Simon Vaughan, chief commercial officer, GlobalReach Technology
COVID may have stopped some workers from heading back to the office this month, but millions have still got onto public transport for school, college or to return from seeing family and friends. And, I imagine that almost every one of those journeys needed some degree of internet connectivity to either pass the time watching a film, catching up on email or finding out about delays or directions.
While the make-up of travellers has changed over the past couple of years, railways, the metro, trains, buses and coaches are, for many, their main and sometimes the only form of transport. Following COP 26, we’ve seen public commitments from governments and transport federations to make public transport more accessible, and transportation companies are rolling out new season tickets or holiday bundles to encourage passengers to travel by train or other public transport.
It’s the experience
What is going to make these travellers choose public transport rather than their own vehicles? The answer is a great travel experience. GlobalReach has worked with transportation service providers, and with the transport companies themselves for almost a decade, and I’ve yet to meet an employee yet who doesn’t say that improving the passenger experience is their priority. There are now conferences about it, and I certainly talk to the passenger experience lead at every one of our customers.
If we dissect what constitutes a ‘great travel experience’, these stakeholders and their teams are looking at everything from signage to station and onboard facilities. When we look at onboard services, fast, reliable internet is always close to the top of passenger requirements. It’s a priority for transport managers too. Because, while bad weather conditions or delays might be outside of their control, the ability to get their passengers online improves satisfaction by connecting them socially, offsets boredom and frustration, and keeps them productive by enabling a faster and more efficient journey.
The changing face of business travel
The annual BAI Connectivity Outlook report is always worthwhile reading for passenger trend data. In 2020 it found that passengers most wanted connectivity to make sure that they could find out real-time information about delays or better connections on their route. In recognition of shifting consumer behaviour surrounding the pandemic and climate concerns, its 2021 report found that 49% of business travellers in some of the world’s largest cities would choose public transport to travel if Wi-Fi connections improved (Page 11). 77% agreed they’d choose it if they could work on documents during their journey, upload documents to the cloud (76%) and allow video communication with their team (68% on page 12).
This points to public transport companies looking to deliver a service that allows travellers to use their mobile devices as they need to – rather than putting caveats on the internet experience. A notice on the Wi-Fi login success page on one of my journeys over the Xmas break told me that the service would support email and social media, but not streaming. Sadly, this is still a long way from the seamless, high-quality experience consumers are looking for above and below ground.
Wi-Fi fit for today’s travellers
Over the festive period, our team saw new, fast, free and unlimited Wi-Fi go live at the final three stations as part of our program with Network Rail and Telent to deliver a better passenger (and staff) internet experience at some of Britain’s largest and busiest hubs, including London King’s Cross, Victoria, Euston, Liverpool Street, Leeds, Bristol Temple Meads and others.
Free Wi-Fi was consistently identified from passenger feedback as one of the improvements that would enhance their station experience, and the service we’ve delivered gives travellers fast, secure Wi-Fi across multiple devices with a single sign-on. Critically, the service is high-bandwidth and capable of supporting the applications that passengers wanted in BAI’s report, like content streaming and video calls – for millions of station users every day.
Looking to 2022
We know from our own choices, that passengers in 2022 will choose public transport if the experience is attractive and safe. Today’s providers can deliver that appeal by putting high-performance Wi-Fi in place throughout the journey, and by making the experience seamless as travellers move across routes, modes and providers.
We’ve seen a lot of progress and willingness to spend on better public Wi-Fi in the past year on what I believe will be bellwether projects for the future of connectivity on public transport.
Talk to us about high-scale, high-performance public Wi-Fi for transport.