Authors: Jorge Suárez y Osward Rubio
Translation: Gabriel Sayago
Planning urban mobility with a user perspective is key to the success of transport systems. If the needs of the users are well “guided”, measured by attributes such as connectivity, speed or reliability, the fulfillment of traditional objectives such as demand and financial sustainability will be favored.
The user approach to service design is a vision accelerated by the adoption of digital tools in mobility. Putting the user “in the center” implies a change that will affect the route layout, the planning of facilities and vehicles, visual communication through maps and signage, as well as personalized and digital support channels.
To address these issues, Latam Mobility held its traditional videocafé moderated by Jorge Suárez, thematic advisor and expert in electromobility, in order to approach the service design in transportation systems based on experiences in America and Europe.
Mergime Raci, experienced user designer, based in Switzerland, introduced the discussion by clarifying the concepts of service design, user experience and user interface. Raci explained that historically visual communication has been used to guide the community through maps and signage in the use of transportation systems.
What the discipline of service design does is identify the steps of users and develop visual, digital and / or auditory tools with recognizable features that end up giving the system a “personality”. With the massive use of mobile devices, “now it is essential to integrate the physical space and the digital space,” she said.
Juan Pablo Rioseco, visual designer at the consulting firm Steer, pointed out that it is necessary to understand mobility as a chain of travel that involves different modes, from walking or cycling to buses and subway.
A practical first step is to develop integrated maps that consist of challenging institutional implementation. “While the digital promise is ‘seamless’, real life is full of barriers, mainly between entities managing different stages of the journey.”
In the case of Ciudad de México, the metro and BRT (Rapid Transit Bus) stations are identified by nomenclatures of historical origin or the context of the area. Vicente Torres reported that each station of these systems in the Mexican capital has an associated icon, which served to facilitate the use of non-literate populations since the 1960s.
This image, originally developed by Lance Wyman, was shown by the city government to homogenize the concept of all existing modes of the slogan “Integrated mobility: one city, one system”. This renewed appearance is reflected in paid “Integrated Mobility” cards and identifies each service with particular colors: the subway, BRT, trolleybuses, shared bicycles, overhead cables, as well as regular service buses and minibuses.
Mobility sync between users and streets
Civil engineer Vicente Torres, advisor to the South African startup WhereIsMyTransport, stated “considering yourself an expert does not let you think how people think.” Torres stressed to the audience that before making any diagnosis, is important to know what users think.
It could be obvious, but general practice starts from transportation engineering and financial considerations. When you start with the protagonist, “you realize that people’s behaviors and customs are changing. It may be that at a stop that was previously busy, people no longer travel for security reasons or because of an unpleasant environment,” Torres said.
Julián Bautista, chief planner for the New York MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) bus company, shared with the audience his experience in redesigning routes in the Queens area, a project that responded to the progressive drop in speeds and of the influx of users.
“We made more than 70 consultations with the communities and we collected the feedback of those who frequent the transport service.” The bus drivers also contributed their experience for new proposed routes, incorporating their vision of the “road reality”, information that is not captured by a log of GPS locations, Bautista added.
Empathy in the design
Adriana Sánchez, Head of Social Management of the Medellín Metro said “transportation systems must be inclusive for all types of users.” With this vision, the Medellín Metro serves specific needs of users with disabilities, vulnerable people and women and girls. This approach to service improves the quality of life and it is reflected in the Cultura Metro.
Sánchez noted the importance of “face-to-face” orientation by civic guides towards the community to “give a human sense to the system”. This personalized factor contrasts with other latitudes where people have a profile more adapted to “self-service”.
“The simulation of travel experiences is not always easy, since prototyping a complete system is not always feasible,” Mergime Raci said. However, recent approaches such as “empathy workshops” lead planners and beneficiaries to a journey to identify opportunities and points of conflict during the design phases.
A good experience mapping identifies the so-called “customer journey” and can forecast potential points of conflict, predictively offering alternative solutions through different communication channels.
Going at night
An example of segmentation by schedule and specific needs is the night bus network in Ciudad de México, known as “Nochebús”. Juan Pablo Rioseco explains the offer takes into account people who go out for entertainment and those who have this type of schedule for work reasons.
In the same sense, Adriana Sánchez exemplified the case of the trip on credit in the payment cards of the Medellín Metro. “There is the case where external charging points are closed late at night and the user cannot pay, a situation that can lead to risks of insecurity, stress or costly travel alternatives. For this reason, the Metro provides a transfer as a “loan” so the user can later add a balance within the system’s own facilities.”
Service in pandemic situation
Adriana Sánchez identified service protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain confidence in the Medellín Metro, a central aspect in the middle of the current situation. “Although this contingency led us to reduce the occupancy of the subway units to 30%, and thanks to timely measures of sanitation and air recirculation, we have been able to increase that number to 50%.”
Creativity was also part of the actions carried out by the Metro’s social management team: “We involved 10 urban artists from the city to paint traces of physical distancing inside the wagons. We painted 10,260 pairs of footprints in total. This is also in line with our cultural bonding strategy,” the representative stated.
Jorge Suárez from Latam Mobility, specified that “we must definitely ask ourselves what is the problem we have to solve and not the project we want to build when we face a problem of people’s mobility”.
To know more about mobility-oriented video cafes, follow us on Twitter and Instagram as @latamobility.