles to different routes based on the number of passengers. Analytics also enable operators to map out travel patterns and add new services to underserved areas.

Using onboard analytics to identify peak times

Personalise services

We all use technology to help us navigate the world, but the most regularly used technology is actually one of the least utilised for its data value. The smartphone isn’t just a handy tool for travellers, it’s also a valuable access point for transport operators looking to better understand their customer.

In fact, onboard analytics give operators the power to decipher a lot more than just the number of people on their vehicles. These metrics can reveal, among other things, how many passengers logged on to the WiFi, the most popular sites to browse and what ads passengers are most likely to click on.

Additionally, a company app allows operators to gather valuable data on how many people are boarding their vehicles, and the type of journeys they are making (i.e. daily commute, one-off return journey, day ticket, etc.) With an app, operators can also use real-time data to give users reliable updates on the progress of their bus. That’s handy for passengers waiting on their bus and passengers already onboard who need to know when to disembark.

Of course, there are restrictions on the kind of data you can collect. All information gathered from interactions with your onboard WiFi must be completely anonymised in line with GDPR. Even with these restrictions, however, you can gain real insights to optimise your services.

Study environmental factors

As every transport operator knows, sometimes services are disrupted by factors beyond their control. Of the most significant external influences is the weather. Rain, snow, storms and heatwaves can all have a major impact on vehicle performance and passenger numbers. Incorporating data on weather patterns can help operators direct vehicles more effectively.

An increase in passenger numbers on rainy days, for instance, suggests you may need to provide larger vehicles for busy routes. Likewise, knowing in advance that commuters are willing to walk on particularly sunny days would allow you to redirect services to other routes.

Likewise, weather patterns can affect journey times, so it’s important you take the data behind these when redirecting vehicles and developing new routes.

Using onboard analytics to track impact of weather patterns

Respond to major events

Whether it’s a local festival or a major sporting event, there are some days every operator marks down in their calendar. After all, coaches are the best means of transporting large groups to a single location beyond the reach of rail. Not only does travelling by coach reduce congestion on already crowded roads, but it also enables passengers to relax before arrival. This is particularly important for passengers travelling a long distance, where exhaustion and a lack of knowledge of the roads can increase the risk of accidents.

That’s why many coach companies now offer express travel to and from events. National Express, for instance, offers transport packages to attendees for several UK festivals. For smaller coach companies, local festivals and sporting events offer a great opportunity to establish a recurring relationship with passengers.

In turn, coach companies with onboard WiFi can use the analytics gained from passenger interactions to offer additional services. For instance, if there’s a spike in searches for camping supplies on the way to a festival, you could partner with a local outdoor retailer to offer supplies en-route.

Simultaneously, data allows you to anticipate busy times in advance and capitalise on potential bookings with unique offers. Including an email sign-in to your onboard WiFi gives you the option to follow-up with offers for the next year’s event.

Improve journey times

Passengers are your main source of data, but they’re not the only one. Operators are increasingly turning to data to understand how their vehicles perform, and how they could be optimised to increase efficiency.

Data gathered from your onboard GPS can provide invaluable insights into your journeys. For instance, if you notice a service is regularly delayed, data from the journey history can identify where the interruptions occur. As in-vehicle technologies like GPS become more commonplace, transport operators will also be able to incorporate data from external sources too. Traffic lights, motorways and even other vehicles will be able to communicate with each other to alert drivers to changes in traffic and potential road hazards.

Similarly, engine tracking data can identify where your vehicles have idled. When studied together with dashcam and CCTV footage, operators can identify bottlenecks and reduce fuel consumption.

Woman using onboard technologies to browse bus WiFi

For something that’s become such an integral part of our society, data is still an impenetrable reality for many operators. As a result, of the millions of services run every day across the world, only a small percentage of the potential data is actually captured and analysed. This isn’t simply a loss for the company, it’s a loss for passengers too. The insights hidden in this sea of data can go on to shape new services and streamline operations. With onboard analytics, operators finally have the power to optimise the travel experience with quantifiable insights.

Women using smartphones on a bus

Cost or connection? Modern bus passengers shouldn’t have to choose

By | Coach operator, Feature, Passenger Wifi | No Comments

At the risk of stating the obvious, we live quite the connected existence in 2018. These days, connectivity is deemed as essential an amenity as electricity, running water and gluten-free alternatives at breakfast. Our craving for internet access is intensified when we’re required to remain in the same place with no other means of distraction. Companies unwilling or unable to provide this access are finding more and more that customers will look elsewhere.

For transport companies, this should come as no surprise. Passengers expect onboard WiFi as a standard feature on their journeys. Local bus and coach operators, however, often feel that to provide WiFi will mean an increase in fares. Every onboard amenity, after all, costs money. But there is another way – providing companies have the tools to optimise their connectivity. Thankfully, Sygnal provides more than just onboard WiFi; it also gives operators the means to reduce operational costs and improve overall service.

Enriching the passenger journey

What’s the most important element of a transport service to passengers? It used to be that you could sum up the passenger’s expectation for a transport service in three words: Convenience, comfort and cost. But in the past few years, a new word has crept into the passenger lexicon; connection.

That’s why onboard WiFi is such an essential amenity. Not only do passengers expect it, but they will also actively criticise those companies that don’t provide it. Perhaps even worse than not providing any kind of connectivity, however, is providing subpar WiFi. The fear of providing an intermittent or slow connection (and being pilloried in subsequent reviews) keeps many operators from committing to an onboard WiFi subscription. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sygnal’s onboard WiFi is designed to maintain constant connection wherever your vehicles are. On the rare occasions when there really is no means of connection, Sygnal WiFi caches key web pages to ensure passengers still have the power to browse.

Woman using onboard technologies to browse bus WiFi

Optimising the travel experience

Onboard WiFi can increase convenience for passengers by shortening journey times through intelligent route optimisation. Simultaneously, part of developing a reliable service lies in keeping passengers up-to-date on the latest information about their journey. With onboard WiFi, passengers can track their journey through location apps like Google Maps. Alternatively, you can integrate an in-journey information system to keep passengers completely up-to-date through on-board screens.

With additional options for mobile ticketing, operators and passengers can enjoy a raft of benefits. As an operator, a move to ticketing through digital channels frees you from the cost and inconvenience of paper tickets. Of course, onboard technologies aren’t always about saving money – they’re also vital to improving the travel experience. For passengers, M-ticketing can expedite the boarding process, making journey’s shorter and more efficient. This might not save your coach company money, but it will increase passenger loyalty, which means more return custom.

Using onboard WiFi as a passenger

Cutting costs with connection

Of course, onboard integrations like passenger WiFi, GPS and CCTV incur some additional costs. But connection comes with a range of additional features to reduce company overheads.

Coach companies have a variety of outgoing costs. As a major monthly expenditure, fuel consumption is a major concern for every operator. Engine monitoring captures the raw data behind the behaviour of a vehicle and provides solutions to how this behaviour could be optimised. By studying when and where an engine sits idle, operators can develop procedures to reduce vehicle inertia and optimise journeys.

Likewise, using GPS to monitor the progress of your vehicles on specific routes enables you to better comprehend where coaches are experiencing delays. The data gathered from your GPS can then shape new routes and save your coach company on fuel consumption.

Using onboard WiFi to improve accessibility on transport

WiFi = Additional revenue streams

Onboard WiFi isn’t simply a tool for passengers to pass the time. It’s a direct line through which you can engage with passengers on a deeper personal level (within the bounds of GDPR, of course). Just as social media channels offer personalised promotions through their platforms, you can promote relevant businesses direct to your passengers.

That’s right, your onboard WiFi can also provide an additional revenue source through personalised advertising. The Sygnal Portal allows you to upload multiple ad-types from local businesses. With options to customise ads according to journey, time and transport companies can deliver personalised, locally relevant promotions at the push of a button.

The analytics gained through your Sygnal Portal can also inform ad-pricing and give you additional leverage when sourcing new advertisers. Through these advertising deals, you can offset costs while providing a valuable platform to businesses on a local and national level.

Retrofitting your public transport

Making public transport ‘smarter’ through retrofitting

By | Feature, Retrofitting, Technology, Transport | No Comments

The modern road vehicle, be it a car, motorbike, lorry or bus, is a vastly different animal to one even just twenty years ago. As advances in transport technology gain pace, transport companies are spending thousands just to keep their fleet up to date.

Many transport companies delay updates to their fleet for fear of disrupting service, but refurbs don’t necessarily have to be disruptive. Through intelligent planning and integration, transport companies can bring their fleet into the 21st century without replacing legacy vehicles.

The benefits of vehicle retrofitting

In modern public transport tenders, transport companies with ‘smart vehicles’ are significantly better placed than those with an outdated fleet. Obviously, the type of retrofitting on your vehicles will influence your eligibility for any tenders. Features like Fire Suppression Systems and NOx reduction filters promote your company as responsible and energy-conscious, both of which are prime considerations in any tender bid.

Of course, every transport company has a unique set of requirements that should inform their retrofit process. Simultaneously, features like CCTV and GPS are now seen as a standard requirement on most forms of public and private transport. Their presence can lead to lower insurance premiums and reassure passengers that their safety is a real priority.

Retrofitting your public transport

Retrofitting for the future

GPS

Global positioning technology has come a long way in the past twenty years. Once reserved for exploratory vessels and the aviation industry, road vehicles are integrating GPS to track their journeys.

GPS now plays a vital role in managing performance and maintaining fleets. With a data-led approach to mileage tracking and maintenance schedules, transport companies can reduce the number of breakdowns and increase efficiency.

GPS is also an essential element of route planning and analysis. The data provided by GPS enables transport companies to study new and established routes. Companies can now track journey times, fuel consumption and several other vehicle metrics. These metrics can then be compared to weather patterns and local events to better understand how they impact journey times.

With Sygnal’s onboard WiFi, transport companies can track individual vehicles wherever they go.

CCTV/Dash cams

Onboard video capture technology is fast becoming an essential element for transport companies. Both technologies are relatively cheap to retrofit to most transport types, while digital technology makes recording and managing video data simple.

Video footage can play a decisive role in providing evidence for incidents onboard. CCTV can help resolve thefts, cases of harassment and even physical altercations, as well as acting as a deterrent.

Meanwhile, dash cams can record footage in the event of a crash, a major factor in insurance claims. Not only does this make your fleet less liable to false insurance claims, but it also enables companies to capture and report dangerous driving.

CCTV on bus and coach hire

mTicketing

It can also be difficult to retrofit new technologies when a vehicle has been rented rather than bought, but more and more technologies have been developed that can be fitted on a non-permanent basis. Chief among these is the introduction of mTicketing.

Switching to a mobile ticketing platform eliminates the need for paper tickets, reducing the company’s environmental impact. Simultaneously, mTicketing can streamline the boarding process. This increased reliability can lead to increased passenger numbers and, just as importantly, build brand loyalty for future route bids.

As a technology, mTicketing is more challenging than CCTV or GPS to manage, but the rewards can be substantial. mTicketing limits paper consumption but also provides a direct link between operator and passenger.

IoT

Onboard sensors can turn any mode of transport into a ‘smart vehicle’. These onboard data connectors align your transport with a network of sensors installed across cities, roads, traffic lights and other vehicles. Connecting your vehicles with such a huge network has a myriad of benefits. By collecting real-time data about congestion and roadworks, your fleet can better navigate cities and develop a clearer understanding of where delays are most likely to develop.

This data can work with AI to inform drivers about changing weather patterns and suggest new routes to prevent delays, while data gained from onboard sensors can identify faster, more efficient routes on regular journeys.

Intelligent infrastructure is developing at a rapid rate; by fitting your vehicles with IoT technology, you can ensure your fleet develops in tandem with it.

Using your smartphone on a bus with onboard streaming server

Retrofitting an eco-update

The transport sector is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector (nearly 28.5% of total emissions in 2016). Over 80% of people living in urban areas are regularly exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits. This is an issue that affects everybody. Transport companies large and small have a responsibility to take steps to limit their impact on the environment. When they do, everybody wins.

Government bodies in several countries now offer financial incentives for transport companies willing to take steps to reduce their NOx output. Many public and private tenders now include provisions for more economically friendly vehicles. Not only is it cheaper and more environmentally friendly, it’s also in the interest of companies to integrate onboard eco-technologies.

More public transport networks are choosing to retrofit Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) units to their vehicles to reduce NOx emissions. The SCRs react with ammonia over a catalyst to emit harmless emissions of nitrogen and water. Meanwhile, Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) can reduce particulate matter (PM) from exhaust emissions to improve air quality.

Avoiding disruption in retrofitting

So how do transport companies retrofit their fleet without majorly disrupting their daily services?

Most choose to institute a staggered install approach, retrofitting vehicles across several months after service ends.

Installing numerous technologies in one go can be tempting, but it’s also fraught with potential problems. Not only does it require a lot of time, it makes identifying a new issue more difficult. By retrofitting your vehicles one technology at a time, you can trace track their impact on service and trace subsequent complications back to source.

Retrofitting your public transport

Potential pitfalls

Of course, it’s worth considering how much to invest in ailing vehicles that will probably need replacing within the next few years. If your vehicles are due to be replaced within the next two-three years, retrofitting may not be the best immediate course of action.

Despite this, the growth of non-permanent onboard technology means installation and de-installation can take little to no time. Likewise, even after initial costs, retrofitting can reduce running costs and improve the performance of your vehicles.

Using Hong Kong Octopus card for multimodal transport

Where does coach travel fit in to the multimodal transport model?

By | Feature, Infrastructure, Multimodal transport, Technology | No Comments

Although still in its infancy, multimodal transport ticketing – the integration of multiple modes of transport into one centralised platform – is already finding purchase in the UK transport market. Composite networks bridge the gaps between various, disparate transport types, different towns, cities and even regions.

Of course, multimodal transport has existed in some form for generations – just look at your local park and ride. It’s only the past decade, however, that transport networks have begun to explore the real potential of a truly connected, cross-vehicle approach to transport.

Why go multimodal?

The value of multimodal transport is clear: no one transport can cover every area (at least without incurring extortionate costs). Enabling passengers to change between different means of transport streamlines the journey for everyone and reduces strain on the dwindling resources of urban areas.

Every mode of transport comes with its own distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. Accessibility, space consumption, speed and efficiency vary according to the means of travel. The multimodal model aims to utilise the distinct strengths of specific forms of transportation to provide an integrated travel experience for every passenger. By integrating infrastructure and operational data along with information on routes, schedules, and fares, companies from a range of transport types can develop a seamless network that encourages mass transport and delivers complete connectivity from the first to the final mile.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

The modern traveller

This need for a composite of transport networks is particularly felt in built-up urban areas, where people may have to commute from outside the city on a daily basis. The passenger could still be dropped many miles from their destination, however, and that’s when additional means of transport are needed. According to the study Millennials and Mobility, nearly 70% of people 18 aged to 34 use multiple travel options several times or more per week.

The study, released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), found that while transport types like car-sharing, bike-sharing and walking play a part in the multi-modal network, public transportation is ranked highest – at 54% of respondents – as the best mode to connect to all other modes. Of course, this is largely due to it being one of the most affordable means of transport, another reason multimodal transport will only work if it retains a modest pricing strategy.

The primary reason for this uptick in demand is simple; price. It’s cheaper to utilise a range of transports across the day than rely on one means of transport, even if it’s less convenient.

Another reason for increased use of multiple means of mobility, industry figures argue, is that public transport enables the new generation of tech-first socialisers to utilise onboard technology such as WiFi for socialising, entertainment and even work – whereas transport via private car and taxi are less likely to offer these amenities.

Double decker bus public transport in the UK

Creating a multimodal transport network

Creating a multimodal transport system is a complex, multi-department task that requires the integration of different institutions, networks, stations, user information, and fare payment systems.

For bus and coach companies looking to establish a multimodal transport model, the challenge lies in developing a cohesive service between multiple companies within designated parameters. These could include studying the different zone configurations around a city, then combining these with data on the current road and rail network configurations, as well as the average speeds, passenger numbers and frequencies of these services. From this information, a detailed, flexible mobility model can be drawn up.

For private coach companies, where journeys can be to locations around the world, the solution can be as simple as developing coordinated partnerships with local ride-sharing companies – linking the apps & offering unique deals from drop-off points to take passengers direct to their doors. Integrating the cost of pickup by ride-hailing apps into the overall ticket price can be complex, but that consummate service can lead to increased bookings and better overall passenger satisfaction.

The smartphone generation

Passengers want flexible services that can be customised to suit their needs, and they want it all in one place – on their smartphone. The modern traveller expects service capable of providing the same level of flexibility as the car. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world – and with good reason. This means more reliable networks, capable of providing real-time updates and additional services upon request. Multimodal transport, when designed around a mobile-first approach, can do just this.

Apps that connect together the myriad means of transport will become an indispensable feature to travellers, while mobile technologies that unify ticketing systems under one platform will become even more popular. Millennials now expect onboard WiFi or 3G/4G wherever they go.  When transport companies leverage technology through real-time transit applications, mTicketing and the provision of WiFi and 3G/4G, passengers have the freedom to create their own journeys. In turn, these passengers are more likely to give positive reviews, recommend to a friend and, most importantly, use the service again.

Using your mobile smartphone device on public transport

Environmental impact

75% of traffic congestion is caused by excess traffic. Poor air quality causes 40,000 to 50,000 early deaths in the UK at a cost of roughly £20 billion to the UK economy every year. Simultaneously, traffic congestion in the UK’s largest cities is now 14% worse than it was five years ago. The proliferation of multimodal transport programmes provides a real opportunity to improve air quality in urban areas and enable cities to attain targets in CO2 reduction.

More people using public transport means fewer cars on the road, which results in less congestion and cleaner air in urban areas. Not only this but as more people turn to a multimodal means of travel, the more money can be invested in improving infrastructure and investing in green technologies.

For coach companies, multimodal travel provides an opportunity to develop their eco-credentials. As if reducing your company’s carbon footprint wasn’t enough, these measures can open doors to tax relief schemes that could lower outgoing costs.

In London, the introduction of the Oyster Smart Card (and the subsequent Oyster App) enabled seamless integration across various modes, including metro, buses, light rail, and taxis. The multimodal institutional framework saw 32 million fewer paper tickets distributed within the first two years.

Driving revenues with shared profit

Because multimodal transport requires the coordination of multiple companies, there is a general assumption that overall takings will be lower for each company. However, public tenders can lead to lucrative contracts. Government initiatives for cleaner urban transport can offset initial costs to transport companies and lead to opportunities in other regions.

Of course, all coach companies must first consider how a new contract will affect their bottom line. Thankfully, initial expenditure to develop a centralised, coordinated platform, informed by data and intermodal terminals will pay dividends in the long run.  

The path to improved sales for every transport network involved in a multimodal system lies in developing and enhancing cooperation between the different stakeholders.

In Hong Kong, the introduction of the ‘Octopus Card’ integrated the two primary transport methods – metro and bus – to great success. In fact, the Octopus scheme was so successful, it was extended beyond initial use in public transportation to include payments at car parks, vending machines, convenience stores, pay phones, supermarkets, and schools. Because the Octopus initiative was developed as a joint venture with Hong Kong’s major public transport operators, the operators and infrastructure that support it had real incentive to install the Octopus system.

Using Hong Kong Octopus card for multimodal transport
Image courtesy of Ka890 CC-BY-SA-3.0

New visitors

Perhaps one of the most significant benefactors of a multimodal transport model is the traveller or tourist. Navigating a new city can be a daunting task, particularly when there are various, disparate means of transport, each with their own particular set of routes, pricing and regulations. Combining several key means of transport enables visitors to explore an area using just one ticket. If that ticket can be paid for and downloaded direct to a mobile phone, then it’s even more convenient.

Multimodal networks don’t have to be confined to one particular city, however. Coach companies that operate on a regional, national or even international basis can procure partnerships with local bus companies, taxi firms and bike-sharing initiatives. Through these partnerships, visitors can explore a city using a single ticket, then use the same ticket system to travel to another city entirely. Not only does this increase the likelihood visitors will opt for your coach network over another – it raises the profile of your company and increases the likelihood of developing similar partnerships elsewhere.

In China, over 60% of cities now have some kind of multimodal system in place. The bike-sharing scheme in Hangzhou has allowed locals and visitors alike to travel around the city, reducing congestion and encouraging a healthier last- or first-mile approach to travel.

Legal issues

Anywhere that a service is spread across numerous different companies/regions/municipalities, issues of liability will inevitably arise. The challenge in multimodal transport comes in apportioning blame in the event a customer is not satisfied with the service. After all, should a full refund be forthcoming when only one transport company was to blame?

Public transport networks have, at present, sought to sidestep these issues by instituting a specific network liability rule, whereby any issues with a service are dealt with by the particular transport mode in question. This is just a short-term solution, however. If companies are to provide a truly unified service, they must begin to look at means to tackle these issues. In Latin America, for instance, the elaborately titled Latin American Association for Integrated Transport Systems and Bus Rapid Transit was set up to discuss the challenges of implementing new transit systems. In addition to this, national companies discussed regional strategies to help modernise urban transport through standardised, pan-enterprise coordination.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

As our understanding of the interconnected nature of our modern world develops, we will undoubtedly begin to explore the potential of multimodal transport in more detail. But if multimodal transport networks are to become a common feature in cities, and a solution that includes all modes of transport, both public and private companies need to begin integrating greater data-sharing technologies now. It’s only through a willingness to adapt and include new technologies that transport networks, including coach companies, can hope to confront the growing challenges of our increasingly urbanised world.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

What does smart road technology mean for the future of transport?

By | Feature, Infrastructure, Smart transport, Technology | No Comments

The past decade has seen a huge number of advances in vehicle technology, while technologies for our roads have taken somewhat of a backseat. Congestion in London alone costs £4bn a year in lost productivity; we need technologies now that are capable of streamlining transport and increasing the resilience of our roads.

Thankfully, transport networks, as well as public and private groups, are waking up to the importance of smart road technology in creating a new age of cleaner, faster and more efficient transport.

The smart road technology of today

Smart road technology isn’t exactly a new concept. While the definition of ‘smart technology’ has taken on a new meaning in the past five years, we’ve been integrating different forms of road technology ever since the dawn of the motorcar.

Traffic control measures like speed cameras, automated diversion signals and warning signs for hazardous conditions are standard features on British roads, but even these are evolving as transport authorities gain access to more advanced technologies. With the integration of data from weather reports, vehicles and peak traffic times, roads are becoming more manageable, vehicles reduce their carbon footprint and, most importantly, journeys become safer.

In India, transport authorities have been experimenting with Smartlife poles in areas with high numbers of road accidents. These poles use radar sensors and electromagnetic waves to determine the speed of oncoming traffic. The poles then alert drivers to cars coming from the other direction by ‘honking’. In its initial trial, the technology significantly reduced the number of accidents, and there’s talk of extending the technology to other roads.

By integrating Smartlife poles with the next generation of ‘smart vehicles’, drivers could receive alerts direct to their vehicles and optimise their journeys with minimal disruption.

Smart road technology on long exposure shot highway

Traffic optimisation

Modern urban areas face significant challenges. Congestion, air pollution, inefficient energy consumption and outdated transportation infrastructure all play their part in preventing cities from achieving optimum mobility and sustainability.

Traffic management has been a key feature of urban infrastructure for years, but a new wave of technologies led by the IoT and increased data sharing is breathing new life into city centres.

The aim is ambitious; to create ‘smart cities’ where traffic can be optimised to increase vehicle efficiency and reduce congestion. These networks combine data from vehicles, CCTV and other sources to do everything from changing traffic lights to alerting commuters to bottlenecks and jams so they can choose alternative routes.

Traffic Management as a Service, a project based in the City of Ghent, Belgium, seeks to transform urban traffic control into virtual traffic management services that are smarter and more accessible to the public. The project aims to develop a centralised, cloud-based Traffic Control Centre (TCC). The TCC platform integrates local and global information sources to monitor real-time traffic data for anomalies.

Not only does this enable authorities to access the platform and manage traffic instantly, it allows citizens to register with the system and, by providing their commuting routes and times, receive updates regarding potential obstacles.

Of course, features like updates to suggest alternative routes present an issue for public transport, where vehicles often have to follow a designated journey. That being said, this same technology can be used to free up key urban areas and create more favourable conditions for public transport. Through intelligently prioritising transport options, major transport hubs can look to decrease congestion and improve public transport services.

Using smart road technology to manage traffic jams London
Taxi Traffic – Image courtesy of Garry Knight CC-2.0

Solar powered and wireless charging roads

Of all the futuristic developments in the world of smart road technology, the solar-powered wireless charging road probably sounds the most far-fetched, but it’s also one of the closest to becoming a reality.

Solar Roadways has dedicated the past decade to developing a fully fledged smart highway. Made up of photovoltaic cells and recycled materials, the roads can store huge amounts of solar energy. This energy can then be redistributed to surrounding street lights, used to highlight specific vehicle lanes and even used to melt snow to improve driving conditions.

Although the prohibitive cost of replacing current paved roads means it’s unlikely we’ll be travelling on solar-powered roads any time soon, the technology is already within reach and the savings to countries could be vast.

For the daily commuter, driving along a solar-powered road would be largely similar to the current driving experience, with added safety features like highlighted sections of the road to alert drivers to lane changes and potential hazards ahead. This means safer journeys for everyone and a massive reduction in fuel consumption. What’s not to like?

In the same vein as Solar Roadways, research by the South Korean based R&D university KAIST led to the development of roads capable of wirelessly charging electric vehicles as they travel. The road transfers power directly to a specially designed ‘Online Electric Vehicle’ (OLEV) using electromagnetic induction. While the ‘wireless charging road’ suffers from many of the same issues as the solar road, a model has already been successfully introduced in South Korea to great success. Meanwhile, trials conducted in the UK in 2015 with the aim to increase the variety of electric vehicles taking to the roads were considered a success, so they could become a common sight on motorways as EV’s become more widespread.

The OLEV designed for smart road transport South Korea

Smart infrastructure: A two-way street

Of course, smart infrastructure isn’t just about creating myriad forms of technology, it’s about designing these technologies to work together to create a cohesive, interconnected network. For smart roads to truly work, they must be developed with smart vehicles in mind.

With almost 40 million miles of roadway around the globe, replacing traditional tarmac with digital infrastructure will be a long and arduous task. Simultaneously, with automated transport still in its infancy, it makes sense to develop the two technologies in tandem. After all, for the technologies to truly cooperate, they must respond to each other’s specific requirements.

On the smart roads of the future, inbuilt sensors and feedback loops send updates on real-time conditions to vehicles. These conditions can cover anything from weather mapping to the physical state of the road, transmitted through infrastructure-to-vehicle wireless communication systems.

Additional dynamic features, such as removable magnetic lane markings that work with automated vehicle sensors and retroreflective signs with better readability for automated vehicles are already being introduced across American highways. When developed in conjunction with the new wave of autonomous vehicles, these transport innovations can improve safety and make transport more responsive to the overall needs of local infrastructure.

A Connected Car using smart road technology

The sticking point for smart tech

So, with all these transport innovations within our reach, why are so many figures in the industry so reluctant to embrace the technology? More importantly, what can be done to encourage a more widespread adoption of smart road tech?

It turns out, governments are already considering the answers to these questions. According to research by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), there will be at least 88 fully developed smart cities in the world in the next ten years.

In the UK, the government has committed to a £4 billion investment in smart road technology over the next decade. This will be no easy feat. Ageing infrastructure is a central issue to integrating new technologies into countries such as the UK. Roads and rail networks, some over 200 years old, simply weren’t built for the sheer volume of traffic they’re now witnessing. Installing smart road technology can be highly disruptive, but it’s also vital transport authorities take the opportunity to develop these systems now. Connected vehicles, still in their infancy, are inextricably linked to the smart road. In order to effectively scale both technologies, they must be developed as one.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

Perhaps the biggest issue for local transport authorities is in developing a cohesive but effective transport management strategy. Increased investment and more focus on managing this network in real-time could minimise disruption, but governments shouldn’t shy away from investigating the power of AI.

The sheer manpower required to effectively manage the myriad transport networks of a city like London is staggering, but machine learning and AI could enable the development of a robust, data-informed traffic management strategy.

Public transport vs. ride-sharing in London

How can public transport survive in the ride-sharing generation?

By | Feature, Public Transport, Ride-sharing, Transport | No Comments

After a recent study found ride-hailing apps are leading to increased in congestion in our cities, public transport networks have begun to examine how to get passengers back onboard. The problem is, nobody knows exactly how to respond to the changing needs of the of ride-hailing generation.

First, the obvious truth; as people inject more cash into ride-hailing businesses, less money goes into public transport. In turn, transport fares increase, services are weakened and more people are tempted to move over to ride-sharing. Add in the increased congestion resulting from more cars on the road and public transport becomes slower, more expensive and less reliable. It’s a vicious cycle that has already seen 70 million fewer bus journeys in England in 2017 as compared with the previous year and a 45% increase in private-hire cars on the road in the US.

So what can be done to support mobility in our cities while encouraging a return to public transport? There’s no silver bullet solution, but there are measures that could help redress the balance, providing councils and transport authorities are ready to change.

Using smart road technology to manage traffic jams London

Embrace technology

In this hyper-connected, mobile-first world, travellers no longer want to rely on timetables, frequent stops and space-sharing. The growth of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have fed an appetite for ultimate transport convenience, where you decide the time, location and your passengers.

The past decade has seen a tidal wave of new technologies sweep the transport sector. Of course, this includes ride-hailing apps, but there’s also a vast array of innovations that, when properly harnessed, could revitalise public transport networks for a new generation.

Principal among these new technologies is data. Transport networks are beginning to move toward integrating data into their daily operations, but progress has been slow and sporadic.

“By embracing a more quantified approach to route management, scheduling and fleet-tracking, public transport networks can streamline services, better regulate fuel consumption and enhance the overall passenger experience.”

It’s not only onboard technology that needs a boost, however. Smart traffic signalization – where the timing of traffic lights change based on traffic patterns – has already been trialled in several cities, with Pittsburgh reporting a 30% reduction in congestion as a result. The result? A more reliable service, less fuel wasted and happier passengers all-round.

Calling an Uber over public transport

Integrate and update city transport networks

For many commuters, public transport falls short of their daily travel requirements simply because their journey isn’t adequately covered by one service. That’s why the proliferation of inter-linked services, where one ticket covers multiple forms of transport, is so important.

Three years after the introduction of the Oyster Card in London, for instance, the capital saw a 38% reduction in traffic. In fact, every city that has introduced some kind of ‘Smart Card’ option, has seen an increase in the number of people using public transport, but it still struggles to match the convenience of ride-sharing, with its home-to-destination service and flexible pick-up times.

So what can public transport systems do to stem the flow of commuters to the ride-hailing corporations? Some cities have already made moves to block ride-sharing, such as in the case of Uber in London – although this was due to questions around their corporate practice – while others are looking at means to integrate the two disparate transport technologies together.

“The truth is, private and public transport can complement each other providing public transport can catch up in terms of technology.”

Cities across the UK and US have begun to partner with ride-sharing companies to create ‘on-demand public transport’ in a bid to remain relevant. In Atlanta, GA, for example, the local transport app is linked with the Uber app to allow commuters to hail a ride direct from their end public transit destinations. In Nashville, Tenn., meanwhile, the civic transit agency is working with TransLoc Inc on their own on-demand van service that takes riders crosstown.

The daily commuter needs convenience. Ride-sharing companies tapped into this with their simple, mobile-first approach. For public transport to truly compete, they need to be ready to shift to a similar model. By introducing a mobile app, with timetables, routes and real-time updates, commercial transit networks can position themselves as a relevant, viable means of transport for the masses.

Double decker bus public transport in the UK

Invest more in sustainable transport

Just last month, fifteen of the world’s leading transport and technology companies met to discuss their response to the findings by researchers from the Institute of Transportation at University of California, Davis. The researchers published a paper late last year arguing the use of transportation modes that would reduce air pollution have declined in cities with heavy usage of the ride-sharing apps.

The transportation companies, which included representatives from Uber, Lyft, Didi and Zipcar, signed a list of ‘Shared Mobility Principles’ to “Prioritize people over vehicles, promote equity, transition to a zero-emission future and encourage data sharing.” While these are admirable aspirations, they ignore the role their companies have had in depleting revenues from public transport.

“The only suitable response from the public transport networks is to move to invest in even more sustainable technology for their own vehicles.”

Developing more sustainable means of public transport not only improves the air quality of a city, it also saves transport companies money, which can be invested in improving services. The issue is, however, that sustainable transport initiatives are relatively new and, as a result, costly – an expense few public transport networks outside of London can afford right now.

Instead, companies need to look at ways to integrate eco-technologies that don’t require expensive vehicle overhauls. Managing routes through data to lower fuel consumption and switching to paperless ticketing can reduce expenditure while limiting the environmental impact of the service.

Using your mobile smartphone device on public transport

Beat them at their own game

When they first came on the scene, ride-hailing companies like Uber were touted as a means of reducing congestion in urban areas by reducing the need for personal vehicles. People assumed, as a cheaper and more effective means of mass transit, public transport was in no danger of being dethroned by the likes of Uber and Lyft. We’re now seeing the evidence for how incorrect this assumption was. The economist Justin Wolfers argued that “Uber is wildly unprofitable, [which] suggests that prices will rise once they’ve succeeded at monopolising the industry.”

Others have pointed to partnerships between public transport and TNCs [transportation network companies] as being a one-sided pairing in which the TNC opts only to provide services on the most profitable routes. This is detrimental to public transport because it drains resources that would otherwise be directed to less connected, and less economically advanced areas. Greg Lindsay, Senior Fellow for mobility at the NewCities think tank, argued: “Uber and other TNCs… have always been about disrupting public transport, about privatising the pieces of public transport that they found profitable and leaving the rest to wither.”

“Public transport is still usually the cheapest option, but they also tend to be less accessible.”

So it seems clear – if public transport can’t outdo this new wave of rideshare convenience, it needs to focus on shifting towards a “mobility-as-a-service” model. This could take the form of a monthly transport subscription to gain access to multiple transport modes simultaneously. If cities can offer car-sharing, bike-sharing and public transport as one, they just might be able to build a truly connected network for the masses and tempt commuters back to public transport.

Otherwise, local transport networks and the big ride-sharing companies will have to learn to coordinate their services to work alongside each other, providing there are conditions in place to ensure the TNCs don’t simply cover the same routes as public transport, at the same time. Developing a connected service, where commuters can use both public and private commercial transport according to need, may sound like a pipe dream, but with proper coordination and regulation, it could 

Passengers onboard public transport

Even with all the potential updates and new routes, the majority of public transport networks around the world are chronically underfunded, and if transport authorities want to see fewer cars on our roads, investment must precede anything else. Features like bus lanes can cut down on delays for public transport, but they’re just a stopgap solution to the real problem. Only through integration, diversification and, most importantly, innovation, can public transport hope to ensure its relevance in an ever-more connected world.

Smartphone in travel

How has the smartphone changed the way we travel?

By | Feature, Mobile, Technology, Travel | No Comments

The advent of the smartphone has given the world any number of new innovations. Constant connectivity, new networking opportunities and endless avenues of distraction – the smartphone has changed almost every aspect of our lives, and nowhere is this more apparent than in how we travel.

The world is growing smaller. Cultures can be shared at the click of a button and the smartphone has played a key role, but how else has this window to the world changed the way we explore?

Book as you go

Say goodbye to booking your accommodation and transport months in advance – this is the smartphone era, a time of flexible travel plans, a time of booking on impulse. Unlike just two decades ago, today a change in schedule doesn’t mean losing a deposit or trawling a new city in a desperate bid for rooms.

The advent of high-speed transit Wi-Fi has also given travellers more freedom to choose accommodation and book activities as they travel, rather than months beforehand. In fact, 38% of bookings in 2017 happened the same day or up to two days before the activity, many of them “in-destination”, while consumers are already travelling. As a result, travel plans become more flexible and travellers don’t have to be tied into a rigid schedule.

Perhaps the most notable change to travelling is the freedom our pocket companions provide us with. We now have the power to adapt and improvise on the go – fuelled by access to information that just thirty years ago would have seemed unthinkable.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

Sharing becomes instant

No more phoning your mum on an international calling card from some bus station pay phone, no more sending postcards home only to see them arrive a week after you’ve returned.

The smartphone has empowered everyone to share unique experiences on a global platform. No longer do amateur photographers have to wait for their film to develop, or for access to a computer to upload their new pics. Instead, images can be captured, uploaded and shared in a matter of seconds.

Likewise, emails, social messages and even texts can be sent on the move. Friends can stay up to date on your latest excursions and the anxious parents of first-time travellers can be reassured that their precious progeny is still alive and kicking.

 Using a smartphone to capture sunset while travelling

Information breeds autonomy

In the age of Airbnb and Instagram nomads, there’s a new golden rule to travel: make your own adventure. Travellers no longer want carefully curated tours and hermetically sealed hotel rooms. They want authenticity. They want to be immersed in new cultures, without the ‘safety net’ of local guides or bubble-wrapped tourist-traps. In short, the modern traveller wants a genuine experience. The smartphone has brought this dream to life, giving travellers a means to navigate, explore, translate and engage with locals like never before. The growth of the sharing economy is a testament to this.

The smartphone has put the power back in the hands of the traveller. Connectivity provides a lifeline for those looking to break from the beaten path, paving the way for more adventures and, eventually, a better understanding of different cultures beyond the usual guidebook tropes.

Using a smartphone while travelling on rail network

Navigation made easy

Of course, one of the essential aspects of travel is knowing where you’re going. Navigation is never easy, but the introduction of the smartphone has made finding your way from A to B significantly easier.

With any number of cool apps to help you get around, finding your way through a new city isn’t just easy, it’s actually fun. Citymapper helps you to navigate public transport in a new city, while BackCountry Navigator gives you beautiful offline topographical maps. Still, the crown jewel has to be Google Maps, which comes with just about every feature you could ever need for navigation, including turn-by-turn directions, live traffic updates, info about public transport schedules and options for temporary offline maps.

One of the counterpoints to this endless connectivity is that, with people less likely to get lost, they’re also less likely to stumble upon hidden gems in a new city. While it’s true that the smartphone has made navigation infinitely easier, there’s nothing to stop you from logging off and exploring the old-fashioned way.

Navigating a new city using 4G mobile data

Reviews = informed decisions

With the advent of the internet came the online review. No longer were restaurants subject to scrutiny by just recognised critics; now anyone could have their say on an establishment, for better or worse. With online review websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, travellers can get a taste of a restaurant, hotel or activity before divesting their hard-earned cash.

This is great news for travellers keen to avoid souring their trip with a questionable entree or dubious dessert, but, there are some that argue our reliance on review sites may actually hinder exploration. After all, can you really say you’ve got to the heart of a city until you’ve tried a dodgy dish in a less than salubrious setting?

So while they’re great for getting a sense of a venue, travellers would do well to remember that sometimes it’s better to dive in than test the waters.

Using a mobile device outside to explore a new city

Business becomes universal

The business traveller of thirty years ago faced different challenges than the business traveller of today. For one, liaising with clients or colleagues back home thirty years ago required meeting face-to-face or calling from your hotel.

Today there is a myriad of different solutions to keep in touch, organise and even host meetings with prospective clients and colleagues alike.

There’s no doubt business travel has benefited from the smartphone, particularly when trying to coordinate multiple meetings with different people. The convenience mobile tech brings – of being in contact with people, of being able to access every piece of information in the world at a click – gives the modern business traveller an advantage that could mean the difference between a missed opportunity and a successful negotiation.

Conducting a business meeting through a smartphone

Socialisation takes a backseat

Smartphones don’t come without their share of downsides. With a direct line to friends and family, travellers now have less inclination to engage with strangers and the environment around them – both of which are essential to a true travel experience.

In fact, studies have shown that when placed in a new or daunting social situation, people will reach for their phones as a kind of defence mechanism. It’s an understandable behaviour. After all, it provides a distraction from the situation, but it also acts as a kind of social validation – “I’m talking with friends right now on my phone, so it doesn’t matter if I’m engaging with the people around me” – but this is the antithesis of travel. Of course, there will be times when you feel uncomfortable or out of your depth, but these are the times when it’s most important to take the leap and start a real-world conversation. You never know what it could lead to; a new kind of confidence, a new friend, a new perspective.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

So while the smartphone has had an immeasurable impact on how we travel, it’s important to remember that it’s just a tool to complement your own experiences. As long as you don’t begin to see it as a replacement for genuine interaction, the smartphone can enhance travel and enable you to take more from the world around you.

Passengers sat on public transport

What kind of passenger are you?

By | Feature, Rail, Road, Transport | No Comments

Travelling can be a stressful experience – doubly so when you’re sharing your transport with multiple strangers. Over time, cultures develop their own form of travel etiquette. Sadly, not everyone seems to have got the memo, and a rogue passenger can make a stressful journey that much more trying. So we’ve come up with a comprehensive list of the different kinds of passenger you’ll encounter, and the best ways to deal with them. Of course, if we’ve missed any, feel free to let us know in the comments!

The spreader

Otherwise known as ‘man-spreading’, the passenger will – either deliberately or not – put as much distance between their knees as possible, thus crowding in whichever unlucky soul happens to be sat next to them. It’s not just men that are guilty of over-spreading their boundaries, but it does seem to be a 

When you’re packed into a seat on busy public transport, any incursion on your limited space can feel like a personal attack but remember, often people just don’t realise they’re taking up more space than they’re entitled to. Next time you witness someone extending a limb beyond their own boundaries, try asking them to give you a little space. You’d be surprised how many people respond with courtesy when asked nicely, and it’s a far better option than getting into a passive-aggressive battle for that little bit extra legroom.

Manspreading passenger on public transport

The ‘occasional bather’

One of the greatest things about public transport is the diverse variety of people you meet. While this brings endless opportunity to meet fascinating individuals, it also runs the risk of coming into contact with people with a less than satisfactory approach to personal hygiene.

If you’re unlucky enough to be sat next to one of these people, you’ll likely spend your journey practising the art of breathing only through your mouth, praying they’ll disembark before your lungs collapse and you’re forced to inhale their noisome scent.

Oftentimes, it’s not the passenger themselves but the food they’ve decided to consume in-transit that causes a problem. While most people understand it’s bad etiquette to stuff your face in a confined shared space, it seems some just can’t help themselves.

There’s not much you can do about malodorous co-commuters but, if you’re really desperate, consider bringing a nasal inhaler with you. It won’t totally combat the foul-smelling co-passenger, but it can go some way to offsetting the unpleasant feeling of being sat next to a human dumpster.

Crowded bus at sunset silhouettes

Photo by Ashley Gerlach on Unsplash

The sharer

Thanks to the proliferation of the smartphone, people can conduct conversations in public without ever making a sound. Most journeys today consist of people staring at their tiny screen, utterly absorbed in their personal bubble.

But there are those who don’t want to stay in their own bubble – in fact, they feel like their personal lives are so interesting, everyone else in the surrounding area should share in it. Even when their conversation is about not much of anything, these people are determined to let everyone in on the details.

The only way to deal with these people is to fight fire with fire. Whip out your phone, pretend to make a call and proceed to complain about the blabbering loudmouth you’ve been forced to share space with. They might take the hint and end the call but beware – talk too loudly and you run the risk of becoming the very thing you detest.

Passengers on their smartphones

The seat hoarder

You know the type. They’re usually accompanied by twenty bags of shopping or the entire contents of their home in various containers. But it doesn’t matter if they had one bag or twenty, they would still believe that the volume of their positions entitled them to additional seating.

The seat hoarder will typically have a permanent scowl attached to their face, eyes glued to their phone to avoid catching the disapproving gaze of their fellow passengers.

It’s difficult to say how best to deal with seat-hoarders. The worst offenders are so wrapped up in their entitlement, any effort to procure your own space would probably be futile. Instead, try to sit as close as possible to them and, if you have a pen and paper handy, slip a note into their shopping bags. The note doesn’t have to be mean or threatening, but perhaps a gentle reminder that they’re not the only one in need of a seat on transport. You never know, perhaps all they need is a nudge in the right direction.

Passenger hoarding seats on public transport with bags

The human boombox

So, you’re sat there, just enjoying your journey. Perhaps you’re watching a film, or browsing the internet quietly minding your own business. Then you hear them. Somewhere, the sound of crashing percussion, violent screaming, pounding bass, or a combination of all three, rattles around the carriage, and it’s coming closer.

When they sit down, you see it is not actually some slack-jawed oaf playing their music through the speaker on their phone (although these people deserve to be dragged behind the bus). Instead, it’s someone playing music through earphones at what must sound to them like an explosion in a fireworks factory. Still, it’s a remarkable testament to the sheer durability of the human eardrum.

Dealing with a human boombox can be tricky. For one, they’ll be completely oblivious to any audible attempt to engage with them. Instead, try signing to them to remove their earphones. When they do, mouth words to convince them they’ve given themselves permanent hearing damage.

Man optimising journey looking down aisle of plane

Of course, the passengers detailed here are exceptions to the norm; most people just want to ride their transport without upsetting their fellow passengers. But there are endless varieties of twerps dedicated to upsetting your journey; so who have we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

Increasing accessibility on transport through staff awareness

How can we do more to support accessibility on transport?

By | Accessibility, Feature, Technology, Transport | No Comments

With travel technology rapidly changing the way we get around, it’s never been easier to get around than right now. The growth of the smartphone, ubiquitous connectivity and endless access to data are making travel faster, safer and more convenient. But what about for those who mobility isn’t a given? How easy is it for the differently abled to access the transport we take for granted every day?

In recent years, new technologies have emerged to expressly respond to the needs of disabled passengers. But with the advent of AI and a growing focus on personal technology, there comes a real opportunity to raise the standard of travel for everyone, including those with physical or learning disabilities.

Mobility scooters to increase mobility on transport

Audioguides

Even before the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, public transport companies in the UK took efforts to cater to people with visual impairments. Featuring braille at consistent locations on and around mass transit, installing tactile high-contrast warning surfaces along platform edges and making stop announcements inside and out transit vehicles have all gone some way to making travel safer for blind and partially sighted people.

Now emerging technologies are beginning  to surface that focus on making journeys less challenging and more enjoyable for those with visual impairments. The Transport for Edinburgh mobile app comes with a feature that identifies the stop’s name and the bus services that depart from there when the user is nearby.

Wayfindr is an award-winning organisation aimed at helping the visually impaired independently manoeuvre indoor environments through audio-based navigation. With our increasingly connected environment, the dream that those with visual impairments could one day explore the world without limitations seems that little bit closer to reality.

Vibrating wristbands

The vibrating wristband concept has been touted as a solution for both deaf and blind commuters, but its value as a means of assisting disabled passengers is in no doubt. For those with hearing impairments, taking public transport can be more challenging than you think.

If you don’t know the area, finding when to disembark without a visual indicator can be a stressful experience. While modern buses and trains now regularly feature visual and audio notifications for the next destination, many older models don’t come with either.

That’s why the vibrating wristband could prove to be such a valuable tool. The device vibrates when the wearer approaches their chosen stop, with some designs incorporating a Bluetooth device that links up with the driver’s touchscreen or ticket machine.

Through further development and increased cooperation with transit companies, wristband technology could go on to redefine the travel experience for millions of people.

Wristband technology to increase accessiblity on transport

Audio-visual information

Navigating transport can be a major challenge for anyone. For those with learning difficulties, these challenges can be exacerbated by a difficulty in understanding timetables and fact-sheets.

That’s why Mencap, the UK-based learning disability charity, has produced a series of factsheets aimed at helping those with learning disabilities understand and navigate the public transport system. The fact-sheets come in an easy-read format and cover every aspect of travel, including how to find your nearest transit station; how to request assistance in advance of a journey; entitlement to discounts; and overall accessibility of different transport types.

Outside the hustle and bustle of major cities, audio-visual information on transport is still heavily lacking. Compliance with PSVAR legislation is a requirement, but with rural and suburban public transport facing consistent funding issues, operators often lack the resources to retrofit their vehicles.

Speaking last year at a Lords debate on bus services, Baroness Jane Campbell argued that increased access for disabled passengers providing audio-visual (AV) announcements on buses would open up travel not only to people with visual impairments but also to those such as people with dementia, autism, learning difficulties and mental health conditions.

Onboard bus aisle with audio visual notifications

Smart Apps

Ride-sharing app Uber introduced the UberWAV app for wheelchair users back in 2016, although just like the company, the service has attracted criticism from some. For those looking to use public transport, however, more options are becoming available as developers look to better integrate new technologies with the surrounding environment.

Features like ramps and ‘kneeling vehicles’ now feature as standard for most modern coaches, while tactile paving helps alert people to where a tram or trains’ doors will open, making it easier for the visually impaired to find their carriage.

Apps like the Voice Dream Reader convert text-to-speech, and vice versa, to assist with communication for those with physical and learning challenges.

More developers are waking up to the need for dedicated apps for those with disabilities. With our the near ubiquitous connection that smartphones, roaming data and the IoT bring, we can begin to create a better, safer transport infrastructure for everyone.

Man relying on an app to navigate public transport

Improved staff awareness

Perhaps one of the most important changes transport networks can make to encourage accessibility is in the attitudes of staff. The past two decades have seen a marked improvement in how staff respond to the diverse needs of passengers, but there is still more to do to ensure every passenger is treated with the same level of care.

Lord Ahmad, the (former) Conservative junior transport minister, announced last year that the government was developing guidance on disability equality training. However, the ruling to introduce mandatory training across the bus industry was based on an EU regulation that was due to come into force in 2018, a regulation which could be delayed following the UK’s exit from the EU.

Following the Paralympic Games in 2012, the DfT began to consult with a number of different accessibility and transport groups to introduce more consistent measures across different transports. The results are slowly beginning to take shape. A draft of the Accessibility Action Plan (AAP) released for review was well-received but charity and disability rights campaigners argued the draft could go further, particularly in improving understanding among transport providers and staff to the needs of disabled people.

Whether these recommendations will lead to real change remains to be seen. While the AAP addressed the need for well-trained staff, the lack of consultation with Disabled People’s Organisations on what constitutes a good standard of training led many to see it as a token gesture.

Increasing accessibility on transport through staff awareness

In the UK, legislation on access to transport and facilities for individuals with disabilities was introduced in 1996, with the DfT establishing a comprehensive guideline for the design of accessible transport facilities. But accessibility on transport, particularly outside busy metropolitan cities, still has a long way to go. For citizens with disabilities, technology may provide a piece of the puzzle, but it’s up to everyone to realise the full picture.