It is believed that sound public transportation service signifies a progressive economy. While some of us drive personal automobiles, others largely rely on the use of public transport as a means of travel. Helping commuters, students, senior citizens, persons with disabilities or foreigners move conveniently at fairly reasonable fares, public transportation has a number of upsides to offer. Jason Cao, a transport policy scholar at the University of Minnesota conducted a research concluding that a well-planned public transportation may mean more than just a simple ride. Approaching the system with a mindset of serving the customers, can not only enhance the use of public transportation system but also add a positive emotional force to the overall commuter experience. In public transit industry, offering superior customer experiences is largely dependent on implementing profound mobility management practices.
Each one of us has his own personal experience with the use of public transportation and the fact cannot be denied that the usually looked down upon means of travelling is mostly reminisced to be an appalling experience that one avoids to have. Undergoing hell lots of hassle, overcrowding, mismanagement and rowdiness while using public transportation, adds to the feeling of resentment towards it, making the customer cry out to the authorities to contrive rigorous mobility management strategies. Realizing how general public’s routine life is significantly dependent on this facility and strengthening it would contribute to individual as well as national economy’s progression, governments need to take this matter a lot more seriously. Just like the Thatcher government, who submitted to a radical infrastructural shift of deregulating inter-city coach services throughout the country. Revolutionizing the way buses operated in the U.K., this approach had one and only conviction behind the purpose – public convenience. Now, UK witnesses 5.2 billion yearly bus travelers which amount to only two-third of all the other public-transport commuters. In the UAE, a recent regularization approved by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council allows public transportation users free parking for 24 hours in metro parking plazas while motorists are charged Dh 10 for 5 hours. Such management actions, that pay attention to factors escalating public transit facilitation, give way to positive customer experiences and hence lead to increased tendency of public using this service for many years to come.
Where progressive economies found a way out, there are some parts of the world still struggling with the issue, giving way to the question, ‘Why is that the most convenient and relatively cheaper means of travel not given enough attention to offer more urbane and civilized experience to a common man so that he can travel with least stress?’
The main reason, probably, is that where huge investments are made in chalking out grand public transit infrastructures, the customer service factor is sometimes missing, ignored or paid less attention to. For example, no matter how many information boards a subway has, if written in a foreign language, there would be hardly anyone able to read or comprehend the information unless accompanied by the internationally accepted language, English. Hence, economies need to think primarily from customers’ perspective to procure maximum benefits from the service being offered and to shape the customers’ long-term transportation choices. The same proclamation holds ground when customers’ concerns of overcrowding, delays and long waits at stops, operating staff’s demeanor, fare elasticity or downtime are not addressed properly. According to Rachel Kyte, the Vice-President of Sustainable Development World Bank, ‘A good public transport system must be easy and convenient to use, fast, safe, clean and affordable’. The statement says it all.
Just like the rest of the world, Dubai is no stranger to the use of public transportation. UAE’s brash metropolis has taken huge strides, from camels – the old-school travelling means to the Dubai Metro – the world’s longest automated transit network. Straddling with a population that parades huge disparity among classes, the UAE’s governing bodies have been rebounding with general public’s mobility issues. Only recently, Dubai’s previously notorious public transportation system witnessed dramatic increase, when the growth figures climbed from last year’s 6% to 12% this year. The launch of the integrated public transport system, the Dubai Metro and modern public buses, armor-plated the existing mobility handling practices which resulted in an increased usage of the public transportation. Although travelling by car is the main choice of transport for the majority of UAE’s local residents, the place offers a reasonable choice of public transport to commuters, like taxis, public buses, Etihad Rail, Abu Dhabi Metro, Abu Dhabi Light Rail, Al Sufouh Tramway and now the Dubai Metro. According to a senior official from the UAE’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), the number of people relying on UAE public transport daily has mounted to 165,527,687 users for the first half of this year. Another plan in the pipeline, for laying down a major monorail network all across the UAE, is anticipated to change the face of the city’s transport system for good.
Public transportation has certainly made life easier. There is plenty to choose from — buses, cabs, trams, trains, subways, ferries, you name it! From a user’s perspective, any transit system’s mobility management practices can be weighed in terms of reliability, safety, reasonable fares, good coverage of routes and cleanliness. The transit systems of Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Korea, France and New York have been excelling in implementing strong mobility management strategies and this ranks them among the economies with best public transportation systems in the world. Fred Camino, at the inauguration of The Transit Tourist series posted the following comment on his trip to London, ‘The tourist experience on transit is a unique but important one. Tourists generally have different needs than the daily commuter, but my feeling is that when a tourist’s needs are met a transit system is doing a good job at two things: providing an easy to use system that also serves many destinations. In other words, if a system works for an outsider, it’s probably going to work for local residents as well’. A New Yorker, after comparing his personal experience with Fred’s, said, ‘While Fred had a particularly positive experience in this regard in London, I can’t say I had much interaction with customer service. The busier stations tended to have station attendants on hand, whereas the smallest ones often didn’t even have a ticket vending machine — a real pain if your MetroCard runs out of prepaid funds. I will say that when I needed to lug my suitcase through a service gate en route to JFK, an attendant was on hand to buzz me through — without the horrible alarm going off.’
Such customer reviews leave us in quandary yet again, when we realize that even countries with the most sophisticated public transportation are lagging somewhere in offering a gratifying customer experience.
Having insufficient resources to own a personal automobile, commuters in developing economies – particularly South Asians, frequently resort to travelling while slinging by the bus doors in the desperate urge to move from one place to the other – this serves as a perfect example of awful management of public mobility. Due to lack of government attention, deficiency of funds and poor management, public transit customer experience in this part of the world is everything but pleasant.
Listed below is an account of real life customer experiences from various cultures and regions, underscoring the significance of implementing mobility management practices by the authorities and the resulting experiences that greatly impact commuters’ future choices.
Demanding job nature and lengthy work hours – certainly public dealings take the most out of you but there is absolutely no excuse for being rude to a customer. A certain level of courtesy is always expected from public transport staff that contributes to a positive customer experience. Experiencing impolite behavior from a bus driver, railway worker, ticket collector or any other public transport employee, and not having someone address the issue, can leave commuters agonized about the fact that they will have no other choice than to live with that. This agony is then unconsciously piled up and impacts other life activities negatively.
According to Tripadvisor website research, tourists ranked France as a place with least friendly locals, rudest taxi drivers and the most hostile and aggressive waiters. Lately French have admitted their rudeness as Paris Metro bosses launched poster campaigns of hilarious anti-social animals encouraging ‘la civilité’. The same can be said of UAE drivers and staff. When it comes to getting around the UAE, taxis are considered the best option for tourists to experience everything the city has to offer. However, a few days ago, a group of Canadian tourists ranted about their nightmarish experience when the cab driver not only initially refused to drive but also spoke rudely and took a longer route just to charge them higher. Having read the story about Dubai’s ‘rude’ cabbies, a visitor posted a positive experience, highlighting the fact that Dubai taxi HQ offer full customer support before and after the taxi ride, ‘I was so shocked by everything going so smoothly and the great service that I think I might have thanked them too profusely’.
The experiences shared bring us to the conclusion that staff and its attitude towards customers fundamentally affects and directs their future choices. Most parts of the world already have fully automated networks running through their cities, hence minimizing the off-putting factor of running into a rude employee. Now, with the introduction of Dubai Metro, UAE is also headed towards offering the international level of customer experiences.
One of the main reasons behind commuters giving up on public transit is excessive delays. Any delay caused by the transit agencies’ negligence in adapting to strict time constraints is likely to anger the passengers. It has been observed that transit users react pugnaciously to fickle service, which is shaped after their personal experiences on buses, trains or other means of public transportation.
Andre Carrel, Anne Halvorsen and Professor Joan L. Walker researched on San Francisco’s Muni transit system and found out, ‘The most significant negative experiences that drove a reduction in transit use were delays perceived to be the fault of the transit agency, long waits at transfer points, and being prevented from boarding due to crowding.’ Nicholas Watson, Director of Transport and Logistics division at Naseba said that the Dubai government must do more to encourage Emiratis to use the Dubai metro. ‘If walking is not for you, you might want to take a bus but the bus services here are really limited and even though there is a timetable for the bus timings, my experience is that they are never accurate or on time’, comments a Dubai resident.
The pervasive phenomenon can be dealt with after taking up stringent measures for mobility management, for example, passengers can be served best if the headway time is adequately managed and monitored. Similarly base periods, deadheads, kiss & ride, layover and dwell timings can also be controlled to ensure superior level of commuting.
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