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Changing Times. A Bus Service for the 21st Century

bus-timesWe’ve just published our 60th edition of Bus Times. That’s nearly 30 years of Bus Times. The first ever edition was printed in autumn 1987. I know because I was there!

So it got me thinking, that while we have the Brighton Digital Festival going on in the city, does Bus Times still have a place in this hugely technologically advanced world? And what should other technical advances mean for bus travellers?

FROM PAGES OF TIMES TO BITS OF SCHEDULES

I estimate, we’ve printed around four million copies of this 100-plus page publication over the years – and the environmental considerations are reason enough to take stock. Is this how people want to access their travel information these days? Where does it fit in with our website and apps?

Don’t get me wrong – like many other people enthused about buses, I feel nostalgic about But Times – I was involved in its conception, when it was heralded as the only operator-led publication to pull together bus information from various local bus operators. It was even controversial for daring to use the 12-hour clock, to mirror the way people talk, rather than the more transport typical 24-hour clock.

But more and more, we see how printed publications are battling against the growing demands of the digital age. So I ask: Is Bus Times yesterday’s solution?

FROM ONE STOP TO ONE SWIPE

I was also thinking that it is nearly 30 years since the 1 Stop Travel shop opened. The only place in town to go for information both on buses to Brighton and jets to Japan, as we claimed at the time – albeit a coach or rail ticket to London was more likely to meet our customers’ needs than an airline ticket to the Far East!

We prided ourselves on our one-to-one customer service, and still do, but did you know that 62 per cent of customers prefer to use a self-service ticket machine these days, according to the Institute of Customer Service.

Advances in technology are often developed to remove everyday annoyances – those ‘pain points’ created by the friction of a non-seamless transition. The taxi market has seen rapid growth with systems to eliminate the pain points involved in traditional methods of booking a cab.

Self-service ticket machines reduce the pain of queuing, or having to interact with another human being (if you would prefer not to). Contactless payment removes the inconvenience of carrying around and transacting with cash.

However, is all this being achieved at the cost of simply introducing new pains? You will have your own opinions on that.

FROM JOURNEYS TO EXPERIENCES. FROM TRANSACTIONS TO RELATIONSHIPS

Bus services are a social experience, a human experience. And we recognise that there is still a huge need for human interaction – for taking on-bus cash payments for instance.

So, we do still cater for cash, even though it creates a lot of extra work back at the depot, and doesn’t provide a seamless transaction for our drivers. Cash transactions on our buses have reduced to 18 per cent and there will be further reductions over the coming 12 months. But many people still need the cash option.

The very concept of “ticket” itself is changing, as the lines around ticket and payment get increasingly blurred and we will – as on the airlines – ask what we need a ticket for.

Bus Times may see its print run significantly reduced with the introduction of a digital version, but we know some customers still value the feel of paper and smell of ink – it feels real, and they relate to it and value it. And many are simply not able to, or have no desire to, live the digital life. And that’s not an unreasonable choice that should be available to anyone to make.

TECHNOLOGY SHOULD REVEAL NOT REDUCE HUMANITY 

And so I’m convinced that whatever the future holds, and however much we embrace the digital world, the “human touch” will remain extremely important. Arguably it will become more important than ever. As technology simplifies, reduces and even removes the ticket purchase interaction, it reveals the valuable human relationship between customer and driver.

Perhaps, bizarrely, digital can add a dash of humanity. Take the “Hello Lamp Post” digital project currently in the city. It’s humanising everyday inanimate objects, including some of our buses and bus stops!

Autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, but our drivers can provide that all important human interaction needed to deliver a human and social experience that our customers have come to expect.

I’m really excited about what new technology can offer people moving about the city. How it can enhance their transport experience with easier payment systems, and provide a depth and richness to the information flows that will make their journey choices and experiences so much greater.

But we need to remain mindful that technology needs to serve humans and not the other way around. We are going to need to work out what we value most.

Will we choose to swap delivery vans clogging up our streets for drones clogging up the skies?

When people can stop streams of autonomous vehicles simply by stepping off the pavement, will we choose a new set of draconian pedestrian laws so the vehicles can keep moving?

As we increasingly resolve old pains in transportation/mobility with technology, we will need to keep our eyes open, at every level, to the new pains we may create.

What do you think?

I’d be interested to hear your views, or any stories you wish to share, about the world of bus travel today @citybusnews