The language of syndromes to identify ways of enhancing public transport services for customers

When someone is ill, there are two choices available to them. On the one hand, they can take painkillers or lozenges to mask their sore throat or headache. But while this makes their symptoms disappear for a few moments, it doesn’t address their underlying syndrome. It’s more desirable to take antibiotics as these will both heal the syndrome and prevent the symptoms from occurring.

The philosophy of Encircle seeks to implement exactly this idea – the treating of the syndrome rather than the symptoms. In a transport context, the syndrome could be that the trains are overcrowded, and a symptom of this could be that customers using the service are unhappy.

Just as an example – to combat this, ticket prices could be discounted for a day. Customers might possibly be happier that their ticket was cheaper – but perhaps it might only improve the mood for a few days, and when overcrowding continues people may become unhappy again.

A different approach would be to make the trains less crowded, which is what’s causing the people to be unhappy. This could potentially be achieved in a number of ways – peak spreading, removing a steady state error, ‘just waiting,’ or implementing a system that guides people to particular carriages to make the train less crowded on the whole. This approach leans more towards treating the syndrome (overcrowded trains) rather than the symptom (people being unhappy).

But why is this the "better solution?" It’s true that it makes people happy, but so does discounting ticket prices for a day. What makes treating the syndrome preferable is that it also helps the system to run more smoothly – in this case, the train network. By spreading out peaks and reducing overcrowding on trains, they can move around the network more quickly and service more people. In turn this further reduces overcrowding, which then makes the trains operate at even greater levels of efficiency – a positive feedback loop.