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Cheap train tickets boost public transport use but reduce customer satisfaction

03 July 2019
Maarten Gijsenberg

Offers of cheap single train tickets through retailers such as Kruidvat or Etos have a positive impact on the number of kilometres travelled by rail. This impact is much bigger than that of more general TV, newspaper or magazine advertising. However, the increase in public transport use following retailer promotions is only temporary. It also brings reduced customer satisfaction, possibly because of the difficulties in providing sufficient seating in the short term and a resulting decline in the quality of train journeys.

These are the conclusions reached by marketing researchers Maarten Gijsenberg and Peter Verhoef of the University of Groningen. They studied how marketing can help encourage travellers to use public transport. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. The study is available via open access.

More travellers, reduced customer satisfaction

‘Interesting’ is how the researchers describe this finding that a temporary increase in the use of public transport also leads to reduced customer satisfaction. Gijsenberg: ‘Governments often set two goals: more passengers and higher customer satisfaction. But when governments hold providers to account for customer satisfaction, as happens in the Netherlands with the NS (Dutch Rail), we should realize that it’s virtually impossible to achieve both goals in the short term. That requires additional investments in transport capacity.’

Season tickets and one-off tickets

Gijsenberg and Verhoef investigated the impact of advertising, promotions via retailers and promotions via a Western European transport company’s own channels on the total number of kilometres travelled by train for the 2007-2009 period. They looked at the effects that this had on travelling with a season ticket and travelling with an individual one-off ticket, and they also analysed traveller satisfaction.

Temporary positive effects

Their research showed that advertising (i.e. mass communication via television, radio or print media) had a small positive effect, while promotional campaigns had a much stronger impact. Cheap train tickets via retailers only boosted the sale of single tickets. ‘This debunks the stepping-stone theory,’ says Gijsenberg, ‘the idea that a first acquaintance or travel experience will eventually entice customers into buying a season ticket.’ Promotions through the transport company’s own channels have a positive impact on the sale of individual tickets and season tickets. However, the results from a one-off campaign are only temporary, the researchers conclude, and do not result in a lasting increase in public transport use.

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Last modified:16 September 2019 11.46 a.m.
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