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How to Increase Digital Adoption & App Usage Among Transit Riders

How to Increase Digital Adoption & App Usage Among Transit Riders

Similar to many other industries, the transit sector over the past few years has pivoted their approach in response to changes in customer needs and wants. More transit agencies are embracing and implementing new technologies (like contactless payments) and digital services that are intended to make public transportation safer, more sustainable, and more enjoyable to ride.

Yet as with any newly-launched consumer program, it can be a challenge to get customers onboard and utilizing new tools and services. Even as new digital technology use accelerates among the transit industry, agencies still face the challenge of increasing digital adoption and mobile app use among their key rider audiences. 

There are a number of reasons riders might hesitate to start using a transit mobile app, digital tickets, or member account: 

Issues with technology

Technology only works to build ridership if, well, it works. It’ll be harder to motivate riders to use your transit app or digital platform if it’s constantly experiencing issues or has a less-than-ideal user experience. 

Certain rider segments still tend to pay with cash

While transit agencies are seeing increased interest for mobile or contactless payments, not every customer is making the switch from paying with cash. Some studies revealed that transit agencies' different customer segments, such as essential workers, are still mostly paying with cash. It can be difficult to persuade riders to switch to new forms of payment. 

Concerns over data privacy

Data privacy continues to be a main source of worry and concern for consumers; 2021 saw increases in state regulations and various data protection acts to monitor how organizations collect, track, and use consumer data. Commuters might be wary or hesitant to add another app or program account that tracks their activity or open themselves up to another potential data breach where their personal info is stolen.


So What Can Increase Digital Adoption Among Transit Riders?

 Increasing digital adoption can essentially be narrowed down to one main concept - making the benefits outweigh the costs in the customer's mind. Promoting the various ways a transit mobile app or digital service delivers value and makes their life easier is what can negate the various fears or reluctance on the customer's part. Here are a few tips for motivating transit riders to utilize digital service and mobile apps more: 


Convenience Can Play A Big Part

Making public transit convenient is what can draw more people into its use. According to a research report from Masabi, convenience can trump price, time, and necessity for individuals when making the decisions to ride public transit or not. This also means making the nuances of public transit easy to handle as well: only having to pay or input payment information once; being able to purchase & store tickets or rides in advance; adding on special fare tickets or purchase tickets for additional passengers through your account, and more. 

Another way transit apps can make travel more convenient is implementing the ability to control other aspects of their commute or journey. The Transit app, for example, gives customers options to add on other services such as taxis, bike rentals, and more with their public transit purchases to help better plan their routes. Similar features or tools can help make a transit agency's mobile app even more valuable to its customers, increasing the likelihood they'll use it.


Continue To Improve The Technology Used To Book & Navigate Public Transit

Mobile app use among public transit is not a new concept or even a new implementation - several transit agencies have been using mobile apps to provide real-time bus or train updates and arrival information since 2010. What is a newer development is the ability to bring together all these different benefits of technology - trip planning, buying tickets, receiving updates, and earning rewards - into a single accessible portal for riders. In previous years each of these objectives required users to access different technologies or systems. Now a more connected world of technology-savvy customers expect less interruptions and more seamless interactions from the tech they use in their daily lives: which means transit agencies also need to ensure their digital programs and apps are up to par.

Improving digital adoption can start with making it simple to discover and access different transit services available. For audiences who are new to using public transportation, the lack of familiarity with different bus/train routes or times, the best ticket & price options,  and not knowing proper procedures or processes can discourage them from trying or using transit consistently. Offering mobile apps or digital ticketing can help introduce new tech-savvy customers to public transit while making travel easier and more convenient for existing ones. The easier transit apps or digital accounts are to use and understand, the more riders will use them. 


Reward Riders With Financial Benefits For Adopting Digital Or Mobile Apps 

Transit agencies can increase digital adoption and mobile app usage among riders by making it financially valuable through loyalty and rewards programs. These programs make it possible for customers to earn valuable incentives each time they take public transit, such as:

  • Free rides or special ticket pricing
  • Points to redeem for physical or digital rewards
  • Access to exclusive partnership offers and deals from local businesses through the transit app or loyalty program account. 

By registering an account through the transit app and loyalty program, riders can ensure each ticket they buy goes towards acquiring beneficial rewards and perks that they can actually use in their daily lives. 


Offer App or Digital-Only Deals

Another method for increasing mobile app use is to offer different ticket passes or fare deals that are exclusively available through the transit agency’s mobile app or loyalty program. Metrolink in California for example started offering a new 10-Day Flex Pass pilot program available only through Metrolink’s Mobile App. In response to changing workplace travel norms, the 10-Day Flex Pass gives commuters the flexibility to use one of their day passes whenever they need to travel. Transit agencies can also utilize strategies such as fare-capping and special pricing to encourage riders to sign up for their mobile app. Each ride logged to a customer’s unique user account allows that user to track their progress towards meeting a minimum threshold for receiving free rides. 

Even riders who purchase paper tickets can still benefit from using a mobile app thanks to image validation technology. Riders can scan their ticket or take a photo, and upload it to their loyalty program account, and then image validation software validates key data points from the ticket to properly assign the right credits or points back to the user’s account. 

Digital adoption is accelerating at a steady pace, but the transit industry can ensure no customer segment or demographic gets left behind by following these tips to encourage their audiences to embrace the next evolution in public transportation technology.