David Brown: New technology has the power to really shift the dial on passenger experience

Amongst all the excitement over driverless cars, electric scooters or even the much hyped hyperloop, it’s easy to overlook the humble bus.

It’s been unassumingly getting us from A to B for almost 200 years, first by horse power, then by fossil fuel, and now, increasingly by new zero emissions batteries.

At Go-Ahead, we know all about the prospects for that greener future. Not only do we run Europe’s largest public transport fleet of electric buses, we also operate the UK’s only all-electric bus garage at Waterloo, in the very heart of London.

It might not be sexy, but it’s important stuff. Much more than we tend to recognise.

Government figures show that the average individual gets on a train 21 times per year – so once or twice per month.

But they’ll take a bus 52 times annually, so every week of the year.

It is the backbone of our transport network.

At Go -Ahead we take that responsibility seriously. For all of those passengers for whom a bus journey is a vital part of their day, we need to not only offer a service that is punctual, clean and friendly, we also need to make sure it keeps getting better all the time.

That’s why this week, in Oxford, Go-Ahead is rolling out its latest innovation – PickMeUp, the UK’s first truly comprehensive on-demand service to be rolled out by a bus company, and the largest of its kind to be launched in this country.

Using just their smartphones, our passengers in the city are able to choose not only when their bus should arrive, but also the exact start and end points of that journey.

That’s good news for the passengers, but it is also great news for this city.

Because we can offer a more flexible bus solution, we can also cut unnecessary congestion and improve air quality, benefiting all of the residents of Oxford.

This service – which the Oxford Bus Company part of the Go-Ahead Group is operating – represents a sea-change for commuters and will make it easier for people to get around without private cars.

We are committed to innovations like PickMeUp because we believe in public transport that continues to deliver for customers, communities and colleagues, using the latest technology to improve air quality and increase social mobility to build strong, healthy places to live and work.

It’s why in Southampton we trialled the UK’s first bus ticketing system, where an app on a customer’s smartphone allows them to be automatically charged the correct fare for their journey, through a new system called iBeacons. Later in the year will pilot this system on a route in the North East.

That technology has the power to really shift the dial on passenger experience – if passengers no longer need to tap or swipe or feed their ticket through a barrier, we can dramatically increase the flow of people through stations and on buses, improving the experience for everyone.

It’s in the same spirt that we are investing in start-ups like the German electric car-sharing business Mobileeee.  Car sharing can help reduce congestion in busy cities and thus help cut emissions, and we will be working with them to develop more environmentally friendly schemes.

Our efforts in Oxford are the latest innovation as Go-Ahead looks towards the future of transport for our cities.

We look forward to seeing how this develops and whether it can be rolled out across the UK in the future.

David Brown, Chief Executive of Go-Ahead