TransLink putting big new emphasis on customer service moving forward

Jun 19 2019, 11:59 pm

Over the last few years, there has been growing emphasis from TransLink on adding “creature comforts” — amenities that improve the passenger experience while onboard public transit.

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The public transit authority previously announced a range of amenities such as the gradual introduction of public washrooms at major hubs, real-time next-train digital screens at SkyTrain stations, improved public announcement systems on SkyTrain, air conditioning on all future new vehicles, free Wi-Fi across all services, and new touch screen dynamic information signs at major hubs, with the latter two amenities coming at no cost to TransLink as they are funded by the private sector.

Today, during the public transit authority’s Annual General Meeting, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond released a new mandate strategy to significantly expand and improve the customer service through 2025.

The strategy is divided into three streams, totalling 62 action items, with 16 of the items already accomplished.

The renewed customer service mandate includes providing more transit service, which is one of the streams. These big picture action items — such as a new fleet of double decker buses, 6 new B-Line routes, new B-Line rapid bus standards, new additional cars for all three SkyTrain lines, a new SeaBus, and SkyTrain station and SeaBus terminal upgrades — are all part of the Mayors’ Council plan.

The bulk of these capacity and frequency improvements will be implemented into service between now and 2020, and overall bus service and rail service will increase by 18% and 48%, respectively, over the coming years. There will even be an effort to improve the system’s cleanliness.

“We are committed to creating an environment that will attract and retain more riders and more customers,” said Desmond. “Yes, that will put more pressure on the system. We are experiencing that now, even with all the bus hours we have added. Ridership is accelerating even faster than we can put out on service.”

The remaining two streams focus on the finer details of the passenger experience.

To further improve communication and information, TransLink plans to replace the giant clock at both SeaBus terminals with real-time arrival countdowns, redesign and replace all wayfinding signage on all three SkyTrain lines and the West Coast Express to ensure consistency and improve passenger navigation, and utilize a new system of mobile speakers to better communicate with passengers during major SkyTrain service disruptions.

On the digital side of communication, work is underway to use artificial intelligence to improve bus arrival prediction times, which is currently subject to glitches and flaws. A new mobile website will also be launched later this year.

“The fact is, our transportation system is in competing with all kinds of ways to move around,” said Larry Beasley, a member of TransLink’s board of directors and the City of Vancouver’s former chief planner.

“It will increasingly be so, so it has to be a better and better experience to become competitive.”

The third stream focuses on engaging both the public and front-line transit staff on recommendations to improve the customer service experience.

TransLink will establish a new customer advisory panel. According to Desmond, he envisions this panel to consist of between 12 and 20 citizens, with the group representing all diverse interests and geographical areas of the region.

“Customers will provide us with direct feedback on key projects and initiatives. They will tell us what we’re doing each and every step on the customer journey,” said Desmond.

“Are we getting the right information at the right time to customers? Are we doing enough to improve the in-person experience? Are we moving fast enough to respond to their needs? What are the little things we can do better? What are the big things we should be aspiring to?”

TransLink is already well underway with its extensive public consultation process for Transport 2050, which will lead to the creation of a blueprint for the next public transit expansion and improvement projects over the coming 30 years.

For TransLink employees, there will be a new customer-first committee of employees from across the public transit authority who have a keen interest in the customer experience and act as an advisory and advocacy group. A new “ideas inbox” will also be created for employees to send suggestions regarding customer service improvement.

Desmond says he anticipates the new strategy will be a “living document” with more initiatives added as the plan is implemented.

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