Using personalised digital information to increase peak spreading on public transport services

Public transport providers come under pressure in peak periods. Providing for high passenger volumes on networks running at their upper capacity means time windows for recovering from service disruptions are smaller and more can potentially go wrong if delays with one service cascade into another.
In Sydney, like many other cities around the world, the heaviest transport peak period occurs between 8 and 9 AM — just before the working day begins.
To overcome capacity constraints during travel peaks, public transport providers often use differential ticket pricing. This involves making tickets cheaper, or even free, if people choose to travel outside of peak periods. The aim is to make greater use of the network when capacity is available. Transport planners call this effect ‘peak spreading’.
Differential ticket pricing has been used in both Sydney and Melbourne with studies showing cheaper tickets and free travel offered at off-peak times can lead to reductions in peak hour patronage.
But are there other ways of encouraging peak spreading? Do passengers only respond to money incentives? Or can other factors also induce travel behaviour change?
With the advent of digital information technologies, it’s now possible to give passengers access to a wide range of information services that are personalised, filtering out details that aren’t relevant to a particular person and their trip.
Quick and easy to access information combining real time arrival, seating availability, platform crowding and service disruption makes the decision to choose other services that are more comfortable easier raising the possibility of using enhanced travel comfort as another way of encouraging peak spreading. Recalculating arrival times at the journey destination with the touch of a button removes doubt and anxiety about decision consequences.
These service features are potentially very valuable to public transport customers. They are also potentially valuable to operators who need to find ways of encouraging peak spreading.