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Rail-travel marketing must cater to increasingly mobile-savvy riders: study

Rail-transportation marketers must leverage mobile strategies to fit a changing, more sophisticated group of mobile consumers, according to a Frost & Sullivan study of global rail passenger volume.

Increasing acceptance of mobile ticketing, accelerated by the growth of application stores and the use of mobile devices, has boosted passenger volume, according to Frost & Sullivan’s new database, Strategic Dashboard of Global Rail Passenger Volumes. The Mountain View, CA-based consulting firm’s study of passenger traffic at 538 United States rail operators last year highlights how mobile can drive consumer engagement with a brand, in this case, railroads.

“A new generation of customers have to be catered to,” said Shyam Raman, Frost & Sullivan automotive and transportation research analyst. “These are customers that are used to user interfaces that change based on the application/requirement.

“Rail companies have to evolve with the changing customer base to remain competitive,” he said. “Marketing on traditional channels may not even get the reach or attention desired as customers might be looking elsewhere.”

Mobile campaigns
With customers needing to use only a mobile application for optional methods of travel, such as the ZipCar and Uber ride-sharing services, the pressure is on marketers to boost their mobile presence to reach rail travelers, and avoid losing passenger volume and potential revenue, Mr. Raman said.

Although some customers have shunned the mobile-ticketing option, preferring to use familiar ticket-procurement methods even if they are less convenient or involve more effort, they are not expected to severely affect the way rail travel is marketed.

“It is known that there is significant inertia involved to change customer behavior,” Mr. Raman said. “Mobile presence is intended to cater to a base of customers that are more used to the mobile ecosystem whose magnitude is increasing yearly due to the increased penetration of smartphones and tablet.”

Although riders rejecting mobile ticketing, server crashes and a lack of connectivity have dampened mobile ticketing’s adoption, mobile is spurring a more positive view of rail travel.

In July, a study by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development found that the ability to stay connected has significantly boosted the growth of intercity train travel.

Titled “The Personal Tech Tidal Wave: The Rising Use of Electronic Devices on Intercity Bus, Planes & Trains,” the institute’s fifth annual study of personal electronic device use among passengers on intercity buses, planes, and trains found that travelers prefer to use the extra time slower modes of transportation such as trains afford to perform tasks on mobile devices.

Amtrak introduced WiFi on its high-speed Acela rail service along the Northeast Corridor in the Northeast US between Washington, D.C., and Boston in 2010.

Negative influences
“Features such as real-time GPS tracking have reduced negative influences such as perceived wait times,” Mr. Raman said. “Complaints on social media or ratings on the app store have increased the accountability and response time of rail operators around the world.

“Negative and positive feedback and experiences are now easily accessible by the entire customer base,” he said.  “Previously, grievances were more a one-on-one interaction where the complaint was not shared to other passengers.”

Final Take
Michael Barris, Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.