The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly shifted consumer attitudes and beliefs in many domains and will likely have sustained impact on consumer behavior going forward. One such domain is that of transportation – how consumers feel and think about different modes of transportation. A major challenge following COVID-19, particularly in regions for which the infrastructure cannot rely solely on single-occupancy cars, will be (a) making certain changes to ensure mass-transportation options are perceived as safe, and (b) communicating the changes in an intuitive manner that convinces consumers that the options are safe.
Researchers from the Yale Center for Customer Insights (YCCI) recently explored how communication might impact shared transportation ridership and uncovered some interesting insights to help shed light on the role of communication on post COVID-19 transportation use. The research found that intuitive communication about the changes can help make people more comfortable with shared transportation options.
This research helps shed light on the key beliefs serving as barriers behind these decisions as well as the targeted interventions that may help people overcome their transportation-related fears.
Identifying Rider Concerns Around Shared Transportation
To identify rider concerns around shared transportation options, the team first asked respondents to describe how COVID-19 has impacted their feelings about the various transportation options. The analysis revealed people have specific concerns about each transportation option.
Bus and Shuttle Ridership
When describing their feelings towards buses, several respondents cite the potential of the virus living on surfaces as a primary concern. As one respondent explained, “I have stopped using [the bus] completely, as the virus could be left on the bus seat & surface for many hours.” Additional concerns center on the proximity of riders to one another while on buses. One respondent explained, “I would want to sit farther from other passengers and avoid rush hour as much as possible to distance myself from others.”
Feelings about bike sharing focused on concerns around sharing with strangers and sanitization levels of bikes. One respondent explained, “I would not want to share anything with anyone right now.” When asked about using shared bikes, respondents also explained, “You would have to make sure to sanitize it first,” and “I would wipe them down with a sterilizing wipe first.”
What interventions might impact transportation use?
To explore what types of interventions might influence transportation use, the researchers gave participants lists of possible interventions (e.g., “drivers wear masks”), and asked them whether they believed such interventions would influence their behavior to use that transportation method. Results indicated that across both rideshare and bus transportation options, consumers are generally more concerned about other passengers than the driver. Interventions targeting the driver (e.g. requiring the drivers to wear masks, providing hand sanitizer) were significantly less effective than interventions that targeted other riders (e.g., riders required to wear masks, installing plastic dividers between seats).
The researchers first investigated whether communication about hygiene would assuage fears about riding the bus. To explore this, participants were shown images of various signs that would appear as they boarded the bus. Participations saw either a control image (“Enjoy your ride!”) or an image communicating a hygiene feature (“Please wipe down seats,” “Please sit 6ft apart from fellow riders,” “Please wear a mask while riding,” and “Please sanitize hands before sitting down”) and asked participants how likely they would be to ride that bus.
In the control condition, few people indicated being likely to ride the bus, with only 15% indicating that they were “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to ride the bus. When people saw intervention conditions, the amount more than doubled (“Please wipe down seats” = 29%; “Please sit 6ft apart from fellow riders” = 31%; “Please wear a mask while riding” = 34%; and “Please sanitize hands before sitting down” = 46%).
Next, respondents were asked how messaging around bus cleaning schedules would impact likelihood to ride the bus once stay-at-home orders were lifted. Results suggest that people are marginally more likely to ride when using the word “cleaned” (48%) compared to “sanitized” or “disinfected (40%). Results may suggest that people have negative associations with words like “sanitized” and “disinfected”, while language around “cleaned” is interpreted more positively.
The researchers were also interested in whether including “taglines” that highlight a focus on rider safety helped people feel more comfortable riding employer-provided shuttles. To test this, participants were asked to imagine that their employer provided a free shuttle to work, and that they were considering whether to take this shuttle post COVID-19 stay-at-home orders being lifted. Participants were then provided an image of the shuttle website, including various messaging, and asked how likely they would be to take the shuttle to work.
Without any messaging on the website, relatively few people said they were likely to ride the shuttle (27%) whereas a tagline plus images significantly increased participants’ likelihood to ride the shuttle. For example, when shown the tagline “From Your Home to Our Office, Enabling a Safer Ride for All” alongside with images of preventative health measures such as masks and sanitizer, 53% of people said they were likely to ride the shuttle (compared to 27% with no messaging). Notably, however, there were no significant differences in the individual messages used, suggesting that simply having a message is important.
To explore how interventions might impact the use of bike-sharing programs, the researchers investigated how highlighting sanitizing bikes after use and providing sanitizing wipes might impact likelihood to use a bike share once COVID-19 stay at home orders are lifted. Participants were asked to imagine that once the COVID stay at home orders are lifted, their employer is encouraging people to use a bikeshare program to commute to work instead of driving themselves or taking public transportation and then showed a hypothetical bike share station.
Results indicate that 51% of respondents were somewhat or very likely to use the bikeshare when shown signage asking them to sanitize their bike after use and indicating that free sanitizing wipes were available, compared to 40% when shown the bikeshare with no signage.
Overall, the research suggests that while consumers have significant concerns about shared transportation options following the Covid-19 pandemic, there are interventions that can make people more likely to use shared transportation. Key to these interventions for shared transportation are as follows:
- Addressing concerns consumers have regarding getting sick from other riders (i.e., not focusing solely on the driver)
- Acknowledging the importance of safety, and that hygiene is considered and acted upon
- Giving riders the ability to maintain hygiene (e.g., providing sanitizer, wipes, and masks)
- Including a prominent “tagline” emphasizing riders’ safety
It will likely be impossible to return to pre-COVID-19 levels of mass transportation in the near future, but some of the above interventions may help mitigate the number of people opting to drive alone.