This fall concluded the first phase of SmartMove, a research initiative that’s testing a personalized marketing strategy to boost ridership on rural public transport. By now the marketing phase has finished and the coming months will reveal its impact.
The testing consists of eight parallel trials running in eight economically and geographically distinct regions throughout Europe. One early finding is that it’s not easy to actively engage people in marketing – even when you’re offering personalized information and free gifts. The SmartMove method involves engaging households along rural transport routes in intensive “active mobility consultancies.” This includes face-to-face dialogue about transport habits and needs and before you can even start, you need to persuade the target audience that it’s worth their time and effort.
During this past spring and summer, implementers had to work hard to reach the threshold target of 500 participants in each of SmartMove’s eight regions. They sent letters by post and email and distributed handouts at events and public offices. But the most effective approaches were personal: calling on the phone, or even better, going house-to-house knocking on doors. Virtually all implementers discovered that the more personal the approach, the better the result, and most of the regions reached their targets by October.
This issue of SmartMove contains articles on most of the project regions, each with an update on progress and lessons learned so far (The single exception was Burgos, which finished its AMC ahead of the others, as explained in this article).
Although a personal approach proved effective, each partner had to tailor their campaign to the local setting. In the Greek municipality of Langadas, for instance, the local project partner started straightaway by sending campaigners door-to-door asking residents to fill out the SmartMove questionnaire. This worked well, with a response rate of some 80 percent. However, in other countries such as Germany this approach was a non-starter, mainly because of legal regulations relating to unsolicited marketing. To keep on the right side of the law, less direct approaches such as letters and handouts are recommended as a first step in most countries.
This was all covered in October at SmartMove’s Second Take-Up Seminar, held in Thessaloniki, Greece. Forty-five participants attended to learn about the SmartMove method and how it can boost public transport patronage.
A common lesson from the project is that rural transport can be made attractive to residents by inexpensive, simple measures. One example, from the Lisbon suburb of Almada, was the problem of missing timetables at bus stops. This was due to vandalism, but because the transport operator took so long to replace them, many local residents soured on bus service simply because they didn’t know the schedules.
At the same time, residents are more likely to engage with campaigns if they are supported by partners who “can do something”, as one implementer noted. This means involving the city administration or public transport operator – institutions that can make investments in the transport service.
Finally, although active mobility consultancy has proven an effective way to boost transport patronage, it must be founded on a useful, well-functioning transport system; campaigners need a good product in order to sell it.
The SmartMove project now moves into its final phase: evaluation. In the coming months, partners will track changes in passenger numbers and CO2 emission reductions based on the modal shift from cars to public transport. Results are expected for early 2016.