Fitting needs into wheels and rails

Our work in this project rethinks how users plan for public transport journeys so we started by reviewing user needs around their travel. We found that while a few people can think of public transport needs driven from their own complex lifestyle this isn't the norm - most people state their very basic needs such as knowing how to get from A to B, and what the fare is.

This may be a result of users having low expectations of what is possible due to historical experience, and a strong awareness of the industrial nature of these services - like bricks and mortar, they're built on wheels and rails. By thinking of these services in terms of their constraining brute physicality users may hide their own wider personal needs. An example of these wider expansive needs is "I need to leave the house in time to catch the bus but not so early that I’m standing for a long time waiting in the cold weather, or skip breakfast.” However these personal needs rarely rise to the top, instead users get stuck on fundamentals, for example "I need the train to be on time”, intuiting that like a rule, a timetable can and will be broken.

We noted that personal needs when obtained provide the existing system with real challenges, for example: the need to get to work ten minutes earlier today, or to have 99.9% guaranteed arrival to collect my child from school by 4.45pm at the latest, or to have extra protection from the cold due to being unwell. These are the genuine, complex needs of real travellers that vary from day to day, and week to week, that they largely suppress when considering public transport.

We also observed that intermittent needs arise from unanticipated variations in public transport services. For example, a traveller taking a 2 hour train journey in the evening where they intend to purchase food and water for an evening meal from the onboard canteen. Where the canteen is closed for operational reasons the traveller has a new need to purchase food and water from the station prior to departure, or they will get caught out.

It is clear to us that within both the hidden personal needs, and unplanned intermittent needs, of public transport users lie great opportunities to deliver better public transport services. Now in this project we are turning towards design and are excited about the possibilities of how smart routing technology can help address these needs regardless of the constraints of wheels and rails.