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Focusing on the Customer Experience

BY CHAD BALLENTINE
Vice President, Demand Response and Innovative Mobility
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Austin, TX

Capital Metro faces challenges that are not unique to its region. The public transit industry, as a whole, is at a critical point as we find it necessary to re-evaluate the status quo and make bold decisions.

With declining ridership and increasing competition from the private sector, we are seeking to breathe new life into public transportation. Certainly, this may be a challenge, but it’s also our opportunity to shine.

Collaboration is key. For the past several years, various transportation providers, public transit agencies, bikeshares, scooter shares, transportation network companies and microtransit operators have been developing and refining their digital interfaces specifically for their individual customers. Travelers frequently use multiple modes to get to their destinations, so this commonly results in customers switching between apps to complete their journey.

As Capital Metro is the largest transportation provider in the region, it is important that the agency take the lead and improve that experience through collaboration.

The CapMetro app allows riders to plan, customize and pay for their entire trip.

The agency has embraced the new mobility paradigm by developing diverse partnerships and pursuing innovative pilot projects. We have taken several steps to become a service integrator through advanced mobile technology, automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems combined with predictive algorithms, transit-on-demand technology and, most importantly, cooperation with other transportation companies:

* We are preparing a major update of the CapMetro app, launched in 2014 as one of the nation’s first mobile ticketing apps. This new release will integrate multimodal transportation options with our public transit services. This is an important shift toward providing all of the customer’s travel information in one place.

* While we have for some time provided AVL systems combined with predictive algorithms to give customers real-time trip planning and next departure information, this will soon be integrated with real-time data from other transportation providers in our multimodal trip planning.

Partnerships and collaborations are critical to becoming a successful service integrator. These include partnerships, not only with large-scale private bikeshare, scooter share, car share and rideshare services, but also the local startups in the community.

Customers want to have access to all available options, so it is important for the public transit authority to stay connected and be open to integration with all transportation providers. The goal is to be the go-to app providing multimodal trip planning and mobile ticketing.

The next challenge we must collectively resolve is integrated payment. How can we effectively and seamlessly collect and distribute payments for each of the various providers? Some solutions now available attempt to answer this question, but none make it seamless for the customer wishing to use multiple services without requiring some type of subscription service.

As we move forward in this space, we must make sure to focus obsessively on the customer experience. Payment must be simple, cost-effective and streamlined from the customer’s perspective.

The public transit industry has never had to face change at the pace we are now experiencing. We no longer have the luxury of operating the same way we always have. This is our moment to innovate and demonstrate that public transportation is an irreplaceable asset that adds tremendous value to communities everywhere. To do this, we must continue our fast pace of innovation and collaboration while always keeping our focus on the customer experience.
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