The Route To Effective Passenger Engagement On Public Transport

Posted on May 4, 2017

It used to be that mobile phones and public transport were an uncomfortable combination. When the primary function of a mobile phone was to make voice calls, their use in enclosed, often densely packed buses and trains set teeth on edge. In many cases transport operators responded by urging passengers to restrict or modify their phone use.

Today the opposite is true. Everyone has their earphones in, their eyes down, and their heads elsewhere. Passenger smartphone usage has become a behaviour which must be catered for, rather than discouraged. So on buses, trains and trams in 2017 you’re far more likely to see a sign promoting the availability of free Wi-Fi than you are to see one asking you to show consideration to others in the way you use your phone.

On all sorts of journeys, because there’s not much else to do and nowhere else to go, passengers are glued to their smartphones. It’s just as true in airport terminals – and increasingly on flights – as it is on buses and trains.

The high dwell time of a captive audience is also why advertising is so well established on public transport. The problem is that available space is limited and, in any case, everyone is looking at their screens…

The obvious solution, since they’re already focused on them, is to engage passengers through their smartphones, something which Devicescape has been doing with extremely positive results.

In February this year, Cancer Research UK used the Devicescape Engage proximity marketing solution to promote its World Cancer Day campaign and encourage supporters to visit its website. Engage uses Wi-Fi to establish consumers’ presence in a location and trigger the delivery of lock screen notifications containing branded marketing messages.

Engagement rates on transport were among the highest seen across the World Cancer Day campaign. As the table below shows, click through rates achieved on trains, buses, and coaches operated by some of the UK’s top transport brands were very strong, ranging from 7.5% to 13.8%.

This is clearly great news for brands keen to engage consumers at the most effective times. And, because Devicescape Engage works with a network of partner apps to deliver engagement messages to end users on a revenue share basis, it also creates a significant opportunity for transport-focused smartphone apps, not least those associated with specific transport operators.

Smartphones have become a fundamental part of the passenger experience, with some studies suggesting that use of public transport is on the increase specifically because people want to be able to use their smartphones while they’re on the move.

The evidence emerging from our campaigns indicates that very many consumers are more than happy for brand engagement to be part of their journey.


Location CTR (%) Location CTR (%)
Heathrow Airport 17.8 Gatwick Airport 8.6
Megabus 13.8 GWR 8.6
Arriva 11.5 Stagecoach 8.6
National Express 10.8 Addison Lee 8.5
ScotRail 10.7 First Bus 8.4
Oxford Bus 10.4 Go Buses 7.7
Edinburgh Airport 10.3 Chiltern Trains 7.5
Heathrow Express 10.1 Luton Airport 4.7