Skip to main content

A passenger-first approach to transit

As transit operators struggle with post COVID-19 revenue loss, it’s more important than ever for municipalities to find ways to engage and retain passengers.

Woman sitting on bench while on her phone waiting at a bus ternimal.

There are few things more frustrating for riders than waiting at a transit stop with no idea when the next bus will appear. Though schedules are typically posted, factors such as weather, traffic and even passenger demand can greatly affect arrival times. This uncertainty is a fundamental flaw for public transportation and one that has long threatened its success and viability–and it’s getting worse.

Of course, the biggest change to transit came with COVID-19, which completely altered normal commuting practices. A decline in ridership was seen Canada-wide as revenue plummeted by over $180M in a single month at the height of the pandemic in April 2020. Even now, transit income and passenger amounts are barely half of what was standard in early 2020. This is particularly troubling as many operators rely heavily on rider revenue like the TTC, Toronto’s transit system, where passenger fares make up more than 60% of the budget.

The rise of rideshare: How much revenue is at stake?

Even as public places re-open across the country, transit continues to struggle to manage costs and contend with changing passenger expectations. Increasingly, even if potential passengers are travelling throughout their city, they’re opting for a rideshare service instead of a public bus. In a single year, the TTC lost out on $74M to Uber and Lyft despite the fact that the minimum cost of an Uber starts at $7, which is often twice the total price of a transit fare.

Think the problem is just bus delays? Think again

It is easy for critics to blame decreasing ridership rates on vehicle delays or slow ride times. And while public transport can be unpredictable, it is subject to the same uncertainty as cars on the road, including rideshare and delivery services. The major difference? Apps keep their passengers updated every step of the way with real-time postings on arrivals, while most bus stops lack any data, causing passenger frustration whether the delay is two minutes or 20.  

Indeed, the biggest shift for customers of any industry is their level of expectation. With increased amounts of available data, consumers are used to up-to-the-minute information and personalization with every aspect of their transactions.

How transit operators can meet higher expectations with shrinking budgets

It is a difficult time for transit operators in any municipality. While budgets were always stretched, the continued loss of revenue from COVID-19 makes any type of investment more challenging than ever. At the same time, there is immense pressure to increase ridership as the current model is becoming unsustainable, even with additional government funding.

Like any city service, patrons must be engaged with transit in order to select it over a growing number of options. This doesn’t mean that every operator must suddenly invest significant funds into creating a cutting-edge app or revamp their entire operation. Small changes can have a big impact.

Real-time data: Putting passengers in control of their journey

BusPas, a Montreal-based development company, is at the forefront of simple, easy and substantial innovations for transit. Much of their services are rooted in providing passengers with updated data. Through a connected bus stop, riders can view not only wait times, but also the occupancy rate of the next vehicle as well as number of other patrons at the stop. This dynamic information is also relayed to the transit agency, to help optimize operations without needing manual surveys.

What’s next for public transit?

Accessible and convenient public transit is a priority for all levels of government. While there is a commitment to supporting municipalities as they struggle with lower levels of revenue, there is also an expectation that operators will use funding towards initiatives that improve and modernize their city’s transit and help encourage citizens to choose it over cars. It’s time to reengage passengers, before transit loses them for good.

For more information on solutions for public transit, visit our Fleet Management hub. To read more on the role of smart technology in mass transit, access our interview with Transit Adviser Pierre Bourbonnière.