With declining transit market share, increasing population, and swiftly evolving technology, transit agencies must begin thinking in innovative ways to maximize ridership and meet the needs of those who depend most on transit. Transit riders are not a homogenous group, but rather have different preferences, concerns, and needs depending on their age, location, income, and many other factors. To improve their competitiveness as well as better serve the needs of their customers, transit planners can use a market segmentation strategy. A market segment is a group of people or organizations that are similar in terms of how they respond to a particular marketing mix or in other ways that are meaningful for marketing planning purposes. Market segmentation is used extensively in the private sector, and while transit agencies typically do not generally think in terms of profits and sales, they can still benefit from market segmentation research. Researching the market can help agencies identify the needs and wants of individual customers and develop more effective promotional strategies.
While some agencies may have an understanding of the preferences of their frequent riders, An effective strategy would:
- Increase ridership (both by increasing the frequency of riding and attracting new riders).
- Increase transit's share of mode choice in your market.
- Efficiently allocate resources to markets that represent the greatest potential for change in light of changes to the marketing mix.
- Enhance the image and reputation of public transportation to increase support for public funding
The Transportation Research Board published a handbook that provides an overview of market segmentation and how it can be implemented at public transit agencies. It describes several bases of segmentation, provides real-life examples, and lists the benefits and limitations of each strategy. The following is a summary of the handbook.
Bases for Segmentation
Predetermined segmentation involves defining groups based on known characteristics, such as: transit dependent vs. choice riders, student commuters vs. work commuters, and residents of high-density areas vs. suburban residents.
For example, in 1995, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) developed a market-based strategy to target potential riders in specific transit corridors. By focusing on the State Route 94 corridor, the MTDB found that even though the demographics in the corridor were well-suited for transit, ridership was lower than expected. Further research identified perceptions of safety as a key concern affecting ridership in the corridor. The MTDB developed a ridership guide to increase awareness of routes and safety precautions, and mailed the guide to over 20,000 households in the corridor; the results were a success, with ridership up in the corridor. The MTDB has since applied the strategy to other corridors.
Market-defined segmentation uses actual market investigations, notably analysis of survey results. There are many variables that can be used to classify segments, including usage rates, disliked modes, life style, ethnicity, etc. Through a post hoc analysis, agencies can gain a better understanding of their market. For example, an agency might want to conduct surveys in advance of offering a new rail service, which could show the different types of travelers who might use the service, such as those who care only about functionality or others who prefer rail over bus. The agency can then better prepare marketing strategies and estimate ridership and revenue.
Physical Attribute Segmentation
|Number of households||Occupation|
Demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic segmentation bases and variables provide important information about individuals within specific markets. This type of data is relatively easy to collect and less expensive than other forms of segmentation research. It is an essential part of route planning and relatively inexpensive to collect. Data describing the entire U.S. population in terms of these characteristics are readily and cheaply obtainable from government sources (e.g., Censuses of Population and Housing) as well as from some business publications (e.g., Sales and Marketing Management Annual Survey of Buy Power).
Transit agencies use geodemographic information extensively, which is the description of demographics by geographic areas (such as by zip code). By looking at the variables shown in the table, transit agencies can identify areas with high transit dependence.
Psychographic segmentation looks at behavioral aspects, such as lifestyle choices, attitudes, and interests, and how those affect a customer's decision-making process. Psychographic information can help explain a person's mode choice, commitment to transit, perceptions and preferences.
For example, as part of Caltrans' TDM effort in the 1980s, the agency developed a Strategic Statewide Marketing Plan, which included a psychographic study. The study segmented the market into different categories based on survey respondents' demographics, lifestyle attitudes, and desired benefits from travel. The following table describes the segments they identified:
|The Bold Beginners||
|The Very Independents||
|The Efficiency Driven||
|The Easy Goers||
Based on this research, Caltrans found the "Bold Beginners" to be the largest group and most open to transit. The "Easy Goers" segment was also selected as a target, because they could be captured with some special effort.
Other Segmentation Strategies
- Product-usage segmentation involves identifying riders based on usage, especially frequency of usage. It can be used to develop strategies to retain frequent riders, attract infrequent riders, and focus on neglected areas of the market.
- Benefit or needs-based segmentation focuses on the reasons why customers buy. Unlike the other segmentation strategie, it focuses on causal factors rather than descriptive factors. It can help agencies identify the features or benefits of service that their customers value.
Case Study: Analysis of San Mateo County Transit Riders
A study by Zhou, Viswanathan, Popuri, and Proussaloglou (2004) uses modeling techniques along with cluster analysis to identify market segments in San Mateo County that can be targeted for new services to be offered by SamTrans. SamTrans surveyed potential customers, asking them questions related to factors such as safety, comfort, productive use of time, value of time, and schedule constraints. They then segmented the market based the findings, and located concentrations of those clusters throughout the county.
This kind of information was useful in designing transit services that meet the needs of various market segments, and also for identifying market segments that are not likely to use transit at all, regardless of the transit services provided. For example, market segments with a high value of time and a high need for privacy and comfort, dubbed "Rigid Flyers", are very difficult to serve with ﬁxed-route transit systems. In contrast, market segments with a low value of time and low need for privacy, called "Intrepid Amblers", are more likely served by modest improvements to existing SamTrans services. Segmenting the market allowed SamTrans to identify low-hanging fruit, as well as groups that would be the toughest to market towards.
Additionally, the authors mapped out the results of the market segmentation, which allowed SamTrans to address individual geographic areas, and developed a mode choice model. The mode choice model allows the testing of multiple “what if” scenarios to assess the relative attractiveness and potential effectiveness of different types of transit service improvements in
the study area corridors.
Zhou, Y., Viswanathan, K., Popuri, Y., & Proussaloglou, K. (2004). "Transit District Customers in San Mateo County, California: Who, Why, Where, and How." Transportation Research Record. Belarus transportation postage stamps
- This article uses a modeling approach and market segmentation research to asses the transit environment in San Mateo County.