Fix My Transport
Fix My Transport (FMT) is a website designed to help people get common public transport problems resolved. Visitor numbers run at between 220,000 to 300,000 per month but the number of campaigns and reports since its launch is only 7,140. It is a great idea for bringing problems to the attention of the train operators but the site could benefit from some fresh visual and interaction design.
FMT obviously has a relatively large and captive audience but what can be done to encourage these visitors to engage with the site, and potentially each other, more effectively? Usability is poor and finding relevant information is time consuming. Not many people are aware the site exists nor what purpose it serves. Complaints are very seldom dealt with effectively and gathering support from other users is very difficult.
Make FMT an effective tool for bringing people together on transport issues and force operators to take these seriously and resolve them quickly.
For the initial phase of the project, fulfilling the original brief was the main goal. Research began by conducting a competitor analysis to get a better idea of what other products are available and by testing the current site
Although there were several other apps and websites available which had similar functionality, none of these products offered the same service as FMT for reporting problems on public transport.
The apps that allowed users to report various problems such as potholes, graffiti and transport delays were no better from a usability perspective than FMT and because they didn’t offer the same functionality, they were inadequate for a direct or meaningful comparison.
After testing the current FMT site, the list of requirements for improving a user’s experience grew very long, very quickly. It was immediately obvious that a simple site redesign would be insufficient for making any meaningful changes to the site’s overall usability.
To get a better understanding of why people were visiting the site in the first place, a more user-focused approach was needed to be able to make the necessary improvements. To encourage more effective engagement, FMT would need to identify the fundamental needs of their users and base their proposition on these.
Of the 300,000 monthly visitors, only 7,140 actively engaged with the site. Why were so few users getting involved in issues that obviously affected so many of them? Were they using other channels and if so, what were they and how were they being used?
Because of the overwhelming volume of data available for the rail network throughout UK, the focus of the discovery phase was narrowed to TFL and the rail network in and around London only.
The total number of complaints received by TFL last year compared with the total number of journeys was miniscule. This raised far more questions than it answered.
These numbers could either indicate that people were generally happy with the state of public transport or that the process of making a complaint was too complicated or drawn out for most people to make the effort. For those who did make a complaint to either TFL or the TOCs through the available channels, how effectively were these complaints dealt with?
TFL doesn’t appear to publish this information and the majority of TOCs reported that they dealt with over 90% of complaints within 20 working days. The official reports from the TOCs is at odds with the number of unresolved complaints on FixMyTransport. How accurate is the published data?
A survey was sent out to a group of users to find out what they thought about public transport in London, how many had complained in the past and how many would use a tool like FMT if it was more effective.
The survey results showed that most users found the procedure for making a complaint either too confusing or too time consuming and most indicated that they would rather use an app to complain, if one existed.
These results helped to narrow the focus of the discovery phase even further and highlighted the problems users experienced when making a complaint to an operator as a possible area to explore.
According to the survey, most users indicated that they regularly used their smartphones during journeys on public transport so looking at available technology and how people use it was the next step. The only problem with the survey results was that they were skewed by the fact that the participants that completed it were all highly digitally literate and technologically savvy.
To ensure that the numbers were more accurate, the target group was expanded to make it more representative of all types of users of public transport to ensure the solution would appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
There is no dedicated FixMyTransport app, there is only a responsive site. According to a contact at MySociety, this was a conscious decision made at the start of development to ensure that mobile users would benefit from design and data updates immediately, and to ensure cross-platform compatibility. Based on research, the decision not to offer a dedicated app has had a negative impact on the brand as hardly anyone has heard of FixMyTransport.
Public transport plays a huge role in a lot of people’s lives, including mine. 2 years of putting up with a very long commute provided me with quite a few useful, if frustrating, insights. A short delay at the start of a journey could have a substantial knock-on effect on the remainder of it. This usually resulted in missing time with family in the evenings. When these delays persisted over several days, the frustration could seem overwhelming, especially when complaints to train operators went unanswered and no explanation for delays was forthcoming.
At one point, I was late in to work most mornings, usually around 30 minutes, as a result of delays on the East Midlands line from Bedford to St Pancras. This provided me with a golden opportunity to observe the effect these delays had on commuters but also how effective FMT was at helping to bring these issues to the attention of the TOCs and how effective they were at dealing with them.
After a few weeks of experimenting with various channels to send complaints to the TOCs, Twitter emerged as the most effective by far. The least effective was a direct email to the TOCs. The 20 day response deadline came and went without any response, a clear indication that the more public the complaint, the quicker the operator is likely to respond.
From observing how people deal with the constant delays on their daily commute over a period of several weeks, one disturbing behaviour stood out above all others - how quickly people turned on each other when tempers were high and seats were few. There was pushing and shoving and nobody was spared. Harsh words and withering looks were exchanged on a daily basis. On one occasion, a mother boarded the train with a buggy. Initially, people ignored her and refused to budge or make any space. When it was clear she wasn’t leaving and fully intended to utilise the space reserved for buggies and wheelchairs, a tiny space was reluctantly cleared of bags and bikes and bodies. She ended up wedged into the tiny space and forced to stand for the entire 40 minute journey. She was also subjected to a barrage of tuts and disapproving looks because she’d brought a baby onto a packed commuter train.
The solution to this problem clearly needed to pre-empt the events that lead up to the complaint and would ideally make commuters feel more in control of their journeys. Based on several conversations and observing people on the train, commuters felt they were nothing more than the cash cows for TOCs. They felt completely powerless because they had no other choice but to pay the exorbitant fares and put up with the inevitable delays.
Using the information gathered during the discovery phase of the project, a user journey map was developed to try and identify the most prominent pain points along the journey of the three most common types of users.
Once these pain points had been identified, they were expanded on to try and identify areas for potential improvement of a user’s daily commute.
An initial concept began to take shape that would reward regular commuters with points based incentives as part of a loyalty scheme. This seemed like a relatively benign solution that would be quick and easy to implement and would make commuters, who had very little choice in how and when they get to work, feel a little more appreciated. The incentives could potentially be linked to local businesses and would make everyone feel better about their daily commute.
The more this idea developed, the more boring and ineffective it seemed.
Yes, it would be a nice fluffy response to a problem that ultimately drives people to shout at grannies on the train but it wasn’t a solid solution. It didn’t address the root cause of the reason why people felt frustrated, powerless and taken advantage of, which was not receiving the service they were paying a lot of money for.
This solution was drifting too far from the original brief and the concept I had come up with didn’t justify such a major shift but redesigning the existing site wasn’t good enough either.
The fact remained that people were angry and that there was no effective outlet so they were taking it out on each other. The TOCs were regarded as out-of-touch and untouchable and one insignificant complaint on a website was not going to change that. Surely this frustration could be channeled in a more effective way that would make it impossible for the TOCs to ignore their customers and would empower people to stand together to force them to acknowledge the frustrations they seemed happy to disregard.
It was time to rethink the solution and take it in a completely new direction, based on the pain points identified earlier and on MySociety’s founding principles. but would take the concept in a whole new direction based on why people feel angry enough to complain in the first place.
“Contribute don’t complain” was the underlying theme behind the final concept which ended up being a conceptual service instead of just a site / app redesign.
MySociety’s mission was to help people become more powerful in the civic and democratic parts of their lives through digital.
MySociety developed several sites which seemed to align with this mission statement but FixMyTransport was not one of them. It was a good idea in theory but in practice it did very little to enable people to stand up and make a difference. If anything, all it did was highlight the inefficiency of TOCs to deal with complaints efficiently - if at all. The final concept needed to be a service that would break the cycle of endless frustration and encourage and empower people to band together and contribute towards something that would force the TOCs to react long before a complaint even needed to be made.
The mindset and environment surrounding a protest is very different to that of a morning commute. A train full of people during rush hour will barely make eye contact with each other let alone jump up together and march off to protest, loudly, against a severely overcrowded train. How could this cultural hurdle be overcome? Smartphones.
Everyone seemed to have one, everyone seemed glued to one throughout their entire journey and most commuters seemed more comfortable interacting through digital than in person.
The final concept was a suite of apps that would turn commuters into protestors and would enable people to come together, make a stand and make it impossible for TOCs to ignore them any longer. Not many people are ready to be a full-blown activists right away but everyone wants to be given a chance to have their say, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
Commuterate is an app that allows people to rate their journeys each day and at the end of every month, see an overview of how they felt about their commute. On it’s own this app is a small way for people to vent their frustration and have an outlet for whatever they might be feeling about the journey they’ve just experienced. It’s also a useful way for TOCs to get basic but very useful feedback from their customers.
On a much larger scale, it could even be used to inform much bigger decisions such as buying a house. If the data collected through Commuterate could be fed back to people on property sites such as Zoopla, they would immediately be able to see how reliable a service is in an area they are thinking of moving to. If a service is unreliable and potential buyers are discouraged from moving to the area, this could have a negative impact on house prices and the local community, and vice versa, if it’s good it could be hugely beneficial. If a commuter’s experience of their daily commute could potentially affect fluctuations in house prices, there would be far more pressure on individual TOCs to be held accountable for their service delivery.
Unbaby is an app inspired by a plugin that would replace pictures of babies in social media newsfeeds with something else, like cute animals on skateboards. Having witnessed the way the mother on my train was treated during user observation, and experiencing this myself on a number of occasions, an app that could be used to “unbaby” a journey by notifying other passengers of carriages that have children on board seemed like an ideal solution. Passengers could use this information to make a decision on whether to join or avoid the carriage and make their own journey more enjoyable. In retrospect, although this concept would probably be adopted by a lot of people, it didn’t fit in. The Unbaby app would divide people rather than bring them together - which went against the underlying values of the product. Although this app has been included as part of the concept development story, it was omitted from the final prototype.
OccupyFirst is an app for people who would like to stand up against the TOCs but would feel safer doing so in a large group of people. It allows commuters to arrange a protest alongside others by gathering support for a mutual cause and supporting everyone to take action together in the safety of a group. This app enables passengers to set up a kickstarter-style campaign to recruit other commuters who are willing, and brave enough, to occupy the first class carriages in their respective trains in protest against overcrowding. Once enough people have signed up, the protest would go ahead at an agreed time, on a specific train service. A list of all proposed protests can be viewed via the app to reassure passengers taking part in the protest that they are not alone and that there are plenty of other people across London, and the UK, who are right there alongside them.
Overcrowding is a huge problem on London-bound trains and has been widely reported in the media over the past few years. Some routes are so bad that people are forced to wait for the next service because they can’t board their chosen service. Passengers on board these overcrowded trains are crammed into standard class carriages full to overflowing when more often than not there are several empty first class carriages available on the same service - at a price. There are plenty of stories in the media about people, including pregnant women and the elderly, who have been fined hundreds of pounds sitting in First Class without the correct ticket. This situation defies all logic and empathy but TOCs refuse to budge on it. Outrageously expensive season tickets don’t even seem to guarantee standing room - people are sometimes forced to sit on the floor outside the toilet if they want a seat.
What would happen if every passenger who was forced to stand crammed in the aisles decided to sit in first class? It would be very difficult for a ticket inspector to issue every person in those carriages with a penalty notice and even if they did, how much would it cost to enforce? Overcrowding is a prominent pain point for a lot of commuters and is a popular topic to be reported in the papers. If an OccupyFirst protest were to be successfully carried out, it would no doubt be widely reported across news and social media sites.
The last app in the suite is aimed at the very boldest commuters and would return the greatest monetary rewards. FreedomPass is the ultimate fare evasion app. There are 6 fare-beating tools within the app.
UnFare lists all the cancellations and delays for a specified journey. If a passenger holds a season ticket or travel card for that route, it would automatically allow them to claim a refund for any delays or cancellations - whether or not they were directly affected. The only requirement for claiming a refund from the TOC would be a ticket allowing travel on the affected route.
Ticket Hunt allows ticket holders to gift unwanted paper tickets to each other by hiding them and then tagging the location on a shared map. If someone else wants the hidden ticket, all they have to do is locate it on the map, pick it up and travel for free until it expires.
Free Journey Planner is an alternative route planner that will map a passenger’s journey using crowdsourced data on broken parking machines, broken ticket machines, missing or unmanned gates, hidden lifts, secret stairways, broken barriers or completely barrier-free stations. There are a number of ways to gain access to platforms without paying for a ticket, if you know how. This app will help passengers avoid paying for a ticket by guiding them quickly and quietly through the maze.
Inspector Tracker tracks the progress of ticket inspectors on trains and at stations in relation to a passenger’s location. Inspector Tracker helps passengers avoid a penalty fare by effectively helping them dodge ticket inspectors.
Finally, should you get caught fare-dodging, by using all the fare-evasion tools available in the FreedomPass suite, Script is an app that provides a long list of statements and questions to put to the ticket inspector, when confronted, to reduce or avoid a penalty fare altogether by confusing them with their company’s own legalese.
As a concept, this suite of apps declares open season on TOCs that take advantage of the commuters they see as mute and powerless cash cows. The idea is to turn the concept of commuting on it’s head, to change the experience from an expensive and frustrating necessity into a potentially profitable way to commute to work.
This product would hit the TOCs where it mattered most - their profitability. By forcing them to confront their users face to face, it would make it difficult for them to dodge responsibility for bad service delivery. If their lacklustre service was putting money right back into their customers pockets, train services would be running more efficiently in no time.
FMT was shut down by MySociety in 2015.