Arriva has had much success with its apps, but the group is looking towards other new technologies

 

Arriva_mticketIt’s now six years since Arriva introduced its m-ticketing service

 

Not that long ago to be a bus operator simply meant putting vehicles out on the road and running to a timetable with adequate resources in place to make that happen. However, the last decade has made the issue of technology an increasingly important part of that mix.

18 months ago, Arriva launched its Bus App, which aims to revolutionise customer service for the group’s customers at its UK bus division by placing journey planning and real time service information in the palm of their hand. Its success can be judged in numbers. To date there have been over 630,000 downloads of the app to iPhone and Android smart phones, equating to around 1,400 each day.

“There has been a fantastic response to the Bus App,” says Mike Woodhouse, Arriva’s senior marketing manager for digital channels and customer relationship management. “We’ve had some excellent reviews. Customers tell us how the Arriva Bus App has changed their lives. They can see in real time where their bus is. They don’t have to stand at a bus stop wondering where their bus is, they can see exactly where it is on their phone.”

Alongside those downloads, the figures for use of the app are increasing with an all time high of 1.8 million database requests on the app’s server registered over this Easter’s holiday week. However, use of the app is interesting. It was developed by German app specialists HaCon, largely using a template that has been successfully used by transport operators in Europe, including Arriva’s parent Deutsche Bahn. While use in the German market is largely focused on live departure boards and timetabling, Arriva’s use of the technology has seen some interesting cultural differences; Arriva’s Bus App users are more interested in the live map function.

“We were really keen to incorporate the live map, which surprised HaCon a little as previous customers had seen it as a nice gimmick rather than a unique selling point,” explains Woodhouse. “With the launch we’ve seen the live map as the key feature that customers use to find out service information. That’s very different to the use experienced by operators using HaCon technology in Europe. I suspect it’s a cultural thing – in Britain we like to see a map and the actual position of our bus, rather than trusting a service departure board. We still include both, of course. It’s a horses for courses approach.”

However, Woodhouse believes that the high number of downloads and levels of use also create another issue – customer expectations have been raised. “With something like the Bus App we quickly go from a position of value add to an expectation from customers,” he says. “The key is to make it the best possible user experience and ensure that the information delivered is accurate. Nothing can devalue an app more than delivering information that isn’t relevant or correct.”

It means that Arriva has put in place protocols that aim to keep the information contained within the app as accurate as possible. Meanwhile, some tweaks have been put in place that create a link between the
Bus App and the group’s m-ticketing app.

“It’s important to remember that we first launched m-ticketing back in 2009,” says Woodhouse. “Back then it was on the old Java phones as there was no such thing as a smartphone, I think Apple had only just launched the iPhone.” Since that time more than 20 million journeys have been made using the m-tickets across Arriva’s UK business and earlier this year the group’s m-ticketing apps were relaunched with a new look and additional features.

“We wanted to improve the user experience and the styling to replicate the branding that we use elsewhere,” says Woodhouse. “We were aiming for consistency and now the m-ticketing app has the look and feel of both the Bus App and also the Arriva bus website, so it now feels like its part of the family.”

Behind the scenes there have also been some changes. Apple continues to develop the iOS operating system that powers the iPhone and Woodhouse admits that the m-ticketing app had failed to keep up with Apple’s developments. As a result growth of the app was slowing. “It was beginning to slow down as Apple rolled out changes to iOS,” he says. “With the relaunch we’ve speed it up and introduced new features, for example, the two apps are now integrated between one another and there’s a live chat function, allowing our customers to chat in real-time with a member of our customer services team.”

The connections between the two apps mean that results displayed by the journey planning function in the Bus App now also include information about the most appropriate day ticket for the journey in question, with a link that opens that particular product up in the m-ticketing app. It allows instant purchase.

Meanwhile, the group recent launched a live feed on Google Transit that provides real time service information for all of Arriva’s routes across the country outside London. It works using the same feeds that power the Arriva Bus App and as Richard Newbould, Arriva’s programme manager notes, it’s a case of using the information and data that Arriva already has and deploying it on a different platform.

“It’s a fairly straightforward process and in effect a ‘supersized’ version of what we were already doing,” he explains. “We already supply real time data to 11 local authorities and it’s a case of removing the content filters and sending the data to ITOWorld who then process it and supply it to Google. It’s exactly the same data that the app uses, but we are simply providing another way for customers to find the information that they require.”

Of course technology is evolving all the time and Arriva is keeping a close eye on developments. Apple’s new Watch is likely to open the market for wearable technology and Woodhouse believes that such devices will play a part in the future. “HaCon have already been working on wearable technology and they’ve demonstrated some of the things they’ve developed to us,” he says. “For now I’m not too sure that it’s the right thing to be concentrating on. Apple Watch starts at around £300-500 and that has to be used in tandem with an iPhone, so you’re looking at another £500 for one of those. Are those prices going to appeal to our core demographic? I’m not too sure, but as these devices permeate society, I think that we’ll see the price come down. When it does, we’ll be looking closely at the options. Anything that helps customers is a good thing..”

In tandem with the launch of the Watch, Apple is also launching its Apple Pay service in the UK with Transport for London already signed up. The system uses NFC technology and a pre-registered credit or debit card to allow iPhones and Apple Watches to act rather like a contactless payment card. “Contactless will be embraced by the whole industry,” predicts Woodhouse. “Just look at how things are changing in London since TfL launched contactless payments. When I go to London, I just use contactless now. It helps that London’s buses have a flat fare, so we’ve got to think a bit more about how we could roll it out at Arriva as it’s a business largely built on the back of incremental fares. Do we have a ‘tap on, tap off’ system? Or something else? I don’t think that accepting contactless in the same way that cash fares are conducted on bus would be particularly helpful for bus stop dwell times, so we need some careful thought about how it could be rolled out.”

While contactless payment may be something for the future, Arriva is working to rollout smartcard schemes across its operations, both in partnership with local authorities and other operators and a commercial smartcard scheme using the Arriva Connect brand.

“It provides another outlet for our customers to pay for travel,” says Woodhouse. “We have smartcards and we have m-ticketing. In the future we may have contactless payments and Apple Pay. Cash transactions dominate the industry, and no doubt will continue to, at least in the medium term, but it’s important to keep and eye on what the market wants. If there’s a shift in what the customer wants, then we’ll react to that.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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