In order to increase ridership on public transit in the age of the car, agencies need to be willing to explore a number of different approaches. Some of these tactics may be used on the back end of the operations, such as scheduling and route-setting, some on the customer-facing processes, some on the marketing and communications side, and some on the infrastructure and facilities end. Like many aspects of life and business, there is probably no one magic pill that will cure low ridership, but rather a mix of strategies and tactics that can all work together to boost ridership.Here are 5 suggestions for transit service companies to look into for creatively increasing ridership:
1. There's an app for that: In 2018 and beyond, customers are most likely to have a mobile device with them at all times, if not in their hand most of the time. By offering app-based (or mobile web-based) options to get route information, time schedules, fares, and other details of service, public transit agencies can enable quicker and easier access for potential riders to get their questions answered, and by widely promoting the use of that app or web portal, it can also end up being an effective method of communication with customers. Offering the purchase of fares or ride passes through this app or portal may also help smooth the journey for both new and current riders.
2. Hit your target: Creating audience-specific materials, such as brochures, info sheets, signs, route maps and schedules, and other assets can be more effective than a single one-size-fits-all. Catering some of the marketing and communications materials to shift workers at a factory, for example, or to seniors or students, can allow for a more targeted, and potentially more effective, use of advertising and marketing budgets in order to reach specific groups of riders. Churches, schools, manufacturing hubs, office parks, and other concentrations of people with similar needs are some examples of demographics to focus on.
3. Show and tell: Does the average new rider know where and when the bus will arrive, and when they will get to their stop? Do they know where and when to connect and transfer to another route in order to get to their destination? Having clear and concise guides, and ones that incorporate multiple modes of transportation if applicable, can make it easier for new riders to get on transit the first time, and for current riders to map out any trips they need to take. Paper copies, and clearly posted signage with this information, can be helpful when trying to increase the number of trips and the number of riders on a given route or area.
4. More, more, more: Increasing the frequency of service on a route, so there are more options during peak hours and on high demand routes, or lengthening the operating hours to service more off-peak riders, are two potential scenarios for increasing ridership. Another is to consider adjusting some popular routes so that fewer transfers are necessary, and using that optimized route as a selling point to specific groups or riders. An analysis examining which times of day, week, and year would most benefit from those changes, and the associated costs, may uncover some low hanging fruit for increasing ridership.
5. Ask the riders: Survey current riders to find out what is working the best for them, as well as what could be improved, and then survey potential riders to find out what aspects of public transportation may be keeping them from riding regularly. Doing some market and consumer research can help agencies better understand what drives their customers, and how to attract new ones.
There are quite a few more approaches to increasing public transit ridership that can be explored, such as discounts for off-peak hours or for certain groups of riders, adding WiFi or TV screens, accepting mobile payments and "smart cards," or beautifying hubs, stops, and stations, so each agency should examine their specific operation to see what fits best for their situation.
Take a look at NEXT’s Find My RideTM app which gives users near real time location and arrival time tracking.