Insights 12 April 2019 By: Madeleine Funes

The US Mass Transit Industry Needs Better Apps

The US ground transportation sector is more robust than conventional wisdom typically gives it credit for being. Congressional Research Services, in a March 2018 report, found that ridership nationally has risen about 3% over the past decade. And the American Public Transit Association (APTA) found that in the 18 year period from 1995-2013, public transportation ridership grew 37.2 percent, almost double the amount of the population growth at 20.3 percent. Individual metros, regions and municipalities have seen more recent ridership spikes, including Milwaukee (3.6% YOY increase on the Amtrak Hiawatha line in 2018), San Diego (+200K trips on its Metro Transit System YTD for FY 2019), Boston (MBTA passenger traffic up 20% since 2012) and Austin (+5.4% YOY in December 2018).

But we – and the industry – can’t ignore the Uber in the room. Rideshare companies have upended the US ground transportation sector and dramatically changed customer expectations, especially around convenience, immediacy and mobile technology.

Perhaps most importantly, the rideshare app experience has created new digital expectations among mass transit riders.

Yet many mass transit operators don’t even offer an app. Our survey and report, Modernizing the Passenger Experience in U.S. Ground Transportation found that only 37% of U.S. transit operators make an app available to their riders. And of those that do, only 24% offer intermodal assistance as a feature in their mobile apps.

A finding from part 2 of our report series, Challenges Facing Municipal, Regional and National Transit Agencies, provides a hint as to why; according to our survey, 13% of operators say that implementing mobile technology is their biggest organizational challenge, despite mobile’s inherent flexibility and interoperability with other systems. This response was mostly prominent among national (23%) and mass transit (20%) operators, perhaps reflecting the demand for mobile technology among the widest segments of riders – and echoing operators’ inability to meet that demand.

Not only are many mass transit operators losing out on offering customers rideshare-like conveniences, they’re missing out on the potential synergy created by the rideshare industry. By offering a customer-centric app that incorporates ridesharing to make it easier for customers to get to and from train and bus stations, transit operators can make their own services more convenient to potential riders.

Nearly half of all consumers (45%) now use a ridesharing service, while nearly a third (37%) use it as part of multi-modal trips, and 44% often or always use it with public transit. Among those who use ridesharing as part of a multi-modal journey, about a quarter (24%) use it once a week and one in ten (11%) use it daily. That means ridesharing services are used by 27,595,530 adult Americans every single day. With numbers this large, it is just good sense for transit operators to make every effort to meet these consumers’ mobile and digital expectations.

Three strategies for meeting rider expectations

In today’s omnichannel environment, where travelers have many paths to purchase tickets and manage their multi-modal trips, ground transportation operators’ first priority should be improving their own apps and mobile solutions, however challenging this process may be.

Transit operators should start by asking “how can we make it easier for our customers to book, pay for and manage their journeys directly on a mobile device?”

Here are here three ways that mass transit operators can better meet rider expectations:

  1. Modernize the passenger experience with a mobile-first approach to ticketing and payments by instituting an app.
  2. Meet riders’ needs in real-time across different stages of their journey by including ridesharing capabilities in their app, as well as booking, payment and ticketing options.
  3. Make ground transportation an easier and more attractive option for multi-modal travelers, who are more numerous and travel more frequently than is conventionally assumed, by including a seamless app that allows travelers to book their mass transit travels as well as their ridesharing segments.

Transit operators that embrace this approach will not only make trips easier for their riders, but also begin to solve persistent business challenges, like the high cost of maintaining traditional ticketing and payment systems, and difficulty attracting new riders. And only with these technology solutions will they be able to adequately address the rideshare threat – and turn it into an opportunity.

Is your agency ready to take the first step toward a profitable, high-volume, mobile-first transit experience? Find out in our most recent report, Challenges Facing Municipal, Regional and National Transit Agencies. And for more information about the evolving American attitudes toward ground transportation, and how agencies like yours can adapt, download the first report in our series – Modernizing the Passenger Experience in U.S. Ground Transportation.