Passenger CEO Tom Quay and COO Matt Morgan explain how Passenger has been adjusting to the new world. They discuss business resilience, disaster recovery and being useful, as well as learnings about public transport, technology and people as the world is on lockdown.
Join us for a look at how digital technology is shaping the UK’s future mass transit mobility trends.
Hi. Welcome to the making passenger podcast. I'm Matt...
and I'm Tom.
How's it going? I'm good, I'm good! So, what we doing here? What is this? What? Why have we started a podcast? Who are we and why have we started it?
Thats a great question Matt. We are attempting to share a lot of the cool things that we are doing at Passenger with anyone who wants to listen. So we think maybe that's going to be the (Passenger) team who perhaps aren't privy to some of the conversations that going on. We think it might be some customers, we think it might be some people with it might one day wanna work with us. So, yeah, we want to start talking about some of the really cool things that we've been working on that we are gonna work on and share some of the thinking that goes into those things. So I think that's pretty much where we're at.
Okay. Cool. So who is it definitely not for? Anyone its definitely not for?
Well, if you don't like transport, if you don't like data, if you don't like technology, its definitely not for you.
Okay. Well, that's good. to know We'll get that out up front so anyone fits that remit, you can turn off now.
Yeah, Thanks for tuning in!
Okay, so we're covered a little bit about why we started this podcast and who it's for. But how did we get here? Why are we doing this way? What is this all about? Why do we find ourselves sitting across from each other digitally recording a podcast? It would be remiss not to mention the current economic climate. That's obviously a big factor in the world right now, and that's possibly being a bit of a trigger for us to sit down and record this where perhaps we might not go to this this decision sooner. But why? Why we sitting here? How do we keep going on and whats happened?
That that's a great question. I think we're really trying to get exposure and lift the lid on the work that we're doing. I think there's some really interesting stuff coming out of Passenger at the moment, I think there's a lot of really interesting conversations that we're having is a team with all sorts of different organisations and all sorts of different stakeholders in the future mobility industry or sphere. I think this is really hopefully a nice way for us to invite some of these people into a discussion. Yeah, some of the team, some of some of the people that we work with, some of the partners of the integrations that we're doing on, and really started to kind of unpack some of the other thinking that's going into the work that we're doing. You know, you and I are privy to lots of conversations within the within the team that are really quite interesting, exciting. I think showing where some of this stuff could end up, I think, Yeah. We're just trying to widen our conversation base really? And I think you know one thing I would ask this that if anyone is really interested to learn about certain things and would like to hear our views on things, then please get in touch and on we can put those on the schedule. We don't really have much of a plan in terms of content, but we do know that we want to discuss all of the things that we are, you know, all of the conversations that we're having in a more public forum so that we can broaden that conversation and get some really interesting insight ourselves from others that have similar views and similar challenges. And hopefully we can accelerate some of the learnings and get to where we want to get to quicker.
So without this being a sales pitch, shall we say why we feel qualified to talk about some of the areas we're talking about? What it is that we do in this area, because this absolutely, isn't a sales pitch but, you know, understandably, someone might be saying who's this geezer and what's he talking about and why do I care?
Yeah, no, absolutely valid A bit of context to us. We started life in 2008 as a digital agency doing anything for anyone who would pay us. We didn't work in retail, financial services, property, all sorts of different bits and bobs...
Yeah, third sector stuff in there. So we have a really broad background as a unit, and I think it's probably fair to say that a lot of the team have been working together for quite a long time in the kind of broad range of sectors that we worked in there was this public transport thing that was, I think, stood out to quite a few of us as something that was really interesting. I think, you know, we could see that the world was changing. You know, that there was a climate conversation that was going on. The formats, the data, the challenges, that journey planning, the real time systems, all of that stuff, that we were kind of getting involved in what was really interesting. And I think it was quite a natural progression for us to become a more specialist unit in that area. So we, you know, as as an organisation, we're now 100% focused on solving challenges in public transport. In 2015 we pretty much folded the more general work that we were doing and we launched Passenger out of that. We had the starts of what was a product platform and, you know, and long story short, it's now one of the leading digital service platforms for public transport operators in the UK. In September 2019 we had the brilliant Passenger Transport Magazine do sort of an expose of all the different providers in the space. And we came out really well. And that was testament to the, you know, the years of learning, the education and the kind of absorbing of all of the data sets and real time system specifications and all of the different things that we sort of absorbed over there over the previous years and how we kind of shape that into something that we could take to market. So, yeah, I mean, we're passionate about this stuff, you know, and even more so now in the current context, you know, there's a really big opportunity we think to see some seismic shift in the way that urban areas and the way people move around and the way that theyre planned in the first place.
So let's talk a little bit about this. Let's talk about what's going on at the moment. Let's talk about how we have tried to work around the situation that we all find ourselves in more specifically, what we've done to support some of our operators noaw and potentially what we might be looking to do as part of future plans in conjunction with talking to them. I know that we've actually been able to turn things around quite fast. I don't necessarily know all of the detail of everything we've done. So it would be good just to hear a top line, Just a couple of the features that we worked on and why we think they were important and how we were able to deliver those.
Yeah, sure. I think that's a that's a really nice kind of thing to focus on right now. I mean, in terms of what we're building, we are very much being led by you know what the needs of our customers are right now. I think normally we would work in two weeks sprints and we have a roadmap that probably extends about 12 months into the future, potentially a bit further in a few areas. But right now, the work that we had planned to do has been put to one side and we are very focused on the things that you've mentioned in terms of helping our customers to kind of get through a lot of the challenges that they are suddenly faced with. One of those things was around tickets. So if you imagine the apps as a ticket machine in everyone's hand, we've got a lot of end uses - our customers customers if you like - who have a ticket on their mobile phone, which is a season pass, so a kind of a month long, or 1/4 or a year or whatever it might be and all of a sudden the Government says "You can't use it. You can't travel". Suddenly our operator customer support teams were being inundated with refund requests and "what you gonna do about this?"...
Thats a lot of refunds. How much do we? I mean, do you happen to know to the nearest 1000? How many thousands of tickets that is? That we're putting through the platform because that that's got to be hundreds of thousands of people that are certainly going to be getting in contact and overwhelming travel centres that are potentially staffed by two or three people?
Yeah, that's it. I don't have the numbers down in terms of volume, but you're absolutely right, the numbers of people within those teams, particularly at this time where those teams are getting smaller, you know, that's a huge amount of pressure.
That's a fair point. I guess a lot of people have been furloughed as well.
Absolutely, so the people that sort of being kept in post are potentially people who haven't necessarily done these kind of refund admin tasks before, so there's a lot of essential training that we have to do rapidly to kind of help people to understand, you know, the functions that other people in their team have previously done. But actually, you know what we decided to do to sort of stem this tide, If you like, to deliver the most amount of value that we could in the time that we had was to was to build a feature that allowed us to pause all of those tickets instantly. So on a given day at that time, we'd run a script, every single kind of ticket over seven days, we piaused it. We created a feature that was a really straightforward reactivation option for for the individual. So everyone who couldn't travel, wasn't able to travel, had their value left on their season pass, you know, ready to pick up again some point in the future. Unrestricted. But for everyone who needed to travel and that's become the real focus is supporting the key Workers. You know, the nurses and the doctors in the ER and all of the essential services - getting them to work. And that's been, you know, those people who had those season passes could just reactivate straightaway. So it was kind of a really sort of elegant solution to allow, you know, people to pause it, save the value for later or continue where they needed. That was that was great. That was something that, you know, we had a couple of conversations with, with our contacts, that operators and, you know, we worked very closely with them, and we're talking to them all the time. So when that conversation kind of emerged across a few of them, we felt well, as I say, Let's let's not do the bits of work that we planned. Let's put this in because this is now a bigger priority. This is gonna have more value, to our customers at this time. So that was great. And that was something that we shipped really quickly. Obviously, we we tested it thoroughly and made sure that it was fit for purpose. Somebody would, obviously, because we say you should just a huge number of individuals that would be affected by that, and it will rolled out for the operators that wanted it. So that was something that we could offer very quick. There's a couple of other things in terms of the of the appropriateness of advertising attractions to visit some of some features
of the system are kind of promoting the destinations. A strategy we have is to not promote the mode. People dont go looking for - I want to go on a bus, they go looking for, I want to go to Kingston Lacy or a National Trust Property or a cinema or whatever it might be. So people would more naturally go looking for the place they are going to on, then discover the nodal kind of choice to get there. So we've got this one functionality for our operators to promote the things around them in their in their geography on then route people to them. Obviously, to be doing that at a time where you know everyone is in lockdown. It felt but inappropriate to do that. So we offered that we would temporarily take those those out on any kind of rewards that were associated to, you know, venues, a 10% discount or whatever it might be to coffee shops. We offered our customers that the option to temporarily hide those things so that they weren't being seen. To encourage travel at a time where everyone was doing their utmost to do the opposite.
Yeah. Okay, well, that makes makes really good sense. Obviously, things have been changing almost what must have felt like to some people hourly in the early days and while that has certainly stabilised now as people are finding their feet and understanding what's going on. There's been a lot of change in just timetables and schedules and where things should be and communicating all that kind of information. And, I know that some people have found it very difficult to keep that information up to date because obviously, changing your changing your timetable information across your whole network is something that traditionally happens maybe maybe two or three times a year. And is quite a big ordeal and then This was changing every day or every couple of days. I know that the guys have been working on ways to mitigate incorrect data and i just wondered, could you just go into a bit more detail about what the problems sort of was and What our solution was?
One of most complicated things to do is to make sure that all of the data that the apps and the websites run off is accurate and that that job, that task, lies with the network teams at the operators. So they are, every time a network changes or route changes, those teams have to map those those routes, those timetables and then upload that data into all of the systems that use them. One of the systems is ours, a system called Passenger Cloud - a Web based system, straightforward upload of what we call TransXchange data and that generates all the roots and the maps and all those kind of things that come out on in the apps. Now, as you say, those they don't change that often, I think, it varies in different places as to how regularly that changes. But it's certainly not being done every day and he fact that, you know, the situation was changing so rapidly it put huge amounts of pressure on on those teams. Who again on not at full strength to deliver, you know, really accurate information, remap the journey so that they are, you know, they're actually rooting through the hospitals at the right time for key workers to start shifts and all of those considerations and, you know, you know, understanding that kind of pressure. You know, we're obviously like - what can we do to help? And I think one of our senior engineers came to the management team, said, "Look, we've got this live bus tracking functionality and it's not enabled for, you know, a few of the operators that we work with, we could we could offer to enable that so that where you know, data in real time systems is not yet up to date, and those those predictions are not quite accurate enough. We can show the location of the buses for those key workers to have the confidence that that vehicle was actually gonna come, and actually going to get them to that shift that they really need to be at". So, you know, that was something that we absolutely gone on board with straightaway. We spoke to our colleagues at Ticketer that we do a lot of work with on. They absolutely embraced the idea on we both, you know, within a matter of days enabled the bits of technology on both sides of the system's to make that happen and deliver that for the customers that wanted it. So I think, you know, it's a testament to some of the working relationships that we have in the industry that we can do those things at the speed that we have done. And, you know, I think that's that's a real sense of pride for the team to be working on things and to have delivered technology that has a very quick impact on a situation that, you know, as many people have said, is unprecedented. To be able to respond in that way is , Yeah, it's it's made it. You know, it has made us feel as a team, like we are contributing something to righ the ship, as it were. So Matt, we talked a little bit earlier around this idea of a living lab and this whole thing being kind of thrust upon us on an opportunity as well as the complications and the challenges that it has presented for everyone. We talked a little bit about the opportunities that it has created. If you can kind of talk a little bit more about what you what you've kind of seen on how you think that might influence what, what can be done going forward and, you know, the degree of boldness, I suppose, about some of the actions that could be taken.
Yeah, it's an interesting one, and we've obviously talked a bit about this sort of offline. But I mean, what we are seeing is absolutely there's a lot less traffic on the road just generally because people doing exactly as they've been should which is staying home. But what that does allow is for public transport to run bang on time if not a little bit early, which is you sort of rarely seen, especially during peak traffic. And so what we're seeing is with the living experiment as to what could be if there was less traffic on the road. Now, obviously people are staying home. But if those people were still going to where they needed to be, could they be doing that with public transport? I think the answer is probably yes, and we all already knew that. But it's gonna be about what can we take from this accidental living lab that we're in? And how can we try and make sure some of that follows through when we come out the other side, It's Yeah. I don't know. What do you think?
I know from some of the work that we've been doing that a lot of the local authorities and the combined authorities up and down the UK have been working really hard on sort of, I suppose, what they're calling smart city strategy. They may not be calling them all the same terminology, but effectively - How do they create a place? How do they reduce the demands, reduce the dependency, not the demand but the dependency on cars that we ...
Well, now is the time to be sneaking in those bus lanes when no one's looking!
or cycle lanes, or Pogo lanes!! I really dont mind but now is the time to be justifying sticking them in!
I think, as much as electric vehicles are going to be a piece of the jigsaw. You know, a really important part of cutting emissions. I think it is well understood that it is. It is just a replacement, the physical size of a car. And it doesn't matter whether it's got an electric drive train or an internal combustion engine its still the size of a car. So, yeah, I think there is an opportunity, to reappraise some of these these strategies and some of these planning exercises that have been done. A a lot of cycle lane infrastructure has been planned, especially in Bournemouth where we are. We spend a bit of time with the guys that are a part of the BH Active Travel and the work that they've been doing with the Council with regard to junctions in modal filtering and all of the different kind of bits of planning infrastructure that you know enables people to be more confident on bikes and being able to walk somewhere because, you know, the shops are closer and going half the default to the car. I think there's going to be a chance to kind of look at those plans and maybe accelerate some of these decisions and really kind of put them into action faster and actually where there was potentially going to be more resistance to you know these things by the car, the car representatives, I think, though potentially less now. I think you know there may be, you know, more buy-in and actually in the last political persuasion required to get some of this stuff done to be bolder and actually make some of this stuff happen a bit sooner. That's my hope, anyway.
Yeah, and I think I would echo that's my hope. But I guess the pessimist or cynic in me would say, I don't know if that's gonna happen, but it's certainly where I would like. That's what I would like. Part of the legacy of this whole situation to be, and part of the positivity that could come out the other side.
Yep. Absolutely. I think you know where there is any kind of difficulty and challenge. I think you have to be hopeful and you have to look what could happen. And there are plenty of people doing that now. I just sincerely hope that there is, there is some action that comes off the back of this, and I think you know, those teams that are responsible for those plans that are proposing changes, to our urban areas, our towns, our cities, you know - where we all live. You know, I want them to really act and say "Right, What? What can we do now that we couldn't have done before", you know, selfishly , you know, I've got a 7 year old and a 10 year old and I really... my wife's gonna kill me.. Seven and nine!
I was gonna I was gonna call you out on that and say I'm pretty sure they're not!
One just had a birthday, but it was the other one! Selfishly, I've got a seven year old and a nine year old, and I really want toTake them on their bikes to school and, now, our roads are beautifully clear you know, we can take our kids out and we don't have to worry about a car bombing past them, really inconsiderately and really scaring them or worse. And you know, I want that to be a thing. I want that to be our future, and I think it can be. I don't want my kids to grow up thinking that the car is the only way to get around. They will have access to some kind of electric vehicle, whether they own it or whether they subscribe to it. I don't know whether they have to drive it or whether it will drive itself. I genuinely don't know. I don't believe all the hype. I'm massively enthusiastic about automation. Really, I am interested. But regardless of all of that, I think you know, they've got two feet and we are living in a time when they should be using them. You know, we know that you know, they need to be out keeping healthy and walking in cycling, and that's a you know, thing I want for everyone's children. Yeah, we can do it. This stuff's gonna take a long time, and this stuff does not happen overnight. But I think it can happen. And it should happen.
So what we are going to do next time, for those of you that have made it all the way through all these ramblings , we're going to introduce a guest to the mix. We've invited a chap called Jason Falconer to join us for the next session. He is the chairman of the BH Active Travel Forum, who is leading the kind of engagement with BCP Council with their Transforming Cities Fund and all of the walking and cycling infrastructure that is being planned down here on the coast. So yeah, it should be a really interesting conversation on. Yeah, I'm looking forward to that one.
Yeah, hopefully that will be a really interesting conversation. Probably more interesting than the ramblings of you and me. But if anyone has any questions that you would like to ask of either of us or, of us as a company or of Jason, then please do get in contact. You can tweet us @makingpassenger or you can email us at email@example.com and If you've listened to this and you've got this far and you like it, well, thank you very much. But secondly, pleased to share this with any colleagues or anyone you think may find value in the words that we're saying, because it's only worth doing if there are people listening. Otherwise, it's just an exercise of two guys talking to each other, which we could do without recording. To be fair, I
I've been Tom
and I've been Matt. Thanks very much.