The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) held its annual Coaching Conference at Volvo’s Warwick HQ on 15 November.
‘Embracing the Digital World’ looked at how the industry can take advantage of digital technology. speakers covered a wide range of topics including the use of social media, crowd sourcing, digital compliance, data protection and parking in Westminster.
I’m indebted to trade magazine Bus & Coach Buyer for permission to reproduce part of a full report by Chris Peat that gives a useful and informative update on the issues facing coach operators across the country. To see the full report, go to www.busandcoachbuyer.com
First speaker of the day was CPT President, Ian Luckett, who said the biggest challenge the industry is facing is that of air quality. Unfortunately, he believes the public has a negative view of the industry. “Sometimes we don’t help ourselves. All it takes is for the driver to idle and it wrecks the image. Generally, the public sees it [the coach] as a dirty, polluting beast.”
This, he believes, is certainly not the case and he notes how much the industry has invested in clean and new vehicles, even without the ULEZ necessitating it. He noted that at Lucketts, it is trialling the Irizar i4H hybrid coach, saying he believes these vehicles may become commonplace in its fleet. “Hybrid is an option we have got to look at. Other solutions are not open to us, not until better battery technology is available.”
The CPT has worked hard, he claims, to turn the industry’s negative image around and make it known as part of the solution to cleaning the nation’s air. The government is starting to “get it”, he said. “The CPT has made that happen by getting its voice heard. We have spoken to MPs about the huge strides we have made in fleets and the huge investments we have made. The gauntlet has been thrown down to local authorities: what plans do they have to tackle air quality at the local level?”
When it comes to engaging with councils, he said: “We must not wait for local authorities to come to us; we need to make the first move. Our CPT managers, that are here today, they are key to getting the message across. If you have a meeting with a local authority, take your local managers with you. They will be delighted to go. It always staggers me how little politicians know about the subject [of air quality]. We need to make sure bus and coach is front and centre of local authority plans.
“We need to persuade the local authorities to do something about congestion and then our service can be the contender for the car.”
“There are some who say the industry is in its twilight years. But I think we have just come into puberty; exciting things are going to happen.” He warned operators to keep up with developments though. “If you’re not careful, you will be the Nokia of this world.”
On the conference’s theme of digital developments, he noted the BBC website turned 20 recently and said that in 1997 there were fewer than 8m people online in the country. There are now 60m. “The digital world has evolved and there’s nothing to suggest it will slow down. As an industry, we have to embrace the digital world. It’s up to us to tell suppliers what we and our customers want.”
Friend or foe?
A picture of Donald Trump’s inauguration was shown at the start of CPT’s Director of Policy Development, Steven Salmon’s, presentation. He then showed another image of what was going on behind this photo, revealing a massed crowd. Steven said there were some crowd-sourced coaches that brought some of those people to the event, saying 750 vehicles were involved. These were organised by Rally, the US crowd-sourced transport provider. Steve said: “This turns our model on its head. We put supply out there and hope we can sell it.” He likened these online platforms to VAMOOZ, developed by the UK’s Transdev Blazefield.
Steven continued: “If we whizz across the Atlantic and head to Germany, we have FlixBus. They are best known for regular services. They are very interested in the whole coach market though. They have 42 software developers to bring together people who want to have a coach to those who want to supply it. It is ambitious and they are putting a fantastic amount of resources behind it.”
In the UK, there is Zeelo, described as pop-up coach travel for the crowd. Steven said it was started by looking at the university term-time market, linking people up from their homes to their university halls of residence. They then turned towards the world of sporting events and Zeelo now offers passes for transport to regular home games of select teams, creating regular customers. “However, they have fallen for the temptation of misrepresentation,” Steven claimed. The website claims it has a fleet of 20,000 executive coaches at its disposal. “I guess all of you are contracted to provide travel for them,” quipped Steven.
Arriva Click was his next example, based in Sittingbourne, providing travel around Kent Science Park. He described it as drawing bus-loads of people together in real time. The pricing sits between the local bus and the taxi, he said. “Industrial espionage”, to find out how many people are boarding these vehicles, is hard because of the vehicles’ tinted windows. However, he said that if people have not found out about the app for booking this transport, the service is largely invisible. Similar to Click is Slide in Bristol, a shared ride to work service. “Although I do wish they would come out with a different slogan – Better than bus.” Inevitably, Uber was mentioned. He said that in his discussions with the company, they find it harder to get drivers than they do customers.
So, are these newly emerging online platforms a friend or a foe? “It depends where you are. You could well see some disruption in the market where you are established, you have a brand, your brand has value and your people are going to come back to you because you give them the right experience, the right price. But clearly the platforms, or some of them, are trying to make that offer in terms of positioning, quality, price, which will flow right through to the delivery and then you as a customer will get what they want and come back to the platform. If you were an Uber passenger in London, you wouldn’t dream of going back to find the driver again, you would go back to the platform. This is the kind of idea people are thinking about. But you might find a platform is easier for you to engage with than engaging directly with customers, so you might now find you can get into markets you have not been able to. Ultimately, there is nothing to stop you starting a platform yourself.”
Social media is like marmite, according to Richard Grey, MD of Greys of Ely, either you like it or loath it. He started by asking the audience what social media is. The answer: computer-mediated technologies that help create and share information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. He turned the audience’s attention to the Conversation Prism 5.0, a diagram detailing social media platforms and their relevance to certain areas (a Google search will reveal this). He noted there is no coaching specific social media site on there. “It would be quite nice if we got Sn-ap or something sitting on there.”
When it comes to social media, often the question people ask is: “Is it relevant to my business? Will I be able to reach a target market with social media and digital marketing? What you’ve got to remember is we are now doing business in times when the audience, your customers and their children, are constantly glued to the internet, especially social media channels. Yesterday the coffee machine in the office broke, I fixed it using YouTube. The trend poses a great opportunity for operators to reach out to their audiences quickly and effectively.”
In the days of the Yellow Pages, Richard said you could spend thousands on advertising and not know if it was reaching your target audience. Social media ensures better aiming of marketing efforts, he claimed. “Today you can profile your customer down to the village they live in. You can start to see if the money you are spending is worthwhile.”
Social media is readily accessible for this marketing, he claims, “This is not for the likes of Nike or Coca Cola of this world, it can be for any size business.”
However, has it replaced normal communication with passengers and staff? “No, I don’t think it has, it’s just a different environment we’re working in. We wouldn’t not answer a phone call or an email, so why fear replying to a Facebook comment? You should be involved. Irrespective of your opinion, people will have a view of your business and they will be talking about it on social media.”
At Greys of Ely, Richard has a closed Facebook group for its staff, allowing communication between them, which is on top of notice boards and letters. It asks its drivers to send pictures in when they are on tour, which gives the company content it can use for its own marketing. It also tells them exactly the number of people that have seen internal communications. “It works well, it’s a good way of communicating with staff.”
Social media is also changing the language we use too, Richard said. He gave the example of his 11-year-old daughter who already uses such abbreviations as BRB, TTYL and the like.
So which social media platform should an operator use? Facebook is perhaps the most well-known. Richard suggested operators ensure they use a business account when using this, stopping any personal posts getting mixed up with professional ones. The same applies with Twitter. LinkedIn is the professionals’ social media account and unlike the previously mentioned ones, Richard said the best tactic to use with this is to accept everyone, even if you do not know them. Accepting as many people as possible helps get your message out to a wider audience. There is also an option of having a company account.
YouTube, the video sharing website, can also be a good platform for operators, with Richard posting promotional videos on the site and then reposting them on other social media platforms. “Visual content is important. We have a light-hearted mix on there. Our voice on it is smart, but quite comical, maybe silly.”
Greys had a deal of interest online for its ‘Mr T on a coach’ YouTube video (https://goo.gl/Luj77i). “The week after its launch, we picked up a contract for a large technology company from Cambridge. One of their senior people leaned over and asked the driver, ‘So, is Mr T onboard?’” One promotional video it produced used special effects to show Richard throwing Greys’ livery on one of the coaches. Another was made on May the 4th (Star Wars day) and saw an epic space battle unfold in the skies above the operator’s depot. Which one cost the least? The Star Wars one; it was created using an app freely available on the internet. “It doesn’t need to be mega bucks.”
Richard uses Google Analytics to figure out the best time to post on social media, aligning his posts when most people are active on these platforms and therefore getting the maximum amount of views. So for example, LinkedIn views tend to be most prevalent first thing in the morning or later in the day after work has finished. Of course, giving customers a platform to communicate also opens the possibility for people to post negative comments, which can then be seen by other customers. “When this happens, my wholehearted advice is to get the conversation offline. Don’t tell people they are wrong on social media. Or, just concede a bit.”
Richard gave an example of social media perhaps not working in his favour. It was during a trip to a sports event in Manchester which he was providing several vehicles to transport people for. Of the 24 coaches making the journey, one broke down, and happened to have BBC Cambridgeshire’s sports reporter onboard. He was on Twitter, announcing his coach to the game had broken down to his multitude of followers. “Things quickly snowballed,” resulting in Richard receiving a phone call from the broadcasting company. Luckily, CPT’s media response service helped him out, but the result is that Richard now seems to be the ‘go to’ person for coach industry insight for BBC Cambridgeshire.
He asked the audience if they had a social media policy. Even if the company does not use social media, it may be that staff do and Richard suggested documentation is put in place to explain to them the power of these online platforms and how employees should conduct themselves on them.
Following a lunch break, the next speaker was Steve Fox from the Traffic Commissioner’s Office. In November 2016, there was a relaunch of the way the Office works with operators online. The new web-based system was designed to make it quicker and more convenient for new and existing vehicle operators to apply for and make changes to their operator licence. One of the advantages of this is that data the Office holds on operators can be changed in seconds, according to Steve. This is advantageous for not only operators, but the Office because prior to this, a lot of information held was out of date. “This data goes to DVSA’s enforcement team, so it is critically important the data is current and up to date. Data that is often wrong is something like a phone number. If that’s wrong, then it gets them wondering what else is wrong.”
Since the launch of the ability to apply and make changes to licenses online, there have been 40,000 licence changes made in this way and 200,000 vehicle alterations made digitally. He noted changes and applications are made using Verify, an identity verification system, which makes input from the operator legally binding. However, this is not proving as popular as hoped because it is aimed towards citizens rather than businesses, but this is changing, according to Steve.
The system has reduced the application time for licences from nine to seven weeks, Steve claimed. It has achieved less than seven weeks on average in the last six months. The goal is to achieve four weeks.
The new digital system also features Companies House reporting, matching operator’s data held there with the office’s own forms. This is especially helpful when a business changes its trading stance, with the change often being registered at Companies House, but not as often at the Traffic Commissioners’ Office. It is also alerted of any more changes to an operation’s information.
The website has also been given a user feedback link. “We are keen on understanding what users like and what we need to improve. Our team looks at this once a week to see what didn’t work and what customers want to see. It informs decision making.”
User feedback is high, Steve reports, giving the figure of 81% satisfaction in July 2017. The majority find it easy to use, according to its own research. “We hope it does what it says, which is to help make it easy to become compliant.”
Steve said: “There will come a point where we will switch off all paper correspondence. It’s about two years away. The Traffic Commissioner’s objective is to have total digital compatibility by April 2019.”
One way the office’s digital systems are to be developed is by looking at its data and document retention work. “We are going to start deleting data. We hold onto it longer than we should.” This is in line with the upcoming Right to be Forgotten, one of the key principles in data protection law.
David Morris of DRM Bus asked about bus service registrations. “You need to do something on them and no messing.” Steve replied saying digital bus registrations are on the Office’s road map to deliver, but said they are a complex piece of work.
Coach parking in London is always an alluring topic and Kieran Fitsall of Westminster City Council showed how it is moving towards the digital age. One of the biggest challenges he faces is how does he fit in the 600,000 vehicles that visit the eight-mile square area daily? Another challenge is air quality. The primary aim is getting drivers to make the journey as easily and quickly as possible. “We don’t want them driving round looking for parking.”
Kieran said: “If people choose not to use their car but use passenger transport, then we have achieved our goal. We do generate income but from people parking illegally. The aim is not to issue people with parking tickets, but what we have tried to do is change the focus to be about providing a service for customers.”
Kieran said the way parking is charged has changed, with cash parking meters removed due to theft. Customer satisfaction with transactions with these cashless mahines is at 98-99%, according to Kieran. Coaches in the city generally require a voucher to allow parking. Smartphone parking apps have become commonly used. This has been opened up to different apps, with a variety now available.
Over 3,500 sensors have been installed in Westminster’s parking spaces, including some coach parking bays on the Embankment. These can talk to a device and notifies that the space has been taken, providing real time information of availability. This information is done per rank, rather than for individual bays. The data collected from this is being used to predict and show where parking becomes available.
He acknowledges that coach parking in London is an “absolute nightmare”, saying: “There is not enough coach parking in central London.” The organisation has been in talks with the CPT concerning this. “We are keen to understand any ongoing problems.”
Aside from parking, another issue Westminster council has addressed is vehicle idling and the affects that has. An action it has taken on this is the #dontbeidle, a social media campaign aimed at increasing knowledge of and cutting out this practice.
Looking further ahead in parking in its area, Westminster council has been interested in accessing parking data for an occasion when autonomous vehicles become commonplace and exploring how that information can be shared with car manufacturers.
Are you protecting data?
Giving some insight into what operators might need to consider in the wake of the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was Keith McNally, Operations Director at CPT. He said: “The GDPR might not be relevant if you have no customers, no CCTV or have photographic memory.” Coming into force on 25 May 2018, Keith described it as the biggest change to data protection in a generation. Should companies worry? To put it into perspective, he gave the example of TalkTalk, which was fined £400,000 for a cyber attack that accessed customer data. Under GDPR, the fine could be up to £59m. It is not just companies that will be affected, enforcement actions can be taken against charities and the police.
Taking care of this data protection is the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). “If someone makes a complaint to ICO, they will come after you. They might be perceived as nasty, but they are willing to help.”
Personal data needs protecting, which is considered anything about a natural person, not businesses. There are certain categories of data that are regarded as sensitive, such as employee records, beliefs, relationships, etc. “These need treating in a sensitive way.” Keith said some of the things businesses need to think about include: customer records, staff records, credit card details, CCTV, telematics and school bus passes.
Data protection is not just about ensuring computers and tablets with information are secure, but any structural set of data, including paper files. You should already be compliant with the Data Protection Act (DPA) and must be registered with the ICO, claimed Keith.
A privacy notice is needed, which covers what you use the data for. Consent must be kept in mind. “Everyone is familiar with boxes on websites that are pre-ticked. There has to be a positive opt in; you have to say you want their information. They also have the right to withdraw that consent.”
There is also the ‘right to be forgotten’, which gives them the justification to have any details of theirs deleted where there is no compelling need for them to be kept. The right to data portability comes into play too, which allows customers to obtain and reuse their personal data for their own purposes across different services. For instance, they can have data on transactions transferred from one to another operator. They will also have the right to object to profiling. Under GDPR, if there has been a breach of personal information, then it must be reported within 72 hours.
To start with, Keith suggests reviewing what data you have and where it came from. He said: “If you have data you are not using, get rid of it. Think about what companies you work with that might have your data: booking systems, CCTV companies, credit control. If they have access to data you control, you need to talk to them about their role.”
Under the new rules, people will have the right to a Subject Access Request (SAR), giving them access to data on themselves, including CCTV footage. Under current rules, you would have the right to charge them £10, which will no longer be the case. You also currently have 40 days to comply, which will fall to 30. You must consider redactions too. If there are other people in the CCTV footage, then how do you show the person requesting the footage and not someone else?
Keith said: “You need to look at the lawful basis of what you do with data. Have they given you consent?”
Keith suggested identifying what gaps you have and what you need to do now, check the guidance from ICO and get some advice in time for the May 2018 deadline. More information from www.ico.org.uk