Unlike many other industries, urban public transport is dominated by monopoly conditions and a strong political influence on the service provided. The position of its users has traditionally been weak also in cases where private initiative plays a greater role. However, adequate representation is essential for the acceptance of public transport as an alternative to the car and a contribution to the balanced and sustainable development of tomorrow's conurbations. These interests must be given due consideration on the planning, operational and customer service level.
The project examined which approaches have been pursued to allow customers to express their interests under these circumstances and how institutions and procedures can be adapted to improve representation. Relevant experience from other fields is included in the analysis.
The project reviews the strategies and tools users have available to express their concerns. Results of these activities will be recommendations for industry stakeholders, good-practice case studies and suggestions for further activities.
The work plan comprised the following units:
- Review of relevant research and political initiatives in this field;
- Analytical case studies on the position of customers in the planning process;
- Review of customer charters and similar quality statements;
- Review of complaints management and redress arrangements.
Main methodologies used were literature and internet-based research, interviews with stakeholders and professionals including politics and users. Observations, Grounded Theory, quantitative and qualitative surveys were also used for specific topics.
Public transport services are an essential part of the quality of life for many people, both directly as a means to move around and as a tool for achieving environmental quality objectives in particular in dense urban areas. Better consideration of user interests can also contribute to the evolution of new products and services through a better awareness of their genuine needs.
The project has been one of the first to consider these issues from an international comparative perspective. Furthermore, it has gone beyond a debate of the legal situation by taking a comprehensive look at the passengers' interests in the different stages of the planning process:
- political/strategic decision level;
- service planning;
- implementation and quality management;
- customer care.
The institutional and procedural arrangements in the countries covered by the study have been analysed and evaluated. On the whole, the UK, Netherlands and Sweden have the most developed structures for transport user representation (the UK in particular), citizens' participation in planning (UK, Netherlands) quality management and customer care (UK, Sweden). Valuable instruments can be found in other countries as well.
The project publications bring together a range of tools and procedures for citizens' participation in planning processes, including advice on which procedures are suitable for which tasks and topics. Examples include:
- Institutional structures for user representation;
- Participatory and communicative tools for planning processes;
- Consultation in tendering and franchising processes;
- Data collection for quality monitoring;
- Customer care and dialogue;
- Alternative dispute resolution.
Details of the project results have been presented in two books (in German and English) published in Spring 2009 (details on the website www.busrep.net). The work has analysed the topic from an interdisciplinary perspective, and the issues are relevant for
- transport policy (e.g. development of statutory consumer representation);
- public transport and urban planning (regarding participatory tools in planning processes);
- quality management;
- customer care, complaints handling, customer relationship management;
- "Passenger rights" and "passenger participation" are complimentary strategies to improve user satisfaction and service attractiveness, which should be pursued in parallel;
- Using appropriate instruments, user involvement is feasible in all four stages of the planning and production process;
- Participation on the policy/planning level can serve two main objectives: to mobilise creativity and to create mutual understanding and agreement;
- Implementation and customer care need to take better account of the passenger's experience of the service, characterised by a passive exposure to external influences in which shortcomings are more acutely felt than in environments with greater personal control;
- On the other hand, good performance in customer care is an "experience quality" which can improve the customers' perception significantly.