How to Keep the Train Moving in the Ride-Sharing Era
For decades, public transportation has helped America’s largest metropolitan areas thrive by helping millions of commuters get to and from work, home and play. Public transit options encourage economic development in surrounding areas by providing jobs, reducing road congestion, travel times, air pollution and oil consumption.
But ride-sharing is cutting into public transit ridership nationwide, and revenue is dropping as a result.
As the agency of record for Ventra, the Chicago area’s innovative open-fare payment system, we’ve supported our local transit agencies (CTA, Metra and Pace in partnership with Cubic Transportation Systems) as they move more than 4 million daily commuters within the nation’s second largest public transportation system. The Ventra system was the first-of-its-kind in the U.S. and set the standard for the future of public transit. And right now, New York and Boston are working to debut similar systems in an effort to capture lost revenue, analyze data and boost ridership.
After years of experience in the transportation sector, we’ve gained valuable insights into communication needs and long-term plans to stay competitive in a crowded marketplace. Here’s what we learned.
Customers have high expectations today. To retain and attract riders, it’s important to continually improve transit systems and provide new products and services. In 2013, CTA, Pace and Metra jointly launched Ventra to provide riders a more convenient way to purchase, manage and use public transit. To battle road congestion and speed up commutes, Pace launched the Bus on the Shoulder program and CTA rolled out Bus Rapid Transit, in the form of Loop Link. The agencies collectively launched the Ventra App in 2015, the first truly regional application in the U.S., making mobile payments on Metra possible and account management easier for all. Later that year, CTA also offered 4G LTE internet within their subways and Metra quickly followed suit. Today, each agency is continuously working on station redevelopments, expanded service options and partnerships with local alternative transportation, like Divvy bikes—to build the public transit of tomorrow.
Secure New Revenue Streams
With ridership on the decline, it has been imperative to secure additional revenue streams. Transit agencies across the nation are forming relationships with surrounding businesses and local organizations to determine the pain points they can ease with new transit products and solutions. From introducing new routes to replace costly private shuttles in highly trafficked areas, to combining employee IDs and transit cards, to marketing employee commuter benefits products—transit systems need to innovate.
Find Your Champions
Maintaining aging public transit systems/equipment and making system-wide improvements costs money—lots of it. It’s important for transit agencies to partner for the greater good of the region and identify their champions in local government to help lobby for necessary funding, while finding new ways to secure revenue as federal dollars dry up. Like-minded organizations and technology leaders bring system enhancements, like virtual cards, rewards programs and more to the marketplace. Here at Grisko, we depend on both sides of our agency, combining public affairs with great strategy, branding and marketing to help transportation agencies overcome big challenges.
Get the Message Out
Finally, as customer improvements debut, don’t mess with riders on their daily commutes—keep them informed. Chicago’s ridership is demographically and economically diverse. We’ve learned that one size doesn’t fit all. It’s important to identify what’s relevant and tailor the conversation, campaigns and media channels for maximum impact among target audiences—ensuring you’re in the right place at the right time with the right message. Communications extends internally, with well-informed and trained teams—from communications (hello social media) to customer service and front-line employees. They are your best offense when customer questions, technical difficulties or unforeseen issues arise.
The transition to a new fare system, system-wide upgrades and redevelopments, and forming relationships that matter can be a large task. Have the right strategic partners, industry experts and an experienced communications team to help you navigate the new terrain.