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The future of passenger experience: Research findings and key considerations

By Kristine Pitts, Director of ExperienceLab Middle East & Rena Baba, UX Consultant, ExperienceLab Middle East.

2020 turned the transport sector on its head. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, cities across the world have enforced restrictions on public transport in order to limit transmission of the virus and ensure public safety. As a result, the public transport sector has been severely impacted. The decisions people have had to make regarding their transportation requirements changed drastically overnight, impacting everyday commutes all over the world.

Now more than ever, people are worried and anxious about being in crowded areas and the impact on public transport has been phenomenal. Whilst we still have a long way to go, the situation has made us look more closely at certain aspects of transportation, to see where improvements can be made during this time.

Serco’s user-centred design company, ExperienceLab, conducted research to explore the various requirements of people’s transportation journeys in the UAE during COVID-19, and their change in behaviour due to the pandemic. 

Research findings:

  • Aviation travel
    • 31% of respondents expressed concerns around over-crowding
  • Public transport services:
    • 80% of respondents ranked physical distancing as the first or second priority for what makes them feel safe.
    • 62% of respondents ranked daily disinfection and sanitizations as the first or second priority for what makes them feel safe


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The key findings showed that many people remain nervous and are hesitant to use public transport whilst the pandemic is ongoing. They are also resorting to digital touchpoints to reduce physical contact where possible, such as topping up travel cards via contactless payments versus going to a ticket counter. Furthermore, many people still have concerns for their personal safety due to the behaviour of other people who are not adhering to the rules around physical distancing and mask-wearing.

Just one uncomfortable experience where passengers don’t feel safe could lead them to stop using public transportation altogether. However, 26% of respondents said that having an authority figure or entity enforcing physical distancing and mask wearing on other passengers, would make them feel safer.

Overall, this has had a huge impact on passengers’ perception of personal safety and ability to keep physical distancing. What can we do to keep the economy going and encourage people to take public transport again?


The way forward and key considerations

When we think about the future of transport, policy makers and governments need to work hand-in-hand with the private sector to make passengers feel safe. There needs to be transparency of measures that are being implemented and clear communications at every stage, so that people are informed about what is happening and also reassured in these uncertain times. For example, this can be implemented by ensuring websites and social platforms are updated regularly with accurate information around Covid-19 prevention measures, having clear signage on protocols and social distancing parameters on transport carriers and lastly providing regular station / airport announcements.

Some of the key considerations include:

  • Unsurprisingly, the research showed that increased frequency of sanitisation across public transport re-assures the public about their safety while using these services. This can range from taxi fleets to specific areas such as seats, cabins on a bus, tram or metro, and wider areas like the platforms that passengers wait on at the station. Providers need to be careful with how transparent they are with information about for example sanitisation programmes – if a passenger believes that for example a taxi is sanitised between each passenger and is then informed of the sanitisation only being once per day, this mismatch between expectation and reality is likely to reduce trust in the provider. Understanding expectations and carefully shaping messaging around this knowledge is key to maintaining trust.  
  • Complementary to this service is providing free sanitisers which contributes to the overall perception of safety. Passengers feel more reassured when they can sanitise their own hands and spaces. They like to take ownership of their own safety as opposed to trusting another person or entity to do the sanitisation and safety measures that are needed. Emirates airlines and Etihad for example have been quick to introduce complimentary hygiene kits to be given to every passenger upon check in and on flights, which comprise of masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser. The hospitality sector should look to do the same, with food establishments providing a dedicated sanitiser bottle at each table and counter, for customers who dine in and not only one or two to be shared.
  • Having access to information around safety measures and constant communication about changes being made is another way to reassure the public and help make them feel safe. The lack of a unified communication platform generates a lot of uncertainty that leaves customers confused about regulations and current safety measures. To reiterate, it is important have an updated website and social platforms which clearly outline Covid-19 prevention measures. Also providing pre-travel information through alerts via email or text messages which links back to your website, can be of assistance.
  • This also extends to the aviation sector, for which the main challenges for respondents were around the planning stages of their travel journey, which were described as “stressful” and “confusing”. To attract more travellers and offer a seamless journey, this means that the necessary information must be communicated at the right time through the right channel.  A potential solution can be to look at an existing communication channel, such as an easy to access mobile application, to get real time customer feedback, and unify the information across all platforms (airline, airport, government entities etc.). This ensures a stress-free journey for travellers.
  • Lastly, take a look at how you can re-design the physical environment as part of a long term strategy, instead of just meeting short term requirements. This includes designing queueing systems that make it easier for passengers to abide by physical distancing measures, all the way to prototyping and testing new signage. This will help passengers to self-enforce physical distancing and mask-wearing measures. 

In a bid to win back the public’s trust, transport providers need to ensure that the customer experience being provided to passengers is the best in class. Striking the right balance of information is also crucial, because too much information can overwhelm passengers and too little can lead to them being underprepared.

The passenger experience for long-awaited events like Expo 2020 will probably be very different from what we initially imagined it to look like. With the UAE also welcoming many travellers and holiday makers into the country, the transportation sector needs to pay close attention and adapt to the requirements of the passenger. Tapping into customer specific research and collaborating with the right experts, can help organisations and governments truly understand the needs of their passengers.

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