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TRANSPORT FOR LONDON

Which communications department do you think is doing well at the moment? It’s a question I am repeatedly asked, and is always a tricky one to answer. Many departments are consistently strong. Others may be putting out fires behind the scenes so that we never even spot the embers. And sometimes it’s hard to assess the actual contribution of comms in a successful performance.

But the one that I truly believe has lifted its performance beyond all recognition over the past few years is Transport for London.

Gone are the days when commuters regularly bemoaned their journey and the paucity of customer information. Today customers of Transport for London, which spans the underground rail network, buses, Boris bikes, cycling paths, river services and roads, receive instant news on delays and traffic jams.

Tube lines have individual Twitter feeds, with more than 600,000 followers. Passengers are kept entertained by witty drivers. Some stations even chalk poetry on their message boards. This desire to inform has been driven by the communications department, which is led by Vernon Everitt, managing director, customer experience, marketing and communications.

There are crisis plans and proactive strategies in place for every potential issue. TfL staff now have carte blanche to communicate with customers how they see fit, rather than sticking to a prescriptive rule book that served only to frustrate both parties.

The first sign of the changes emerged ahead of London 2012. Transport for London staff approached big businesses that might be disadvantaged by the hordes of spectators with advice on staff travel. Clear signage appeared on the network to inform tourists visiting the Games. TfL took data from the Games’ organisers to assess how many people might be visiting venues at any time or day, overlaid that with existing customer information and provided up-to-the-minute insights into potential congestion and the time it might take to board trains.

A microsite GetAheadoftheGames.com and Twitter feed @gaotg were launched to keep customers updated.

The momentum kept going with the 150th anniversary of the Tube in 2013, when Transport for London celebrated a calendar of events built on its milestones. These included the recreation of the first ever Tube journey, using an original heritage train, from Paddington Station to Farringdon Street, to the installation of five Tube maps made entirely from Lego.

Key media outlets were given behind-the-scenes visits to view the work taking place to extend and upgrade the network, and How the Underground shaped London books.

This has been the Year of the Bus, commemorating the centenary of the world’s first mass-produced motor bus and the 60th anniversary of the Routemaster.

During London Fashion Week, a unique photographic exhibition took place on the roofs of bus stop shelters. Ten images, including Kate Moss and Bjork, were installed on ten shelters along The Strand: an exclusive gallery for passengers on the top deck. In partnership with Wild in Art, four sculpture trails have been installed featuring bus sculptures, painted by well-known and aspiring artists, to showcase the role buses play in the life and economy of London.

And a Lego bus stop was installed on Regent’s Street, home to the world famous Hamley’s toy store.

But the communications department has also been involved in business matters, including the launch of contactless payment and helping to realise the potential of all retail assets within stations.

And this year Transport for London’s website, which has around nine million unique visitors a month, was completely revamped. It followed 50 research studies and focus groups to discover what customers, tourists and stakeholders, such as disability charities, required from the site. The final version, which works seamlessly on any device, followed a beta version trial, in which more than 200,000 people offered feedback, to perfect a website that epitomises TfL’s Every journey matters slogan.

The result of all this hard work, which is all undertaken in-house without agency support, is that customer satisfaction levels with Transport for London have never been higher. The team has proved that good, accessible communications are the key.