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What lessons can the transport industry learn from Storms Ciara and Dennis?

Crispin Humm, Chief Business Development Officer for Passenger Connect, discusses the role of real time, personalised passenger information in the new climate reality.

As global temperatures continue to climb, the UK is set to experience more extreme weather conditions. As a result, the transport industry needs to adapt to the new climate reality and re-think how it communicates disruption to passengers. The most recent example of this, is the devastation caused by Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis at the beginning of February 2020.

The effects of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis are still being felt across the country, and towards of the end of February there were still 368 flood warnings in place. During the storms, over a month’s worth of rain fell across parts of the UK in less than a day, leaving 2,840 homes flooded and 675,000 homes without power.

In addition to flooding, the extreme weather conditions had a drastic impact on passenger travel across the board. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, train services were stopped or capped at 50mph, ferries at Dover and the Isle of Man were cancelled or heavily delayed and buses and cars were affected by the many road closures across the network.

However, when it comes to mass disruption caused by challenging weather conditions, many transport operators suffer from trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. As whole the industry has become over-reliant on social media platforms like Twitter to mass broadcast and blanket message journey information. The result, irrelevant information overload for passengers that are already disgruntled and delayed.

When the most recent storms hit the UK, the overall advice to passengers was ‘do not travel’. Not only was this blanket message shared by transport operators, it was widely publicised by the media, with passengers fully anticipating high-levels of delay and disruption. However, more problems arose when reduced services resumed and passengers required real-time information about their regular commutes or one-off journeys.

It’s during service recovery mode that operators often face the dilemma of meeting demand as well as encouraging people to avoid routes where there are issues.

By understanding travel intent on a mass scale, Passenger Connect can provide operators with the data they need to ensure customers travel around disruption. From planning extra services based on predicted demand, to pushing travel alerts and alternative route suggestions - this approach would have benefitted the chaos that ensued following Storms Dennis and Ciara. In the case of damaged tracks caused by debris and fallen trees, Passenger Connect could have helped operators to mobilise the correct number of replacement bus services, sending them to direct to high-demand locations.

As a door-to-door solution, Passenger Connect can also provide first and last mile journey support. Many station car parks were underwater due to recent flooding, so despite trains running on time, passengers have struggled getting to the station. Through the aggregation of multiple data sources, Passenger Connect can warn travellers upfront and provide alternative options like driving and parking at different locations.

As a sector, the transport industry has struggled to communicate to passengers during times of disruption and as extreme weather patterns become a part of everyday life, personalised real-time passenger information needs to become a priority.