As operators rush to embrace technology, Bus Users Director for Wales, Barclay Davies warns we risk leaving some passengers behind
I was recently asked to speak at a conference about how technology can simplify the ticketing process, meet the demand for contactless payments and keep up with the expectations of passengers.
There have certainly been huge advances in technology for passengers. Apps enable us to plan journeys, check timetables, track exactly where our bus is (very handy if itâ€™s running late so we know itâ€™s on its way), see how busy it is so we can be assured a seat, make sure the priority area is available if we use a wheelchair and check connections with other modes of transport. We can even use them to buy and store our tickets.
Then I got to thinking of a friend of mine who doesnâ€™t own a smartphone and pays for everything by cash. According to the Lloyds UK Digital Index 2020 he isnâ€™t alone – 9 million of us in the UK donâ€™t have access to the internet or a smartphone. Research by Statista.Com in April 2021 found that 16% of adults in lower socio-economic groups and 35% of over-65s do not have a smartphone.
There is a noticeable move by some operators and local authorities to stop printing paper timetables and producing at-stop information. At Bus Usersâ€™ events, however, people regularly tell us that their primary source of information is what they find at their local bus stop. No doubt 30 years from now most, if not all, passengers will be using technology to access bus information. But we are living longer and the people for whom this is currently not an option will continue to require information in a printed and accessible format.
Cash is king, so the old saying goes but during the pandemic, some operators stopped accepting cash altogether while others asked for exact change only which caused some additional difficulties for users making essential bus journeys.
In the Treasuryâ€™s cash impact assessment of 2021, however, the Government acknowledged that cash remains important as a symbol of independence, as a budgeting tool and as a way that elderly and vulnerable consumers can access social opportunities. In that same year Loomis UK reported a resurgence in cash use with volumes exceeding 70% of pre-lockdown levels.
So, what does all this tell us? Technology has helped to drive improvements in information provision for passengers enabling them to plan and pay for services more effectively. But there is still a need for traditional forms of accessible information and payment methods as we move out of the pandemic, rebuild services and develop networks to meet the needs and expectations of passengers.
More than ever we need a blended approach, with technology working alongside traditional means of communication and ticketing to avoid digital exclusion and make sure that no one gets left behind.