Group has launched its new Bus App which aims to give potential and existing bus users real time information about its bus networks in the UK

Arriva is aiming to improve customer service at its UK bus division with the full roll out and nationwide launch of its Bus App, which promises to drive a customer service revolution for bus users across the county.

Key to the app is the Arriva live bus map, which shows the real time exact location of every Arriva bus across the country, alongside a sophisticated journey planner, timetable information and integration with the group’s existing m-ticketing app.

Of course the group is not the first to offer an all encompassing app for its bus offer. FirstGroup launched its own UK-wide bus app 18 months ago and Go-Ahead has created an app for its rail division with plans to expand this to its bus operations in the near future.

“There are a lot of apps out there,” admits Mike Woodhouse, marketing manager of Arriva’s UK bus division. “But we feel we’ve really raised the bar with the Bus App, the speed of development aided by a strategic utilisation of standards has allowed Arriva to leapfrog the competition by providing real-time information across the UK, which no other bus company can offer. It’s about creating a one stop shop for everything to do with the bus journey. From timetable information through to news, offers and links to social media.”

The Arriva Bus App has been some months in the making. It has been developed in partnership with German technology firm HaCon, a company that is well known in continental Europe for its work with a number of transport operators, in particular  Deutsche Bahn, Arriva’s parent company. Woodhouse adds: “We were originally introduced to HaCon via DB and it is fantastic that our colleagues in Germany were working along the same lines as us, something which offers synergies to our respective businesses.”

The process of developing the app began last May with a series of customer focus groups to discover what bus users actually wanted from an app. This led to a ‘soft launch’ last October, at first on the iPhone platform with the Android version following a month later. Initially it was restricted to offering timetabled information, but this has been slowly expanded to offer real time data. The group’s bus operations in the North East were the first to go live with this feature earlier this year and last month the nationwide rollout of this detailed real time information was completed when Arriva’s bus operations in Kent and Sussex came on stream.

The nationwide launch is being orchestrated with a publicity blitz that will see regional launches in major towns and cities across Arriva’s UK bus operation alongside online videos and humorous posters, some of which include NFC links that will explain the benefits of the app to potential users.

“The app has been downloaded over 200,000 times since October and we expect that to really take off with the nationwide launch,” adds Woodhouse.

Looking ahead the technology will also be incorporated into a refresh of Arriva’s UK bus website in the coming weeks. At the moment the site has 1.5 million visits every month with an increasing number of visits (currently 62%) via mobile devices, so this change will offer significant benefits to the groups.

Although the group’s bus customers will be the greatest beneficiaries, there are also some benefits for the back office too. A special version of the app, and the technology behind it, has been made available to control staff at depots across the country, allowing them to see where vehicles are in real time, in effect creating a bespoke vehicle location and management tool. Meanwhile, the group’s centralised customer service teams also have access to this service.

As Woodhouse notes, one of the principal reasons customers contact the customer service team is to discover where their bus is. Access to this information allows the customer service team to provide customers with accurate information in real time.

“We can also suggest that if the customer has a smartphone they download the app and that solves the problem for them in the future,” Woodhouse adds. “It has the ability to really improve customer service.”

The live bus map is one of the spin-off benefits from the group’s decision in 2012 to invest in new Parkeon Wayfarer200 ticket machines for its entire UK operation outside London. These machines use the RTIG format instead of RTPI functionality, and by working with Mobius Networks allows the position of the bus, along with other data to be broadcast using GPS technology.

“That’s a real key advantage,” explains Woodhouse. “You can do everything to make bus travel attractive, with leather seats and that sort of thing, but knowing exactly where your bus is and how long it is until it arrives is a key advantage and quite a compelling thing for the customer.”

He adds that research suggests that customers aren’t too worried about whether their bus is on time, it’s more about knowing when it will arrive so to that they can make an informed choice.

“When I go to London and use the bus, I never look at the timetable,” says Woodhouse. “I just look up when the next bus is due. To me, as a customer, that’s more important than whether the bus is operating to the timetable. The real challenge in that sort of situation is to keep the information as accurate as possible, but knowing where the bus actually is is quite a compelling thing from the customer’s point of view.”

There are also other benefits. With 4,000 Arriva buses in the UK now fitted with ticket machines that feature RTPI functionality, the group will open this up as a SIRI feed providing local authorities with real time service data that will feed into public sector RTPI data feeds. This builds on the standards compliance of the technology which already conforms with TransXChange standards.

Of course work on the app doesn’t stop now with the nationwide launch. Woodhouse explains that he and his team are learning all the time and coming up with new ideas about how functionality can be improved.

“This is really phase one,” he says. “You can’t really stop when it comes to technology as things are moving and changing all the time and we’re already thinking about phases two and three for 2015 and beyond.

“One of the main things we’re thinking about is fare integration. That’s always been the big mystery for the customer as we’ve tended to focus on the period ticketing products like day or weekly tickets, but a substantial number of our customers still pay cash for a single journey.

“With the app we can seriously think about some method of providing accurate single fare information, but presenting it in an easy to digest format. It shouldn’t be a quantum leap and the app can really come into its own and make it happen. There’s real value in that.”

 

COMMENT: Andrew Garnett

Road testing the bus app

Technology takes the worry out of bus travel

Last week I needed to travel from Manchester Airport into  Altrincham to meet my friend Helen and her one year-old son Oliver. It seemed the perfect time to test Arriva’s Bus App.

Arriving at the airport mid afternoon, I opened up the Bus App. Both Arriva and HaCon have done a great job creating a clear and simple interface with all of the essentials on the home screen. I selected the journey planner, and it told me a Route 18 bus, direct to Altrincham, was due at any moment. Knowing that the yomp from Terminal 3 to the interchange is not for the faint hearted, I was also relieved to discover that the bus was running three minutes late, which bought me extra time.

Arriving at the interchange I found the right bus stop and consulted the app’s live bus map, where I could see my bus was negotiating a roundabout just moments away. Once on board, I checked the app again. It suggested my bus had made up a bit of time and was now one minute late and would arrive in Altrincham in 19 minutes. I texted my arrival time to Helen.

So did the technology work? Well I’m pleased that Helen and Oliver’s arrival at the bus stop co-incided with mine.

No hanging about for any of us and top marks for technology!

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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