Moving from Traditional to Modernized Transit

By Mark Aesch, CEO

Thought leader and 21-time best-selling author Seth Godin recently shared in his daily blog a sentence that captured our attention “more and better aren’t the same…”.  Indeed, and the space between more and better is the state of the public transit industry’s crossroads.

The decades-old public transit performance playbook was designed to celebrate more ridership. However, elected officials invested in public transit at a record level during 2019-2021 when ridership was at its lowest level in 70 years because of the value transit services bring to communities. Highlighting “more and better aren’t the same…”.   

If Starbucks doesn’t serve coffee, there are no coffee shops. While Starbucks aims to sell ‘more’ coffee they also aim to offer a ‘better’ coffee experience.  Starbucks has achieved ‘better’ through designing a gathering space for the entire community, baristas demonstrate pride and ownership in their craft, and they have created adjacent development from other businesses wanting to be located near them.  The value of Starbucks in our society is far beyond drinking ‘more’ coffee. 

Transit agencies from coast to coast are leading a similar transformation in thinking from the old-school public transit playbook to modern thought leadership. Better is more than simply the “number of cups served”. In Albany, transit leaders are focused on measuring and delivering community value. In San Antonio, transit leaders are delivering industry-leading customer satisfaction levels. In Denver, transit agency executives and law enforcement are partnering to improve customer perceptions of personal security. 

Modern transit is about measurable value. Transit thought leaders have worked to become less focused on looking inward and more focused on delivering customer and community-centric outcomes.  Modern transit recognizes that simply moving more people who don’t like your product is not and never was cause for celebration.  Modern transit recognizes that it doesn’t require buying 40-foot buses to provide mobility. 

The old-school transit playbook used valuable operational inputs such as on-time performance and mean distance between failures to define success. Those measures do not accurately nor effectively tell the whole story of how we can serve and satisfy our customers and communities.

Modern transit leaders think about these very topics in a very different manner. The combination of customer-empowered Key Experience Indicators (KEIs = customer’s perception of operational performance they find to be important)) combined with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs = agency operational performance on metrics customers prioritize) is the treasure trove of insight that can lead to ‘better’ (increased satisfaction) and as a result attract ‘more’ customers to public transit.  Better creates more.  More doesn’t create better. 

Dozens of transit agencies are leading this ‘more and better isn’t the same’ conversation with:

  • Measurably higher quality of customer experience.
  • Measurably equitable delivery of service.
  • Statistically valid survey results where the community validates that they see value from their investment in public transportation services.

We are proud to work with transformation leaders and organizations to produce this sea change in industry thinking.  


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