The steadily increasing popularity of mobile devices is driving a targeted focus on developing mobile apps to meet the needs of customers in a wider range of market sectors. Mobile apps already have a firm foothold in shopping malls, the hotel industry, and luxury residential buildings.
Now, the rail industry is seeking to improve its apps so that they better satisfy the travel needs of their customers. Judging from the expected innovations, rail companies and passenger stations will have to beef up their Wi-Fi infrastructure to accommodate increased demands on their networks.
Passenger Focus recently conducted research to explore the future of mobile apps for UK rail passengers. Understanding that other sectors are making innovative strides in app development, Passenger Focus wanted to discover what innovation was taking place in the rail sector, how rail apps are being used by heavy users, and what features those users would like to see in rail apps.
Their report entitled Rail Passengers and Apps: What Next? presents results from extensive interviews, focus groups, and observations. Survey participants included a mix of iOS and Android mobile users, business, leisure, and commuting travelers.
Approaches Used for Completing Travel Tasks
In the UK, rail passengers have hundreds of mobile apps from which to choose. Not only is the variety overwhelming, they all tend to offer similar features and they all report information from the same central database. However, the study found that even heavy app users tend to use traditional methods to complete travel-related tasks that are actually available through the apps.
The reason for this is three-fold. Passengers were unaware of what the rail apps could do. They typically followed old habits for completing tasks. Passengers also had information security concerns about using mobile apps, particularly when entering credit card information to purchase tickets.
In addition, many passengers find that the traditional way of handling tasks are more convenient. For instance, instead of pulling out a mobile phone to check for departure times or disruption in service, it was easier to look at an information board or ask a staff member for assistance.
The survey did identify differences in how different types of travelers used rail apps. Commuters’ use of rail apps was mostly limited to checking departure times and information about disruptions in service. The speed of the app was most important to them.
Because business and leisure travelers tend to be less familiar with their journey, they use rail apps to research destinations and ticket prices, check for disruptions, and purchase tickets. These travelers tend to want much more information than commuters do. They want to explore all available route options as well as travel and departure times. They also want the ability to search for travel options weeks or months into the future.
The Future of Rail Apps
According to the survey, rail apps are believed to be most useful “on the go.” That’s because most pre-planning is still done on a desktop computer or laptop. Consequently, use of rail apps will only increase if developers make them easier to use than other options, and design them to deliver unique information.
When asked what new features they would like to see in rail apps, rail passengers listed the following features in order of importance:
- Offline functionality
- Ability to use phone as a ticket
- End-to-end journey planning
- Information updates through push notifications
- Voice recognition data entry
- Live feeds of service status
The Need to Strengthen Wi-Fi Infrastructure in the Rail System
With the increased app capabilities will come increase data demands. It’s clear that the ability to meet the needs of rail passengers through innovative mobile apps will require a significant upgrade of the wireless infrastructure throughout their rail system.