Can first class multi-modal transport networks compete with the ‘car effect’?

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In order to increase ridership on public transport, many operators continue to address the challenge of drawing new customers out of cars and onto public transport. We measure and adapt processes based on the satisfaction levels of our current customers, but what about those who don’t already use public transport?

What are the barriers for this group and how can we remove those barriers?

Cars are seen as more practical and convenient

The answer may lie in integrating shared modes into a city. Research shows that shared modes, alongside traditional public transport, can facilitate a move away from car ownership. Combined with public transport, offering on-demand shared modes for short trips, especially during times when traditional public transport is unavailable, reduces the need to drive a private vehicle. Many cities now have the option of multi-modal shared services; including ride-sharing, car-sharing and bike-sharing. With all transport needs covered and shared services that are not restricted to routes and timetables, the practicality and convenience barrier can be removed.

The cost of using public transport for every journey is currently higher than the cost of using a car

While many cities now offer convenient transport options, cost can still pose a barrier. For the most part, daily commuter trips via public transport are cheaper than driving a car. Those who have opted for public transport over owning a car that they don’t use regularly have found that using a multi-modal transport network is more cost effective than car ownership.

On the other hand, research shows that car ownership is still cheaper than using public transport for all transport needs. However, as shared electric cars and driverless taxis enter the market, the average trip cost of these modes and the effect on car sales could see the tables turn. As car sales drop, and car prices increase to compensate for this, natural market evolution will make full multi-modal transport network use, the more financially viable option.

People are emotionally and socially attached to their cars

Arguably the hardest market segment to shift is those who continue to use private vehicles because of how they identify on a social level. We are a society where getting a driver’s license and your first car is a key life milestone – the day we all vow to never catch public transport again because we have the freedom of our own wheels. People form emotional attachments to their cars from this point forward.

And so, many car drivers will use their car for every trip, including the daily commute, regardless of whether or not it makes financial or practical sense. Even an hour long traffic jam will not take away the sense of freedom and status that they’re willing to pay a premium to preserve.

What will get drivers out of their cars?

Transport authorities and private mode operators are now seeing the benefit of working together rather than competing against each other. The big picture of a multi-modal transport network model is of an urban environment where the majority of trips can be catered for without the need for a private vehicle. Daily commutes are covered by traditional public transport modes. A combination of shared modes and alternatives like scooters, bikes and walking fill the gap in ‘first and last mile’. We are seeing a growing trend in the use of these shared modes for impromptu and social tripsThe key to a successful multi-modal transport network is a user-friendly mobile app that puts the convenience and accessibility in the hands of the traveller. Whilst an integrated payment app may not be within reach for many cities, third party apps like Migo offer an affordable short-term solution to the challenge of making information accessible to travellers while on-the-go.

The gap in cost between private car use and shared transport modes is closing as new operators enter the market and competition increases. We also expect to see the natural evolution of the market close that gap even further as car prices are pushed up through a drop-off in demand and fuel prices continue to rise. Once the tables tip in favour of new transport options, we’ll see a natural shift from car use to ride-sharing, car-sharing and autonomous vehicles.

Within that market segment of travellers that switch from cars to alternative modes, are likely to be a portion of those that were seemly immovable car users. At some point, the financial pay-off outweighs the social and personal drivers that have kept them behind the wheel for so long. Stories of such triumphs are now starting to emerge regularly in cities that are leading the way in terms of transport technology.
What we’re left with is the segment that fit into the higher income bracket, can afford the additional cost, and are still motivated by social factors. The  likelihood that they can be convinced to go completely carless is low, but what can we offer them that would encourage them to reduce the amount trips taken by private car?

Somewhat controversial is the idea of re-introducing class systems in commuter rail. Whilst still acceptable and popular in airline travel, first class travel in commuter rail is currently under scrutiny and at risk of being removed altogether. But in removing premium carriages entirely, are operators failing to realise an opportunity to create an experience that appeals to that seemingly impossible to penetrate segment? They are the same segment likely to use premium airport lounges and fly business class.

Can just the right customer experience, in combination with financial benefit, get the majority of car users into public transport for their daily commute?

For more insight into how ticketing technology fits into the future of public transport, take a look at our whitepaper ‘The Changing Role of Ticketing’

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