Engaging Public Transport Passengers through Design

In 2014, UITP recorded 57.6 billion public transport journeys in the European Union – a surpass of the previous peak in 2008, equating to 152 journeys per year by the average EU citizen. As the public transport industry continues to grow at such a rapid pace, the arena is becoming much more competitive. Increased urbanization and connectivity mean people are able to travel further and are therefore spending more time on public transport, both in frequency and length of journeys.

Since the explosion of digital technology available to the consumer, passengers now have increased power – social media platforms have given them a voice. This combined with an increasingly competitive environment means passengers expect more from their journey. Transport operators now have to do more to satisfy their customer base – the industry is no longer just functional, it is experiential and increasingly design led. Below are some of the latest developments in public transport design that service providers are incorporating into their customer strategies to ensure they remain competitive and maintain high customer service levels.

Co Creation
With the development of technology, customer service has little room for error. Public transport operators are beginning to include passengers in the design process. This enables the provider to really tailor its services to customer needs and also strengthen relationships with passengers – when customers are listened to they feel valued and generally happier.

Swedish public transport provider, Skanetrafiken partnered with user experience design experts, Veryday as well as Volvo & Transdev to develop a live prototype that customers could experience in real life and provide feedback. This saw the creation of Konceptbussen; ‘a bus that adapts to needs, desires and moods regardless of physical abilities or challenges’. The innovation includes standing tables, charging outlets and a seating layout that enables passengers to be more social. It is used to continually test customer experience so that they can adapt vehicle interiors to suit. The collaboration team carried out customer interviews and live testing to underpin what Skanetrafiken’s passengers really wanted from their bus provider.

UK rail provider, Greater Anglia are currently building new trains to enter service in 2019. Based at their depot in Norwich, the rail operator is currently showcasing a mock up of the train where invited customers and partners can see a full-sized version of their new designs and give feedback. Described by Greater Anglia as a ‘public consultation process’, the operator can access timely and relevant feedback from stakeholders to adapt vehicles and gain a real understanding of their customer base to meet their needs accordingly.


Light & Sound
There is a long history of research into how light affects our mood and well-being in general life. However, there is little that links directly to public transport – but the same results are transferable. Research shows that on sunny days people have higher well-being and are more helpful. The study also showed that in bright light, emotions were intensified – people found positive words to be ‘more positive’ in brighter settings. Natural lighting through a window has a very calming and peaceful effect whilst dark environments can trigger depression. As passengers spend longer on public transport, the environment – light and sound included – has a greater impact on their well-being. Lots of natural lighting can encourage passengers to be more engaged in and receptive to the journey they’ve had.


Although the official research around the impact of light on passenger experience is very limited, there is clear evidence on social media. In the UK market, there has been a backlash campaign to vehicle advertising through the hashtag #saveourwindows. Many bus and rail operators cover windows with advertising graphics, which impacts heavily on sources of light but also the passenger’s visual experience. We all like to be connected to the outdoor world, especially on journeys where you can see views of the beautiful countryside. As a result of the #saveourwindows campaign, Northern are removing graphic wraps from their vehicles after listening to customer feedback via Twitter.

Considering LRV (Ligh Reflectance Value) ratings of materials is also important, using paints, wall coverings and floor coverings that have good light reflectance value can also enhance the passenger experience as they create a brighter, more inviting space.

Sound greatly impacts on passenger engagement. If the passenger environment is too noisy, it can create discomfort and impact negatively on the overall experience. Noise can be a result of sound from the vehicle, other passengers and/or the materials used on the interiors. This is where operators should consider acoustic properties of flooring, wall coverings and windows. A UK study by the Office for National Statistics noted that travel by bus, train or coach for longer than 30 minutes has a more negative impact on passenger well-being than that of a private vehicle. We explored acoustics in more depth on a previous blog post, which you can read here.

Colour Psychology
We delved a little deeper into colour psychology in the context of public transport passengers in a previous blog post, which you can read here. Colour has a significant impact on our mood and well-being, whether it be at home, at work or in public spaces and public transport is not exempt. As we are spending more time in transit, we are more exposed to the impact of colour. For example, yellow is said to increase optimism whilst blue enhances productivity and orange stimulates conversation.

Virgin use their infamous red branding to engage customers – most passengers will instantly recognise a Virgin train by the colour. The rail operator has furthered this by using their shade of red as a talking point; they launched an online campaign #RedHot, which they use on social media to promote their services. All of their advertising and train interiors/exteriors are in the ‘Virgin Red’ hue to engage passengers in the Virgin Trains experience.


All of these elements of design create a more memorable experience for passengers. Enhancing the passenger environment to offer customers ultimate comfort lifts their mood and improves well-being, in turn making them feel more positive about their experience. If transport operators get this part right customer satisfaction levels will remain high, enabling them to stay competitive and maintain repeat business – a win for all; business, passengers and of course, our environment!

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