Marketing, Information and AVL
Providing information to customers is an oft-neglected but crucial aspect of providing high-quality transit service. One aspect is to provide information that will attract additional ridership to new or improved service (see discussion of Marketing below). Equally important is informing riders about service characteristics: routes, hours of service, and frequency.
A passenger arriving at a stop should be able to find how to get where she is going and know how long of a wait to expect. Therefore stops should provide:
- A stop name.
- Route names and destinations for all routes serving the stop.
- Span of service and frequency of service.
- Service schedule for low-frequency routes.
- A system map.
For example, the sign at right, posted at an Orlando Superstop, shows route maps and schedules for all routes serving that stop. For low-frequency services it is important to show schedules so that passengers can time their arrivals. Of course it is better to provide this information before a passenger arrives at the stop. Ottawa provides a telephone number for each bus stop which can be dialed to get schedule information for routes serving that stop. Both schedule and real-time information can be disseminated through a variety of other media, such as pagers, cable TV, the world wide web, and kiosks.
Information can be provided on board the vehicle, too. Schematic route maps, combined with stop announcements, can assist passengers in knowing when to get off. Stop announcements can be provided automatically if combined with an automatic vehicle location system.
Although schedule information is useful, real-time information is extremely valuable to transit riders. Such information requires the deployment of an automatic vehicle location (AVL) system to track bus locations. The AVL data can be converted into bus arrival times which can they be displayed at bus stops, on kiosks, or transmitted over information networks. Passengers benefit because (1) if there is sufficient time, they may decide to leave the bus stop and return closer to the arrival time of their bus and (2) even if they decide to wait, knowing when the bus will arrive reduces the anxiety associated with waiting.
Other Uses of AVL
AVL systems can also be used to respond more quickly to emergencies, to re-route buses when there are obstructions, or to more closely manage service so as to preserve headways and reduce bus bunching. Because the cost of AVL systems has been dropping rapidly, more and more transit operators have installed or are planning to install them. Transit agencies are only just beginning, however, to take advantage of the possibilities of using AVL to provide significantly more reliable service and to provide accurate information to the transit rider.
Marketing and Public Image
Bus operations in mixed traffic in many U.S. cities have an image problem. A BRT system needs to establish an improved, and potentially separate, identity from current bus operations to maximize its potential to attract additional riders. In effect, it needs to establish itself as a new and distinct transit mode. The two major, visible components are the vehicles and the stops or stations. Both should have a common color scheme and logo. Stations, in particular, need to have highly visible identification elements. These need to combine interesting architectural and aesthetic statements that complement their site location with high visibility to draw in patronage (by foot or other access mode) and signal where the access point is to the BRT system.
An essential ingredient of a BRT strategy is marketing. It is often useful to create a new identity by establishing a brand and a theme. BRT projects that involve a specific route or group of routes can benefit from a marketing name such as Metro Rapid Bus, CityExpress!, the Silver Line, or Best Bus Program. A theme can be established by selecting a logo and color scheme which is uniformly applied to vehicles, stops, web sites, and print materials.
The marketing campaign can emphasize the new features of the service, such as faster travel time, real-time information, new vehicle designs, or easier fare payment systems. Another option is to create tie-ins with businesses along the route, such as giving out coupons to passengers.