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How to communicate transit service changes effectively

Change verb [CHānj]: to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution; to make radically different; to become different. 

The last two years have driven change in almost every avenue of life. Businesses –– even with financial bailouts and small loans –– have had to pivot their models with the frequency of a hummingbird’s wing beats. 

Sometimes it can be hard to remember a world before the physical, mental, and economic impacts of the pandemic. Even before the shutdowns began in March 2020 –– and for long after –– businesses have had to adapt their strategic plans to ensure they’re meeting consumers’ needs. No one knows this more than transit providers who care for the direct needs of the public every day.

Municipalities, airports, universities, and the like have been pushed to make major revisions to their services to adapt to the ever-changing accessibility, ecological, and mobility needs of their ridership. While most folks are aware of these modifications (and often push for them when given a voice) –– they will undoubtedly be affected by a difference to their service, even seemingly minor. 

As transit providers know, folks reliant on a service to meet their needs can face extraordinary challenges when they aren’t informed ahead of time about schedule changes. This could mean missing an important medical appointment, incurring expensive daycare late fees, or even losing a job.

Seeing as we all would have liked a head’s up before the shutdown caused by COVID-19 –– it’s important to proactively recognize possible changes and to communicate early and clearly to riders so they’re able to prepare in advance for changes to their commute.

Examples of scenarios that could affect your riders include (but are not limited to):

  • Service disruptions & detours
  • Change to service hours
  • Change in service costs (even if reduced)
  • Adding or removing fixed-route lines
  • New services (such as on-demand microtransit, new bus lines, or bike hubs)

While these changes may be inevitable, they’re not always expected, which is why it’s important to be proactive in communication. Here are some ideas on how to inform the public of changes effectively and succinctly. 

Clearly communicate service changes

First, take a quick inventory and use the tools already available to you. If you have a social media presence, set up a brief text post that explains the change and provides an outlet for folks to reach you with questions or concerns. 

Have a good relationship with your local community centers? Hold town halls. Know any local journalists or newspapers? Ask them to cover the story. Equip bus drivers and anyone working at your transit hub with talking points and information to provide to riders. If you use the TransLoc App, you can use the in-app service announcements to easily reach riders who also use the app. 

Outside of using the tools more readily available to you, consider what extra steps you can take to ensure you are using multiple methods to reach a wide and relevant audience. Run paid advertisements on digital platforms and more traditional arenas like newspaper, TV, and radio. Paid advertising can help you target the right audience in cases where social posts, editorials, and town halls might miss the mark. Also, consider putting up posters and flyers at bus stops, transit hubs, food halls, shopping centers, and wherever there’s likely to be a lot of eyes in your community.

The earlier and more frequent, the better 

As you move forward with ideas about how to ensure you’re informing your audience about your services, it is imperative to remember to communicate early and often. 

Say you’re aware of some major construction two years out which will close one of your fixed-route lines. Communicate these changes to your riders now, even if you’re still determining what next steps your own organization will need to take. Giving people a heads up for possible service disruptions and modifications will give them the opportunity to make other plans so they’re not caught by surprise later. In addition, they will know to look out for further communication once you’re able to determine your next steps.

All things being equal, there will be times when you have to make a quick decision with a rapid turnaround. Even if the turnaround time is tight, it is important to determine how you can most effectively and expeditiously drive the message to those who need it. For example, if you have a large following on social media, you can start there by offering alternative routes and/or resources.

If you’re interested in determining whether your agency, corporation, or university could use a change to help with staffing, empty buses, finances, and the like, be sure to check out TransLoc’s Planning and Design Services. Our AICP-certified planners can help you optimize your service while reducing your expenses, allowing you to adapt to changes quickly.

For further assistance in advertising any upcoming service changes to your ridership, such as help brainstorming ideas or building advertising campaigns, be sure to check out TransLoc’s Marketing Services.

Remember, we are living through a time when change is inevitable and necessary. With the right tools in place, you’ll be able to navigate operational and procedural shifts with grace and create the ultimate rider experience.