The Chatbot Connection: Transforming Global Public Transport


Public transportation isn’t usually known for innovative, forward-thinking approaches to customer experience. As urban centers grow more crowded each year, their public transport systems are struggling to evolve.

In many cities, public transportation systems are built on a patchwork of poorly integrated technology. A closer look at their architecture reveals layers of updates and add-ons — made over decades of technological change — and many of the tools travelers use to navigate them are woefully outdated. In one commute, a commuter might jump from a socially savvy app for booking an e-bike to a cumbersome website for checking bus routes.

Within this milieu of mixed customer experiences, chatbots are rising to the occasion. Conversational artificial intelligence (AI) provides much more efficient answers for a system plagued by inefficiencies, creating a faster route to a more seamless, connected travel experience. Chatbots can’t do it on their own, though. As powerful as conversational AI is, it needs the guardrails of chatbot testing services to keep the train on its tracks.


The CX challenges of an outdated travel system

Modern public transportation has been around for almost two centuries. The London Underground, the world’s oldest system, was introduced in 1863, and New York City’s subway opened in 1904. As technology and urban life have evolved, so have these systems. 

Yet, for many public transportation systems, the costs of maintaining and upgrading to fit modern requirements for safety and ease of use have far outpaced available resources. In the U.S., upgrades tend to cost 50% more than they do in other countries. Installing screen doors at just three New York subway stations, for instance, is expected to cost around $100 million. 

With such a high price tag for basic infrastructural and safety upgrades, it’s no wonder the experience of using public transportation lags behind the times. It’s 2023, and yet everyone can probably name a recent exasperating experience of trying to line up subway times with bus departures to plan a simple route. Cross-referencing such information in some dense urban areas with extensive public transportation systems can almost make your head spin — forget trying to inquire about route delays or alternate options.

Given this confluence of challenges in public transport, it’s not surprising that studies have shown lower satisfaction among those who rely on this method over others, such as cycling or automobiles. Among the top reasons for dissatisfaction are many issues related to customer experience (CX), including reliable travel times, delays, seat availability, and the overall level of service. 


How chatbots can streamline the transport experience

Amid an aging and evolving public transport infrastructure, improving CX requires multifaceted solutions. Across the U.S., where commuters can have particularly disparate public transport experiences from town to town, different metros have deployed a wide range of CX-focused solutions, from enhancing cleanliness to improving public safety. 

Yet, as crucial as many of these efforts are, conversational AI is too often conspicuously absent. Chatbots can’t solve all CX problems for public transport, but they can provide a few critical improvements while reducing costs.

Route planning and inquiries

The personalized, interactive approach of chatbots offers a much more intuitive and user-friendly method for commuters to plan their travels. Rather than cross-referencing maps and travel schedules to arrange their routes, commuters can interact with a chatbot as a kind of personalized travel agent.

Bots can offer various route options, compare route pricing, suggest stops nearest to specific destinations, and provide different walking paths to take between transit connections. If there are delays, they can quickly suggest alternate routes and help the user change course. Because conversational AI relies on machine learning, the more users interact with bots, the better and more personalized are the directions they can provide. In terms of user experience, it’s the difference between combing through bus schedules on a website and simply saying, “Is the 29 bus running on time today?” Subtle, but significant.

It’s best when these bots are integrated with existing messaging platforms, rather than a separate app that commuters must download. Apps like Transit Bot work directly through Facebook Messenger, and metros like the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority have created their own chatbot systems that work through WhatsApp. This allows commuters to chat with the bots just as they would with any other person in their feed.

Ride booking and assistance

Beyond just helping with ride planning, chatbots can integrate booking and payment directly into the process. Instead of hopping from a chat app to a booking service, commuters can handle it all in one seamless process. Many apps allow for simple payments and then deliver a QR code that you can use as your ticket when you arrive at your point of entry. Mumbai Metro, for example, sells tickets directly through WhatsApp, simplifying CX and reducing strain on agents or lines at ticketing kiosks.

This convenience also extends beyond traditional public transport. Commuters can also take advantage of conversational AI for e-bikes, scooters, and other ride-sharing services. For instance, Belgium’s largest e-bike service, Bizbike, deployed a chatbot that’s now taking over 30% of all customer interventions and saved 40 hours worth of labor costs per month.

Live alerts and updates

Once commuters are onboard their transport option of choice, bots continue to provide real-time assistance. No one enjoys the experience of trying to make a connection only to find — when you arrive — that the next train or bus is delayed. 

Chatbots are well positioned to alleviate this stress by providing real-time, conversational updates while you ride. Well ahead of your next stop, you might receive a message notifying you that your connecting tram is delayed. The bot can then offer an alternative stop where you can make a different connection and still arrive at your final destination on time.

Conveniences like these can significantly reduce customer frustration and limit the number of difficult interactions for workers at train and bus stops, ultimately reducing costs for public transport agencies.


The missing link: continuous chatbot testing and monitoring

As a way to bolster CX without adding exorbitant costs, chatbots are low-hanging fruit for the public transportation sector. However, that doesn’t mean they are a simple, plug-and-play solution. Deployed carelessly, chatbots will backfire by providing commuters with a glitchy, imprecise experience. 

Especially in the early phases of deployment, chatbots are liable to provide poor service to users. Without the benefits of prior interactions to inform machine learning, bots often respond erroneously to user input, increasing frustrations rather than alleviating them. This is only more likely when you consider the many different ways — flawed and otherwise — people might ask the same question.

These limitations highlight chatbots’ need for guardrails — a guiding hand of sorts that can accelerate machine learning and ensure a positive CX. Comprehensive, automated chatbot testing services provide those guardrails.

With Cyara Botium, public transport agencies have everything they need for efficient AI chatbot testing and training. Botium’s natural language modeling can simulate human typos, slang, and even different dialects (and background noise in the case of voice bots). It can also automate load testing to ensure bots perform well under high volume during busy transport times. As an all-in-one quality assurance platform for conversational AI, it ensures that the financial investments transport agencies make in chatbots will provide the return they expect.


Complete QA with chatbot testing services

Chatbots represent one of the best opportunities for public transport to upgrade CX without spending exorbitantly. Few other solutions integrate as naturally into the way that commuters already operate in today’s tech-driven world. 

Nonetheless, you must invest sufficient resources into testing and monitoring your chatbot solution to ensure it solves your existing CX problems rather than creating new ones. AI chatbot testing with Cyara Botium provides complete quality assurance and protects your return on investment. Contact us today to learn more.