Lisbon bus operator Carris partnered with Portugal Telecom to provide free Wi-Fi internet to passengers on a couple of its routes. The goal was not only to enhance the company’s image, giving it a hip, modern and technological touch, but also to help reduce passengers’ travel time perception.
Background & Objectives
For decades there has been a quasi continuous shift in the modal distribution from public transport (especially bus) to private cars. Carris, the Lisbon bus operator, conducted a series of surveys in order to pinpoint some of the root causes of such a shift in the Portuguese capital. One conclusion was that the bus was seen to be outdated and old-fashioned. Moreover, it was perceived to be the poor man’s travel mode, thus making the private car an object of social status. Another conclusion was that passengers’ perceived travel time was considerably greater than their actual travel time.
To tackle these issues, Carris set in motion a number of measures to improve its image, giving it a more trendy and modern look, and to reduce passengers’ perceived travel time. Carris invested heavily in renewing its fleet - leading to it having one of the youngest fleets in Europe - redesigning its network and rejuvenating its workforce. In addition, the public bus company launched a number of on-board initiatives that specifically influence passengers’ travel time perception. These actions ranged from the free distribution of small books aboard buses, to the Net Bus project, which offers free Wi-Fi internet to passengers on selected routes.
To implement Net Bus, Carris partnered with TMN, Portugal Telecom's mobile company. TMN not only provided the technology but also footed the telecommunications bill. Despite some initial technical difficulties, the pilot went into full swing in the autumn of 2010, with 30 new articulated buses being equipped with the service.
Since then the buses have been operating on two long routes, the 36 and the 745, both of which have one endpoint in the city centre and another in the urban suburbs. Both lines pass through Lisbon central business district. As a result, these buses run through distinct neighbourhoods ranging from the working poor to the affluent and high-end and thus increasing the social range of the project’s impact. Furthermore, the routes run through some of the main squares and boulevards of Lisbon, which increases the potential visibility of the project with tourists and foreign businesspeople.
In the first two months the Net Bus service was used by over 19,000 individuals. About half accessed it using iOS devices. According to Carris, the project influenced the way its users perceive the bus service and the company itself, with a steady rise in the overall client satisfaction index.
The Lisbon public bus company estimates that the return on investment from domestic visibility alone was around €100,000 in the first two months of operation. But the project's visibility has not been limited to the Portuguese market; several contacts have been made with and news items published by foreign partners and transport stakeholders.
Carris now hopes to expand the Net Bus initiative to 480 more buses, comprising around two thirds of its 752-vehicle fleet.