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.
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.
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.
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.