NEWS3 November 2017

The rise of the ‘me-time’ commuter is changing how TfL views customer satisfaction

Behavioural economics News Travel Trends UK

UK – Transport authority Transport for London (TfL) has undertaken a body of research to better understand how customers spend their time on journeys on the network.

London underground commuters_crop

The findings highlight the rise of the ‘me-time’ commuter, and have helped TfL to re-evaluate how it approaches customer satisfaction.

Speaking at yesterday’s MRS Customer Summit in London, TfL’s research and insight manager Ian Pring gave an overview of the findings and outlined the role that the insights have played in redefining how the transport body thinks about its customers, helping it evolve from a transport business to “a customer service business that does transport”.

He said: “Part of our job is to make people feel more of an emotional relationship with what we do. To create a very strong brand, we have to think way beyond the paradigms which were in play when the transport business first came to be.”

While the phenomenon of people using their commutes for ‘me-time’ isn't exactly new, in the last couple of years it has become more important for TfL, Pring said.

“It has always been there but we’ve just started to uncover it because of a different way of thinking about customers. We think there’s a lot more going on when people are going from one place to another.” 

The research emerged from a question he was asked two and a half years ago by the head of customer strategy for the underground – do customers make use of their travel time or is it a disutility?

The company undertook desk research, quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic work, which uncovered some insights around the concept of time from a customer perspective.

According to the research, 74% of commuters perceived their journey to be worthwhile, and 69% said it was productive.

These findings runs contrary to the transport industry’s traditional preconception that journey time is a disutility, or inconvenience. But while over half of customers surveyed ( 53%) still wished they could eradicate journeys altogether, 47% said they would miss it if they did not have to travel because they feel the time is worthwhile.  

Popular activities included reading a book or paper and listening to music. Meanwhile, 78% said they like using the time on the underground to simply unwind and do nothing.

Pring argued the commute is about ‘liminality’ – the state of being between places. In many cases for customers surveyed, their commute gave them time to separate from one part of their lives or role (for instance, parent) to another.

“In London, liminality – that period where you’re not doing one thing or another – is really important. Travel time gives that sense of liminality, which nothing else does.”

While he stressed that TfL’s number one priority is still reducing journey time – the number one driver of customer satisfaction – he also said that the quality of journeys should be seen as equally important as reducing the time spent travelling.

“The transport industry needs to care about maximising the quality of travel time as much as minimising the quantity of travel time."

Referencing the trend of passengers rerouting or retiming their journeys to avoid crowding, he added: “Journey time is the key driver of customer satisfaction – but it is not necessarily the journey time itself, but the satisfaction with that journey time.” 


5 years ago

Up until 14 months ago work was never more than a 40 minute drive away now I enjoy "me" time on a 50 minute Met/Jubilee line journey. The way it has been described here made me think of Hugh Bonneville & W1A

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5 years ago

Overall journey time is still a disutility, but there are differences between segments and the disutility is non-linear. Re differences between segments, note that the article only seems to refer to in-vehicle time. Uninterrupted walking time may also be seen as relative nice (depending on quality of route), but forced stopping during walking, getting into station, waiting, delays, getting out station, etc, is certainly not - this is surely experienced much differently. Re non-linear, a 60 minute commute is not simply four times as bad as a 15 minute commute, but much worse.

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