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Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility (2023)

Chapter: Chapter 1 - Overview

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26862.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26862.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26862.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26862.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26862.
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4 Background Transit agencies that develop on-demand transit pilots or programs desire for these services to be used by customers so that the services provide value to the community, are productive and cost- effective for the agency, and meet any goals set for the project. These pilots or programs can involve vendors such as transportation network companies (TNCs), taxicabs, or microtransit companies. On-demand services may also have different models for operations depending on preferences of the transit agency and the capabilities of vendor(s). For instance, in a turnkey model, the vendor provides most or all aspects of the service, including the vehicles, drivers, and software for the on-demand digital platform. Comparatively, some microtransit companies only provide the soft- ware component of the service for the transit agency to use with its vehicles and drivers (this model is sometimes called “software as a service”). The model for a given on-demand service can vary in terms of turnkey components included or features and support with the software, and transit agencies may contract with multiple vendors for their on-demand service. Typically, vendors in a turnkey model provide a higher level of support and personnel for marketing and customer educa- tion activities than vendors that are only providing software for on-demand trip making. The on-demand service may be designed as a transit service along with other available transit routes and programs, as a stand-alone service separate from other transit offerings, or as a subsidy program provided by non-transit vehicles. In addition, on-demand transit services or subsidy programs often involve smartphone applications (or “apps”) to connect to the on-demand digital platform and can sometimes have different availability features, fare rates, and other service components that are significantly different from what transit customers may be used to in riding traditional fixed route or demand response transit services. Even if a new on-demand transit service is available to the community, customers who are not engaged with a transit agency’s ongoing communica- tion channels may not be aware that the service exists for their mobility needs. These challenges in customer awareness and understanding of on-demand transit services can be significant in determining whether the service pilot or program is successful. Transit agencies looking to improve customer awareness and comfort levels with on-demand services have found that they can improve use of the services by planning ahead and setting goals for engagement with customers. Transit agencies have worked to collaborate with their service/ technology partners for the on-demand service, because these partners often have resources available to help with marketing materials based on their previous experience. Contract agree- ments or informal relationships may be used to determine specific roles between the agency and partner in leading or supporting certain efforts. Transit agencies have considered a wide array of marketing and messaging methods, beginning with print collateral for distribution and posting but also including newer online media and videos; some methods may be more effective for certain population groups of interest to the transit agency. In-person engagement to inform C H A P T E R 1 Overview

Overview 5   about the service or train people on how to use the service smartphone app can sometimes be the most effective tool in customer education efforts. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many transit agencies had to halt in-person activities for safety reasons. Transit agencies often pivoted to conducting virtual meeting events to answer community questions, but virtual engagement was not as helpful in teaching customers how to ride an on-demand service for the first time as the in-person sessions had been. Ridership on new services launched during the pandemic was often not as high as initially hoped, likely due to both customer safety concerns and lessened delivery of in-person outreach. Fostering relationships with local stakeholder organizations and community leaders can be an effective way to get assis- tance with increasing awareness about the service and connect with certain targeted populations through creating word-of-mouth buzz regarding the new on-demand service and developing local champions of the service. Many transit agencies look at ridership and related metrics for measuring service perfor- mance, but other metrics, such as access for certain population groups, travel to and from key destination points, or how reservations are made, may also be highly important to some agen- cies in meeting service goals. In order to assess the success of marketing and customer educa- tion efforts, data and tools for assessment have to be available and therefore planned ahead by the agency. Budgeting for marketing activities can also be important for transit agencies to consider to be sure that resources are available to assemble materials or devote staff time to these activities. For further success, it is important for agencies to plan timelines for particular marketing and engagement activities, including after the service launch period, in order to continue to connect to potential customers. This synthesis report presents an overview of the current state of the practice for transit agencies and other local government entities in leading or working with partners on marketing and customer education efforts for on-demand transit services. Objective and Scope The objective of this report is to provide useful information and examples on the state of the practice at transit agencies and other local government entities on marketing and customer education efforts to increase awareness and understanding of on-demand transit services. The study aims to identify the benefits and challenges of these efforts with respect to targeted marketing toward key populations groups, uses of different types of media and communication channels, and working with different private or public partners. The report discusses examples of agency efforts to increase customer awareness along with agency goals for service utilization, strategies for reaching certain audiences, and evaluation of success for various types of engagement. The study discussed in this report focuses on marketing and engagement associated with on-demand services using TNCs, taxis, or microtransit models as part of a transit agency service or subsidy program for rides. This synthesis report is not concerned with other types of on-demand mobility modes that may be associated with or connecting to transit services, in particular excluding on-demand carpool or vanpool services, micro-mobility modes such as electric scooters or bikeshare, and autonomous vehicle (AV) transit pilots. The report is likewise not concerned with market- ing and customer education efforts related to traditional demand response modes, including flexible fixed routes, dial-a-ride or call-and-ride services, ADA paratransit, or general public demand response service; some of these modes are discussed in the literature review and case examples research when related to specific customer groups for targeted marketing or relevant to the historical development of an on-demand transit service. The report is not focused on the service models, operations and administration, or productivity of on-demand transit services;

6 Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility these topics are already researched in other existing research reports, including TCRP Research Report 195: Broadening Understanding of the Interplay Among Public Transit, Shared Mobility, and Personal Automobiles (Feigon and Murphy, 2018), TCRP Research Report 204: Partnerships Between Transit Agencies and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) (Curtis et al., 2019), and TCRP Synthesis 141: Microtransit or General Public Demand–Response Transit Services: State of the Practice (Volinski, 2019). Information on service design and performance is sometimes discussed in the case examples as it relates to agency goals for service utilization by targeted customer groups, branding and messaging to customers, and evaluation of awareness and edu- cation efforts. Key Terms The field of on-demand mobility is continually evolving in the United States and throughout the world, often with different types of services available and vendors operating in various places. For example, initial transit agency partnerships with TNCs began as simple subsidy or promo- tional programs, but several current partnerships now feature more complex service integrations or eligibility requirements. Previously, the United States had several microtransit companies pri- vately operating services in major city markets, but at present, all microtransit services within the country follow either a turnkey or a software-as-a-service model with a transit agency (or other governmental entity). The following key terms for on-demand mobility appear throughout this report. These terms were developed for the survey study, adapted from previous research reports and the experience of the study team; the descriptions of these terms are not intended to be used as standard defini- tions for each but rather illustrate further context on the research topic. Most of these terms were provided to agencies that received the survey questionnaire to establish consistency of terminology in the study; adjustments to these descriptions as well as additional terms in this report were added to provide further clarity on typical service models used in on-demand transit services. • Ride-hailing. Term used for taxicab or taxi-like services such as Yellow Cab. Traditionally used for taxicab services only but now is sometimes applied to TNCs and/or services arranged through a digital platform. • Transportation network company (TNC). Taxi-like services that provide travelers with on-demand access to a ride using a digital platform that connects travelers to drivers using personal vehicles. • Microtransit. A technology-enabled demand-responsive transit service, typically using shuttles or vans with dynamic, real-time routing and scheduling. Microtransit service is publicly funded (at least partially) and intended to have passengers share vehicles for their on-demand trips. Often, microtransit pools passenger trips together using pickup and drop-off points at common destinations, sometimes through curb-to-curb service for the passenger. • Digital platform. The platform allowing travelers to request rides from the on-demand service, typically by way of a smartphone application. • Subsidy program. A service option in which the transit agency pays a portion of the trip cost (after an initial charge and/or up to a certain limit) on behalf of the customer using the on-demand service provider, such as a TNC or taxicab. • Turnkey. A service model in which the vendor (such as a TNC, taxicab, or microtransit company) oversees operations for the service, providing the vehicles, vehicle maintenance, drivers, and (in the case of on-demand services) software for the digital platform. • Software as a service. A service model in which the vendor (typically a microtransit company) only provides the software and smartphone applications for the service to operate using the digital platform.

Overview 7   Technical Approach to Project This study was conducted in three main phases: (1) a literature review of existing research and reports on marketing and customer education efforts related to on-demand transit or ride- hailing, (2) an online survey targeting transit agencies and local governments with identified on-demand transit or subsidy programs, and (3) in-depth case examples of selected transit agen- cies and cities that responded to the survey. Literature Review First, the study team reviewed relevant literature on previous research and transit industry reports about on-demand mobility and marketing or customer education. The study team focused on topics related to marketing materials, community outreach and engagement, campaigns and targeted marketing, types of media and advertising, and branding and messaging of on-demand services; the review also sought information about applicable contract components with service/ technology providers and any information about measured effectiveness. Survey of U.S. Transit Agencies Second, the study team developed a list of U.S. transit agencies and local government enti- ties based on identified information of agencies with on-demand transit services or subsidy programs from the literature review or previous research experience. Figure 1 maps the transit agencies, cities, and counties that completed the survey; the full list of survey respondents is included in Appendix B. The study team developed a survey questionnaire to learn more about agency or city prac- tices in marketing and customer education efforts associated with their on-demand services. The survey was structured into sections on service types and partners, internal processes and planning, roles and responsibilities, marketing efforts, enhanced participation, communication Figure 1. Map of survey respondent locations.

8 Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility and engagement, budget and acquisition, education and awareness benefits, and overall lessons learned and challenges. The final survey tool is included in Appendix A. Case Examples Third, after the survey analysis was completed, five agencies were selected as case examples based on survey responses about unique practices in marketing campaigns or work with their service/ technology partners or local community organizations. The study team and the topic panel also took care to represent geographic, agency-size, on-demand service type, and service/technology partner variety in the case examples while inviting agencies that would provide engagement examples and lessons learned to other transit agencies. The agencies that agreed to be case examples for this report represent two metropolitan transit authorities, two rural transit districts, and one municipal government. The case example work consisted of guided interviews with agency staff members to gather further details beyond the survey responses already provided. The following agencies participated in the cases studied as part of this synthesis: • Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Los Angeles, CA) • Hall Area Transit (Gainesville, GA) • Bay Area Transportation Authority (Traverse City, MI) • City of Jersey City (Jersey City, NJ) • King County Metro (Seattle, WA) The full case example write-ups are detailed in Chapter 4 of this report. The study team is grateful to the agency staff members for taking the time to participate further in the study effort and to provide additional information to the team about their experiences.

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For transit agencies launching new on-demand services that are different from typical fixed route or demand-responsive routes, there can be issues in customer awareness of the service or comfort level with using it for travel.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's TCRP Synthesis 165: Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility documents current practices in how on-demand services are marketed to various rider groups, including outreach to persons with disabilities, older adults, and marginalized populations.

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