The Challenges of Passenger Communication – Part 3

10 Mar

In the final part of my series of posts on passenger communication, I’ll be discussing aspects of design and politics and their effects on information delivery, and looking at how technology integration plays can either help or hinder the passenger experience. The study once again takes Amsterdam Centraal Station (CS) as the main reference.

In Part 1 I covered the issues with ‘Real-Time’ passenger information and the displays used at the station. Now with the installation of ticket barriers passengers will soon be faced with a new obstacle.

Here is a photo of the Western entrance taken from just inside the doors from the trams.

A Barrier to Information

In the foreground you will notice the ticket barriers. In the centre background you will see two blue monitors, with a group of people underneath, and finally further back a yellow information desk. The first point is that they are positioned in the wrong order.  From this distance the monitors are unreadable, and you can see how close people have to stand to read them. This will be a problem when the barriers are put into service as you will not be able to see the real-time information until you have committed yourself to travelling.

The passenger information desk is behind the ticket barriers as well.  Obviously this is not efficient when you’re a passenger looking for information and doesn’t give the opportunity to set an expectation before the passenger is committed.  You will simply be barred from the information you need. It is also worth noting that the timetables are behind the information desk which you cannot see from this view.

Everything that the passenger needs to complete their journey needs to be provided before going through the barriers. Up-to-date travel information which is service specific, prices, connections and tickets. Now you might think that this example is unique but there are others, such at the very modern Amsterdam Bijlmer ArenA station.

Old and New

Again we see that the destination boards are behind the barriers. The display that says “Welcome to the station”  only gives general information regarding delays and diversions and not to specific trains or services. Again on the other side of the station there is a more comprehensive display, but the entrance pictured above, used frequently by 40,000 Ajax football fans, concert goers or even just regular cinema goers, does not. So perhaps there is a pattern of approach here.

Food for Thought

There is another service that will get affected by the installation and activation of ticket barriers, retail commerce. At Amsterdam CS the Western corridor is host to a number of convenience stores and fast-food eateries. In the future, when the ticket barriers are activated, none of the outlets will be available to you unless you have committed yourself to travelling by train.  In my opinion, it is no coincidence that both Starbucks and HEMA have opened their outlets at Centraal Station on the publically unrestricted side of the ticket barriers.

Going back to the original theme let’s now take a look at the centre corridor.

As you can see there is very little in the way of apparent information. Behind the position where this photo is taken from mounted higher up are two blue departure monitors but these cannot be properly seen from the middle of this passageway. For a reason I am yet to fathom, there are also no ticket barriers yet for this corridor.

I understand that the station is undergoing renovation in conjunction with the NoordZuidLijn metro development, but if you are a passenger changing trains at CS and you find your way to this corridor it could be a significant challenge to access the information you need to complete your journey.

Lost passengers are liable to stop unexpectedly and block spaces providing obstacles to those in a hurry. Those without direction will tend to congregate around information desks providing further mobile chicanes and perhaps even a health and safety risk. A lack of information, be it on a display or provided by a human, causes delay and this corridor should have clear displays and information so the transferring passenger has an opportunity to find what they are looking for.

Series Conclusions

Most of the challenges in passenger communication come about due to a pattern of philosophy, and that that represents a collective approach to information provision governed by a number of accepted points. Those points can be perceived as;

  • The Acceptance of Tradition or Routine: This highlights the “This is the way we have done it for years” approach. Without massive, high visibility failures which in turn spur on improvements, only small changes are made, as it is accepted that the current method of service provision is adequate, if not perfect. I would submit the format of the yellow timetables as evidence of this.
  • The Acceptance of Experience: This covers the abstract questions “Surely you know how to get to Amersfoort, right?”or “Most of you have been to Alkmaar before, I presume?”. This approach governs the way the information is displayed. Should a small number of people question its validity, it could be perceived by the organisation presenting the information that the people questioning it are themselves in the wrong or uneducated. “Since the majority do not ask questions our information must be adequate.”  This approach is borne out by the way the information is displayed on the blue monitors.
  • The Acceptance of Now: This approach will be familiar to those with experience of continual incremental improvements or sticking-plaster remedies for situations that require more wholesale changes. I would submit the way in that the barriers have been installed as evidence of this.

These acceptances will no doubt be familiar to many as they are human tendencies.

To me however, and the main reason why I wrote this series, is that I am curious and intrigued by how developments in human social behaviour affect our ability to navigate and provide information for each other. We’ve come a long way since railways were invented, yet only in the last 20 years has the information and technological advances we now take for granted really entered the mainstream of transport provision.

Our expectations of transport services have gone up hugely. We have gone from begrudgingly accepting unknown delays, being late and hoping the train is on time, to looking ahead for the information on the Internet, hunting for the best ticket price and demanding to know when the train is going to arrive. As a transit provider, you need look no further than Eurostar’s xmas ’09 experience to see the result of giving limited information to a frustrated, and Internet connected customer base. Our requirements and expectations have accelerated and they can be demanding, but that does not mean that they are difficult or expensive to provide.

The challenge to transport providers in this new era is not to concentrate solely on winning passengers but to provide them with an exceptional passenger experience, and that starts the moment they walk into a station looking for information. To meet these expectations the information simply needs Efficiency, Consistency and Relevancy.

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