A group of APTA attendees sit around a table having a discussion

Public transit is in a unique position to reshape its services to match evolving customer travel habits and expectations. Since the pandemic, transit agencies have been actively rethinking their services to better understand their customers’ needs. This has led to a heightened focus on customer experience as agencies aim to regain pre-COVID ridership levels while dealing with budget limitations. This exciting customer-centric approach has agencies of all sizes buzzing with new ideas. As we listened during the 2024 APTA Marketing Communications & Customer Experience Workshop, three common themes emerged that could form guiding principles for agencies moving forward.  

We believe exceptional customer experience is the result of a synergy between three elements: innovation, operational excellence, and storytelling. This approach considers how the system works as a whole to deliver safe, equitable, and reliable service.

How are transit agencies working to put these three elements into practice, and how do they relate to one another? Keep reading to hear our top trends and our perspectives on how we could put these ideas into practice.  

Roan Bennett—Innovation

1. Data is front and center: Many transit agencies are starting to utilize Customer Relationship Management systems, data visualizations, and Key Experience Indicator/Key Performance Indicator reports to track and analyze data. This data-driven approach helps agencies understand the customer's needs and put them at the center of service improvement decisions.

2. Agencies are collecting customer feedback: Agencies are actively seeking feedback from their riders through surveys, ride ratings, and mystery travelers. Some agencies even require their staff to use the transit system and provide feedback to understand the traveler's journey.

3. Data-sharing is key: Agencies are sharing more information and collaborating with other local agencies to solve customer experience issues. This includes sharing survey data, customer service issues, and experiences. Sharing quantitative and qualitative rider provider feedback allows agencies to work with stakeholders to create a high-quality customer experience.

4. Lean into artificial intelligence (AI): Whether through chatbots, automated responses, or other means, AI has long been part of customer experience. With the technology now starting to become more prevalent in the public sector, it could become a key component of how agencies implement engagement strategies in a more streamlined and targeted way.

Claudette Mahan—Operational Excellence

1. Key Experience Indicators are on the rise: KEIs are utilized to understand the customer experience before, during, and after their journey. These metrics can help improve satisfaction among travelers on common issues, such as the cleanliness of stations, buses, and trains; safety; ease of payment; and first- and last-mile accessibility.

2. Understand the whole journey: Agencies realize that the customer’s journey starts before they get to a bus stop. Leveraging customer experience data, agencies can better meet the mobility needs of customers throughout the entire journey, ensuring confidence in the system.

3. Data is powering real-time decision-making: Understanding that operational failures can lead to unpleasant experiences, agencies are utilizing dashboards/visualizations to inform, in real-time, strategic decisions that lead to educated personnel, bus operators, and customers.

Ryan Ellis—Storytelling

1. A customer-centric approach is a driver for storytelling: Transit marketing is increasingly focusing on the customer experience. This includes a desire for a greater understanding of customer needs, opportunities to improve service quality, and enhancing communication channels to provide real-time updates and highlight transit system improvements based on feedback. Agencies that can harness internal data and customer feedback across the organization can communicate more effectively to address rider issues and share stories of success that relate to their target audiences.

2. Digital transformation to understand and reach riders: The use of digital platforms for marketing and customer engagement continues to rise. This includes social media marketing, mobile apps for ticketing and route information, data analytics, and AI tools. The information these investments provide allows agencies to better understand new and existing customer behaviors, needs, and barriers to adoption and react in real time.

3. Education and transparency drive engagement: Transit agencies are increasingly focusing on educating their customers about their services, policies, and initiatives. This includes sharing informative messages, publishing data for public consumption, and leveraging social media listening tools to understand rider issues, ensure transparency, and foster trust with riders and stakeholders.

Putting It All Together 

The common thread in all three elements is collaborative communication. Innovation, operations, and communication departments must work together to collect, analyze, and act on customer feedback and performance data. To do this, transit agencies will need to reduce silos by implementing systems and processes that increase coordination and transparency internally and to their customers. We can help you develop a strategic approach to manage your data, develop shared dashboards that make data useful, and track performance so agencies can continuously improve the customer experience throughout the entire journey. 

Interested In Learning More About This Approach? Get In Touch With Us

Roan Bennett headshot

Roan Bennett

Vice President, Planning Business Line

Claudette Mahan headshot

Claudette Mahan

Senior Project Manager

Ryan J. Ellis headshot

Ryan J. Ellis

Southeast Market Leader