In 2019 we researched which apps were available for public transport users and how highly they were rated – three years later things have got better

A good app cements the role of a service provider in your life and builds loyalty

BY Robert Jack

How many apps do you have on your phone? I have 124 on mine, which probably makes me an app aficionado. They help me to manage my life, including my use of public transport. I find the Transport for Edinburgh app invaluable for journey planning and real-time information.

A good app cements the role of a service provider in your life and builds loyalty. A bad one does the opposite – can that really be forgiven in this digital age?

Back in September 2019 we researched the apps available for public transport and how they were rated by their users. Many of the 85 apps we found rivalled the best known, but many others were poor. Almost a third of the apps (28) achieved a rating of four out of five stars but a larger proportion (35) received a rating of just one or two stars. There was clearly work to be done.

Three years on and we have repeated this exercise. This time we identified 113 apps (including four from outside the UK for comparison), fulfilling a range of functions across different transport modes. We looked at their user rating for the iOS (Apple) and Android formats on September 14 and then we combined them to create an overall aggregate rating.

The good news is that there has been a significant improvement. More than two-thirds (78) of the 113 apps looked at this year received a four-star rating while only around one in six (19) received ratings of only one or two stars.

Much of this improvement can be attributed to the UK bus and coach sector where an impressive 92% of apps have a four-star rating compared to 60% in 2019. Go-Ahead Group’s relationship with website and app developer Passenger is largely responsible for this increase.

With its devolved structure, Go-Ahead’s operating companies each have their own app, but in 2019 they were poorly rated – highly rated operations like Oxford Bus Company and Brighton & Hove had apps with a one-star rating. Last year Bournemouth-based Passenger helped Go-Ahead launch 17 apps in the space of just five weeks (PT245) and they all now have four-star ratings. The lesson is simple – if your app isn’t performing, find someone who can help you turn it around!

I rarely give negative reviews but this app is just unacceptable. How are you supposed to use an app for a public service that just doesn’t work?

Arriva UK Bus should heed this lesson – it’s bottom of the bus and coach class with a 1.4-star rating for its app. One of the many scathing reviews for this app states: “I rarely give negative reviews but this app is just unacceptable. How are you supposed to use an app for a public service that just doesn’t work?”

In response, Arriva says: “We are looking at the known issues and will rectify them as soon as possible.”

The other major bus groups have apps that perform much better. Stagecoach, Britain’s biggest bus and coach operator, was struggling in 2019 with a 2.5-star rating but this has now leapt to 4.3 stars. First Bus has also improved, from 4.1 stars to 4.6.

There has also been a significant improvement among train operating companies, although the average rating of 3.8 stars lags behind bus and coach (4.4). Open access operators Grand Central Railway and Lumo have the highest ratings, followed by intercity operators LNER and Avanti West Coast. At the other end of the table, Go-Ahead needs to perform the kind of transformation it did with its bus apps. The bottom three are all components of the group’s giant Govia Thameslink Railway operation.

It’s worth noting that the average 3.8-star rating for UK train operating companies compares well to some of Europe’s major railway companies. Deutsche Bahn’s DB Navigator receives 3.6 stars and Trenitalia gets 2.8, although SNCF Connect achieves an impressive 4.5.

Will Great British Railways want to launch its own network-wide app? And could it rival Trainline, the highly rated and highly valued online rail retail platform? Transport for London’s 4.6-star app provides an example of a large publicly-owned body getting it right.

Customers will only increase as this technology develops. The best public transport apps must keep striving to get better, and those that are lagging behind must catch up fast.

This story appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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