Apr 9, 2015

Older riders are the hot market in Cologne hinterland

With fewer young riders, transport providers turn to retirees

It may seem counterintuitive, but in many rural areas public transport targets its marketing muscle at retired people rather than the youngest generation of consumers. Kreis Euskirchen, a region an hour’s drive southwest of Cologne near Germany’s border with Belgium, fits this mould. As recently as 2009, the biggest cohort of its 187,000 inhabitants was just over 40 years of age. By 2030, the biggest age group will be older than 60. This is a generation of people who grew up with cars and who have all but forgotten how to use public transport.

Bernd Knieling, of SmartMove project partner VRS GmbH, said these youngish baby-boomers are a market that public transport can’t live without. “The main user group of public transport in Germany are students, who are subsidised”, he said. “They are a diminishing part of the total ridership and we need to get other riders for a fresh stream of revenue.”

Kreis Euskirchen’s activities in SmartMove will focus on four of the region’s 11 towns:  Bad Munstereifel, Hellenthal, Kall and Schleiden. Bad Munstereifel and Kall have their own rail connections to Cologne, while three of the four towns are connected by the 829 bus line. People can also reach rail and bus stops by foot, bike or car.

The region has another option that works as a feeder system for the bus network: an on-demand service, TaxiBusPlus. This company shuttles passengers between their homes and bus stops, with the fare being proof-of-purchase of a bus ticket plus a EUR 1.20 supplement. Passengers must order a TaxiBusPlus ride at least 30 minutes in advance of pick-up.

VRS GmbH, a company that integrates ticketing and fare collection for more than 30 public transport companies in the surrounding region, was planning to start SmartMove activities in March or April 2015 by sending invitations to participate to older residents. The company plans to get addresses from the registration office. Those who take part will be asked about their travel habits and what they know and don’t know about public transport.

A big focus in Kreis Euskirchen will be trainings for seniors on how to use public transport: where to buy tickets, how to access timetables, and what specific discounts are available to retired people. There will be practical training on-board buses, in which a trainer will advise participants on passenger safety before, during and after bus rides. “A lot of older people haven’t used public transport for decades”, according to Knieling.

Events will be hosted where visitors can board a bus and speak with trainers, and others will be held at age-based living centres. There will also be walking tours to show potential bus users how to reach their nearest bus stop. These will be open to wheelchair users and people with other physical challenges, and audits will be conducted to identify barriers. If no solutions can be found immediately, a note will be made and passed on to the municipality.

From Knieling’s perspective, the public transport service in Kreis Euskirchen is “not bad”, considering its rural setting. However, many residents believe it is bad and not a realistic option for local travel. The challenge is to educate people about the existing services so that, in their minds, “public transport is well established as a real alternative for many trips”, Knieling said.

“It is necessary to show them that public transport may not be a solution for every trip, but it is the best solution for some trips”, he said.

Photo credit: VRS