the experience is the future, not the four wheels

In last week's Passenger Transport there was a piece by Robert Jack on the Slide operation currently being trialled by RATP Dev in Bristol.

Robert writes 'It’s not a bus and it’s not a taxi, it’s something in between'...  'it's the first to use an Uber-style blend of an app-based booking interface and sophisicated algorithms to match customers with vehicles.'

In a nutshell, it uses the latest technology (that has nearly revolutionised the taxi industry in big cities) to make people's whole experience of getting to where they need to go a lot simpler and more organic. What hasn't really changed is the mode of transport. Slide just use nice, branded people carriers.

Alongside the article is a comment piece bemoaning the bus industry's lack of investment in technology - 'Is it really too difficult or too expensive for the big bus groups to develop systems that compete with the best retail experiences? By failing to do so, buses are starting to look like the land that time forgot.'

At the moment it looks like the answer is yes.

Maybe the big boys are happy to concentrate on short-term term goals for the benefit of shareholders rather than long-term investment for the benefit of passengers? Maybe they are afraid to rock the boat in case it affects the transport status quo they are very much a mainstay of? Or, with an air of positivity, they know they have a problem keeping up with technology and are secretly beavering away to address it?

One point of view is they invest too much in the product itself and too little in the overall customer experience. New buses with the odd gadget are great but they are just one part of a customer's interaction with a particular bus brand. The whole journey - finding information, understanding fares, paying for a ticket, contacting the company - needs to be on a par with 21st century retail, not just the bit on wheels.

I've just read that Slide have now doubled their operation in Bristol to eight vehicles (after the original four had completed nearly 16,000 journey miles) and are likely to open more routes in the city.

I'm not sure the bus industry needs to worry just yet, but it certainly needs to be aware their technology game needs significant improvement.