Transport for London’s essential enabler: customer information
One of Transport for London’s (TfL) most significant challenges is meeting the ever-changing information needs of our customers. We’ve advanced from the relatively slow-moving world of public information screens and boards to a digital one in which customers have access to vast amounts of data – literally at their fingertips.
There are two aspects to providing good customer information: firstly, ensuring that it’s accurate and timely; and secondly, delivering it via the most appropriate channel. At Transport for London, our customer information strategy also focuses on improving the helpfulness of information – so rather than just telling our customers that something is wrong, we also want to advise them of what they can do next.
We want our customer information to be live, easily digestible, localized and actionable. Hardware is a key enabler; for example, in preparation for the Elizabeth line, we have deployed modernized customer information screens that produce a customer experience ready for the future. They are high-density screens (as opposed to the traditional amber LEDs) that mean we can provide a richer content experience: making use of multiple data sources, more colors and graphics, show videos, and independently control different information elements; all to provide more helpful content than we could traditionally do.
One of our strategic challenges is navigating our own digital journey alongside rapid advances in consumer technologies. The airline industry, for instance, invested heavily in integrated in-flight entertainment systems just as customers started to travel with their own devices and content. As a result, we are extremely mindful of where we invest and how tightly we can manage development and delivery lead times.
Moving to self-service
A key milestone will be the implementation of Wi-Fi across our transport network. This will enable customers to self-serve and reduce the demand for physical assets. The ability to push data to personal devices will help us reach a wide audience with highly targeted information and the choice to opt in or out to get their own customized information experience.
In the meantime, in terms of content, it’s important to consider each touchpoint, that is, exactly where and when customers are using the information; for example, a countdown to the next service works well for buses or tube trains but may be less useful for certain low frequency timetabled services. We’ve also established information hierarchies so that secondary ‘nice-to-have’ information disappears from screens as soon as urgent advice is needed in the event of disruption, enabling us to be responsive in real-time.
Mobility as a Service has a significant part to play and how this is implemented will be key to success. We’re exploring how to create a continuous digital journey with countdowns to relevant live departures, details of the closest Santander hire bikes and docking stations and so on. If legislation to permit e-scooters on public highways is introduced, we could see how any sharing schemes could also be integrated.
Given the advances in artificial intelligence and personal apps, we are preparing for the introduction of real-time personal assistants for planning journeys nationwide. As and when autonomous vehicles become a reality and car ownership decreases, customers could be able to arrange online to take an autonomous taxi, or to hop onto a bike, then take a train or hire an electric car, or whatever they need to complete their end-to-end journey.
Creating this seamless experience will require huge amounts of data integration, so specialist technology companies will inevitably get involved and different transport authorities will need to provide data feeds. At Transport for London, our scale and level of investment has put us ahead of the game. We already make all our bus and tube arrival information publicly available through an application programming interface and our Overground and TfL Rail train information is shared via the Darwin system for all national Train Operating Companies.
Significant disruption in this space looks certain and we welcome these opportunities to collaborate because more integrated, personalized services will make life easier for our customers. We may see a future in which if your digital assistant detects that service is disrupted, then your alarm clock is automatically set for earlier to give you extra travelling time. Our customers just want to get safely from A to B in the way that best suits them: it’s our purpose to make that happen.
Digital Vision for Mobility
This article is part of the Atos Digital Vision for Mobility opinion paper. We explore opportunities and challenges for transport and logistics providers in this rapidly evolving space, where transport and logistics are leading other markets in digital transformation.