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Imagining the Future of Public Transit

It always seems impossible until it is done.

Nelson Mandela


Hot off the press, here is an excerpt of a Customer Experience chapter I wrote for The New Future of Public Transportation.


Over the last few years, dozens of North American transit agencies have launched Customer Experience (CX) programs to systematically focus on customer needs and make customer centricity ubiquitous in internal processes, procedures, and culture. What improvements can these new CX programs deliver to transit riders and employees? Read on to glimpse into the future.

 

To build a better tomorrow, we must first imagine it. So let us go for a ride with future transit “guests” Veronica and Jim, and transit team members Chai, Cass, and Tiana to imagine what transit customer experience and employee experience might look like in the years ahead.

 

Veronica

I awaken to the sound of music pumped into my bedroom, and I roll out of bed to brush my teeth. My audio system shifts from music to news highlights and weather. It is going to be a chilly Friday, so I bundle up with an extra sweater and head to the kitchen. My audio system reminds me to step out of the door by 7:15 to catch the bus, which is running on time, and since today is Earth Day, it thanks me for doing my part to save the planet. I appreciate that!


photo of Veronica
 Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock.com

It is just about time to go when my phone buzzes. It is a text message from Metro—my bus hit some traffic—so I have time to go back to my twin daughters’ bedroom and give them another hug before leaving the house. Then I eat my yogurt, pop in my earbuds, and head out the door. While I walk to the bus stop, my earbuds briefly pause my tunes and let me know the new ETA for my bus and assure me I will get to the stop on time at my current pace.

 

In fact, I arrive at the bus stop a few minutes early and enjoy the comfortable, shaded seating and countdown clock—a big step up from ten years ago when the stop had only a bare pole. I relax for a few minutes and think of recipes for my daughters’ dinner. I do not need to worry about missing my bus because my bus shelter’s perimeter LEDs always start flashing when the bus is 30 seconds away, and also my earbuds tell me “V - let’s go! This is

your bus.”

 

Sure enough the LEDs and earbuds do their thing, I board the bus, and pick a seat by the window to warm up in the morning sun. My regular driver Chai greets me with a big smile and his signature “how’s life treating you, my friend?” then I settle down into one of the priority seats on account of my bad knee.

 

The bus is almost never late, and Metro always lets me know what’s going on. Last Monday was one of those rare times when the bus was late, and my earbuds cut in to let me know that a taxi would arrive in three minutes to pick me up and take me straight to work. That got me to work 15 minutes early, enough time to call Mom to check on her and have a few laughs before starting my housekeeper shift at the hotel. Thank you Metro for caring about me!

 

As usual, it’s quiet on the bus today—clean and safe, with plentiful, comfortable seating—what a difference from ten years ago when the bus was crowded and always had a foul smell. Service attendants now clean the buses at the end of each trip so the buses

are not trashy like they were before.

 

My air pods serenade me with my favorite tunes and let me know that my driverless, electric ePod is running on time and will meet me right after I step off the bus for the last mile to the hotel. All very smooth…

 

Chai

I’ve been a bus operator for ten years, and I love it. I get to drive around the city and see different neighborhoods. I also get to meet a lot of interesting people.


picture of Chai welcoming passengers on board
Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

Today, I had a group of Tunisian tourists heading to the natural science museum. They were a chatty bunch, laughing the whole time. Pretty soon I noticed other passengers laughing along with them. It was fun!

 

Later on, I drove a woman to the hospital. She did not say much, but I could tell she was in pain. I helped her off the bus, and she thanked me.

 

I am glad that I can make a difference in people’s lives, and I am proud to be a bus operator. Our new CEO really cares about us, and we have rallied behind her call to “walk in the customers’ shoes.” It is such a simple concept, but it gets us all on the same page, from top leaders to bus operators like me. Every time a customer tells me about a problem, I ask questions and try to see it from their point of view just like we practiced in refresher training. And management backs me up when I make minor adjustments to help people out. Like last night, a woman told me that she was afraid of the guys who hang out in front of the liquor store where she gets off the bus at 1:00 a.m., so I let her off in a safer location. The woman thanked me and looked relieved….

 

Jim

It’s Friday, and I am excited to go out with my boyfriend, Jorge. We plan to hit a museum that just opened up and then go out for fine dining and to a dance club afterwards. I have been looking forward to this all week, so I pick up my phone and tell my AI Assistant what we have in mind. My AI Assistant uses artificial intelligence to create our itinerary, quotes me a flat $5 rate, and asks if it can serve as our transport concierge for the evening. I say

yes! This is half the price I used to pay due to new policies that recognize public transit as an affordable right that everyone should be able to enjoy. And the flat rate is simpler than the complicated transfer fares we used to have before!


photo of Jim and Jorge
Cast Of Thousands/Shutterstock.com

Jorge and I arrive early at the train station and stop at the café for a cappuccino. While we drink our coffee, we enjoy a busker performing a reggae version of “Stairway to Heaven” and watch the ever-changing shadows cast by a metal sculpture. The shadows

remind us of our Mexico trip last March to Chichen Itza, where we watched the snake shadow creep across the ancient Mayan pyramid!

 

The PA system announces that our train will arrive in two minutes, and the LED screen pulsates to catch our attention, so we head down to the platform right on time to step on the train. A transit ambassador named Cass with a bright yellow polo shirt welcomes us on board and offers us a Java card to redeem for a free cappuccino next time we ride. What a pleasant surprise!

 

Cass

I enjoyed working as a Metro bus cleaner for four years, but now I find fulfillment as a transit ambassador instead. I get to help our guests by answering questions and giving directions, and I love connecting with people and making their day a little easier. I’m proud to work for a transit agency that cares about its customers. And I am grateful that Metro cared enough about me to give me this promotion!


photo of Cass
Tulenkov/Shutterstock.com

Today, I was helping a woman who was lost. She was trying to get from the train to a bus stop, but she didn’t know how to get there. I showed her on a map, and I even walked her there. She was so grateful for my help.

 

I also encountered a homeless veteran named Leo who was riding the trains to stay safe and warm. I listen to Leo’s story, then walk him over to a café, and use my “Metro Helping Hand” card to buy him warm coffee and a breakfast burrito. The food helps Leo relax, and he agrees to come to the wrap-around service center for a shower and housing assistance. I ask my AI Assistant to make the necessary arrangements, and I get an immediate reply saying that a van from the service center will pick us up in six minutes. I ask Leo about his family while we wait, and find out that he grew up in St Louis, just like me, and we even went to the same high school!


Tiana

I work as a Metro operations supervisor and make sure that our service is on time and safe. It’s also my job to coach employees and help them practice walking in the customers’ shoes. I check in with dozens of team members a day to see how they are doing and end each conversation by asking them to share a story about walking in the customers’ shoes. I hear such incredible, inspiring experiences. For example, a transit ambassador named Cass tells me how she reunited an autistic boy with his grandparents after they became separated yesterday. Cass told me that she imagined what it must be like for the boy to become lost and channeled her empathy to quickly activate the SOS network and locate the grandparents.

photo of Tiana
PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Shutterstock.com

Our big focus this year is to build ridership—with help from federal funding that rescued transit from a downward spiral of fare increases and service cuts. The federal funding also brought reforms that have really helped us: waivers on excessive regulation that allows us to speed up transit improvements, portable pension plans that help transit families move around, and relaxation of work rules to allow “incidental work” so team members can pitch in to serve the customer as long as it is a small part of the job and has minimal impact on the work of other employees.

 

The federal funds also set aside up to 5% of funds to award performance bonuses to all employees based on independently verified key experience indicators (KEIs). Every member of our Metro team earned an extra $3,000 just in the first year by exceeding goals for on-time performance, ridership, and customer ratings of safety and security. I used half to buy really special holiday presents for my three boys and deposited the rest in my retirement account. It’s amazing how everyone comes together to try to earn these bonuses!


I hope you have enjoyed this journey into the future! The purpose of these short vignettes is to illustrate how a systematic and continual focus on customer needs can drive dramatic improvements to transit customer experiences..... To read the rest of this chapter as well as chapters from 29 other contributing authors, get a copy of The New Future of Public Transportation, which reached #1 on Amazon's list of top sellers for Mass Transit.





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