Generation Z: Your Guide to the Future of Public Transport?
The recent Australasia Bus Conference was an eye-opener in more ways than one, with lots of expert speakers on a wide variety of topics. However, the one that left a biggest impression on me was undoubtedly Claire Madden, the social researcher who literally wrote the book on Gen Z.
(If you, like me, aren’t sure what Generation Z is, this refers to the ‘post-Millennials’ – people born in 1994 or later. They’re likely to be your teenage children or the young professionals who have just entered your workforce.)
Not only did she teach us how to speak Gen Z (kudos to you if you know what all of the above terms mean), she shared some impactful statistics and insights from her research that may surprise you.
Gen Z in the Workplace
In terms of what this means for the bus industry, as employers we need to start thinking about how to manage this new generation of employees.
Ms Madden suggested that given their relative inexperience in offline communication, Gen Z employees could need a different kind of professional development – potentially, training on how to communicate effectively on the phone and in person.
Due to their natural inclination to collaborate and expectation that their opinions will be heard, it is important to create a welcoming workspace that encourages them to contribute ideas. A collaborative leadership style is more likely to get the best out of them.
Gen Z: A Guide to Future Trends?
Gen Z is also immensely valuable if you want to keep up with changes in trends and technology.
Ms Madden described them as “very agile” and with their finger “on the pulse”; if you are interested in societal change, Gen Z-ers are usually pretty good indicators of where we are headed because they are so plugged in.
If you think about this, you’ll see that Gen Z-ers really are a weathervane for changing passenger expectations:
- Their expectation of integration across digital and physical points towards a growing expectation across all generations for frictionless transactions, easy-to-access information and convenience both online and offline.
- They are able to get knowledge, food, car rides and more easily and on-demand; they probably don’t see why public transport should be any different. As older generations increase their digital usage and grow accustomed to this, they too will adopt this attitude.
This is why transport authorities are prioritising demand responsive transport and Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
If we’re serious about increasing patronage and getting people out of their cars and into buses, we need to start looking at how we can making public transport easy.
MaaS and On-Demand Trials: Insights
This talk set the tone for the rest of the bus conference. Other speakers also stressed the importance of customer-oriented public transport and shared insights from their own smart mobility efforts:
Susan Harris, the CEO of ITS Australia, revealed findings from their latest paper on MaaS, the future of public transport and what Australians want:
- People who understand the cost of driving well are more prepared to adopt MaaS.
- 41% of survey respondents said they would use MaaS to get to social activities, but not their regular commutes.
- Pay-as-you-go schemes were more likely to be purchased than unlimited access payment schemes, suggesting they were using MaaS as a supplement and not a replacement.
- The outer suburbs are ready to adopt MaaS to fill a gap. City-dwellers who already have a lot of public transport services are less interested.
- It is vital to have a solid base of public transport access to open up MaaS usage; otherwise, people will just continue using cars.
Ms Harris stressed that it was important to have a vision of where you want to be before implementing MaaS.
With numerous trials and full implementations having been rolled out overseas such as UbiGo, Whim, Didi and S’Hail, there is plenty to learn from.
Martin McMullan, NZTA’s Director Connected Journeys, gave a great update on the New Zealand perspective on MaaS:
- 78% of people travel by car; 70% walk; while only 30% take public transport.
- Most people want to see great public transport in the future, but expect to see more private cars on the road.
- People just want to get around quickly and efficiently; that’s why they are willing to try MaaS.
- They want integrated mobility solutions with public transport as a base; they do not see MaaS as a replacement for public transport.
Learnings from trials:
- New Zealand has two trials ongoing: Choice in Queenstown and RideMate in Auckland.
- Their platform takes feeds from 25 different sources so commuters can see everything in one place. The idea is to put passengers in a position of knowledge and give them choice.
- Journey planners in apps need to be fair, not commercialised. It is essential that public transport is visible and portrayed as a premium product in MaaS apps.
- There is potential for MaaS apps to also incorporate vehicle fees and tollgate fees in future.
- NZTA is considering a new payment model that rewards active transport: for example, cycling could generate credits within the app that you can use to pay your bus fare.
NZTA’s collaborative relationship with customers to solve problems and crowdsource ideas really impressed me.
Their openness and willingness to test new concepts and ideas has certainly helped them uncover useful insights into their market.
Matthew Longland, Deputy Director General of Queensland’s DTMR, discussed the on-demand transport trial in Logan and customer feedback:
- Technology is not a big driver for most users; most people wanted to be able to book by phone call instead of app.
- The service’s fares and integration in to the broader public transport network was most important for them.
- There has been a steady growth in patronage, including repeat customers.
However, there is still some way to go with these on-demand services because DTMR have not been able to integrate it with the wider Go Card network.
DTMR also want to improve occupancy by consolidating passengers and optimising trips.
Part of the difficulty DTMR experienced seems to be due to the use of a modified taxi solution instead of a dedicated demand responsive transport software.
Our clients in North America have had great successes in implementing on-demand transport; I’d be keen to see if we can replicate their achievements here.
Mr Longland also outlined DTMR’s objectives and challenges for the future of Queensland’s public transport:
- Innovative, integrated transport for everyone is the goal – in particular, there is a need for integrated transport across modes, including on-demand and high-frequency services.
- Technology and digital connectivity will be a big part of the future as traditional models of public transport blur due to changing customer expectations.
- However, public transport is still the backbone of the mass transit network – newer modes will build on it, not replace it.
John Karaboulis, Executive Director Service Delivery and Asset Management for TfNSW, also provided a helicopter overview of passenger transport in NSW:
- TfNSW’s customer-centric, outcomes-focussed approach seems to be paying off, with passenger satisfaction very high (as seen in customer feedback and strong patronage numbers).
- The development of software and apps has proven to be a challenge in some MaaS pilots.
- But the trials have shown that small vehicles and more convenient payment methods are popular with customers.
Mr Karaboulis also said the new generation of public transport contracts would focus on return on investment and performance improvement:
- He cited the inclusion of demand responsive transport in the recent Newcastle and Region 6 tenders as an example and urged bus operators to “play in this space”.
- The B-Line service, the first in NSW to be run under a headway regime, has been running for nearly a year. The KPIs for this contract were around headway frequency, not on-time performance, so the operator has to retain frequency regardless of traffic and patronage surges. Mr Karaboulis said he expects this to be rolled out to more contracts in future.
Technological and generational change are indisputably triggering new heights of customer expectations, which leading transport authorities and operators are now acting on by researching, trialling and testing MaaS and on-demand transport.
The concept of headway-managed services is also (excuse the pun) making headway in Australia.
While traditionally we have mostly only run shuttle services (think Melbourne Airport’s Skybus) in this fashion, I anticipate ‘turn up and go’ is going to feature strongly in the bus industry’s future. Find out more about headway-managed services.
Yale Wong (Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies researcher) predicts that bus operators are likely to see a shift from delivering vehicles to delivering accessibility. The recent Region 6 tender, the first contract in Sydney to blend both mass and on-demand transit, is an example of this more mode-agnostic thinking from government.
For today’s bus operator, it is clear that passenger expectations are shaping the direction that transport authorities are taking. To stay relevant and competitive, it is more important than ever to get future-ready and be open to new ideas.
And if you have a Gen Z-er in your office, you might want to invite them to your next brainstorming meeting.