Community Ambassadors (paid or voluntary) increase awareness of and travel on local transport. They bridge gaps between poorly integrated communities and the transport system by identifying and breaking down barriers to using local transport. The barriers include:
- not knowing how to read a timetable or buy a ticket
- not having confidence or never having used local travel
- language problems or unfamiliarity with destinations and their amenities
Ambassadors can also identify how transport providers can improve their service to sections of the community, often those most likely to travel off-peak on existing capacity. They build the reputation of the transport provider, particularly through good news stories.
Docklands Light Railway
Ambassadors were introduced when it was noted that local people rarely used the railway that ran through their district. Ambassadors regularly give presentations at schools and hold drop-in sessions at local supermarkets and libraries when people can get information and advice about travel on the railway.
They organise accessibility trips for people with physical difficulties using the railway. They distribute leaflets about the destinations accessible on the railway. Several ambassadors come from ethnic minority groups and, together, they offer an impressive range of languages to communicate with passengers. They advise on local transport planning. Read more.
Northern Community Ambassadors
Northern Rail employed three community ambassadors, two from ethnic minority groups. They made contact with various community groups such as new students, recently arrived refugees, women in refuges and people with disabilities attending day centres. Starting with a talk about what the local railway network offered, they then organised accessibility trips to familiarise the group with stations, the processes of catching a train and potential local destinations.
Trust was crucial, taking time to establish. Anecdotally, the ambassadors were successful in encouraging more people to use and consider trains, and helped Northern Rail to win a European Rail Congress Award in 2013. Read more.
Seniors train seniors
Offenbach am Main (Germany)
This scheme helps older people when they stop driving or who are unfamiliar with the local public transport provision. It aims to maintain their mobility and encourage sustainable travel. The trainers, all over 55, give presentations to older people about buying tickets and using public transport.
The trainers help break down the barriers perceived by older people. Since its start in May 2010, 25 trainers have been trained and 200 people have participated in the project. The positive feedback means the scheme will be continued even after the end of funding to its parent project. Read more.
Public transport ambassadors
After six months planning, volunteer ambassadors over the age of 55 were recruited in rural Zeeland in the Netherlands, to encourage older people to maintain their mobility and combat isolation. The ambassadors were trained about using public transport, tariffs and the proposed system of e-ticketing, which challenges older people and – it was discovered – the ambassadors themselves.
The scheme was launched at an event bringing together more than 200 ‘seniors’ in vintage buses, returning by public transport. The ambassadors organise presentations and test rides. The project and volunteers’ expenses are funded by the Province of Zeeland. Read more.
Cycling and walking ambassadors
USA, Germany, Denmark, UK and the Netherlands
Several cities encourage cycling and/or walking by training ambassadors to take people on trips, talk about their experience or pass on tips about how to enjoy walking or cycling safely in the city. Many such schemes use volunteers to accompany people who want to get out of their cars, but lack the knowledge or confidence to make trips on foot or bike.
This support helps them to cross the threshold between wanting and doing through encouragement from the ambassadors. Read more.
The Olympics and Paralympics in London in 2012 used hundreds of volunteers to help spectators reach their events by public transport. With thousands of people from all over the world, mostly unfamiliar with London’s transport system and many not speaking English, there was potential for confusion and the delays this causes in crowded stations.
Volunteers in pink tabards, many with computer tablets, provided information and reassurance, freeing up operational staff. Their helpfulness and friendliness won praise from visitors and helped the transport system maintain flows of passengers even with concentrated high demand. Read more.
How to make it happen
Firstly, consider if an ambassador scheme is appropriate. Is there a problem with some sectors of the local community evidently not using parts of the transport system? Is there any evidence that this may be because of perceptions or barriers other than cost or destinations not being suitable?
Ambassadors, whether paid or voluntary, should be from or closely associated with the target groups (for example older or younger people, ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, refugees or unemployed people). They will need to be able to identify key ‘gate keepers’ with access to these groups, and persuade them of the merit of talking about travel. Aligning the presentation/activity with the goals of the organisation or individual helps gain acceptance. For example, English language or life skill courses may include ‘travel’, where the ambassador can assist the teacher with the topic.
The groups you are focusing on may include marginalised people who can be suspicious of outsiders. It takes time, listening skills and empathy to build up trust before people are willing and ready to try out something new.
The main methods used to introduce groups to travel include stalls at open days, fairs and events, presentations, attending meetings and organising accessibility trips. These involve planning and accompanying individuals or small groups on local journeys, getting them to use ticket machines, timetables and information clues. This helps to take away the ‘unknown factor’ for novice travellers. Engendering a ‘feel good’ trip makes take-up more likely. Free tickets can also encourage repeat trips.
The insights gained by ambassadors provide invaluable feedback. They offer ways to improve the service to all customers if they are taken on board and acted on by management. Visible changes in response to such feedback increases the engagement of ambassadors and target groups.
Ambassadors can increase publicity and positive attitudes towards the transport provider both through face-to-face contacts generating word of mouth reports and through good news stories on local news outlets.
If you have your own case studies, resources or ideas to contribute to this (or any other) section of the toolkit, please add a comment to the foot of this article.
Alternatively email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 1752 584777 to speak to our lead partner, the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership.
More from the toolkit
Improve existing stations
– Early consultation
– Designing with students
– Art and gardening projects
– Community-focused buildings
New uses for station buildings
Creating new stations
More trains, better stations
Attracting more users
Involving citizens and stakeholders
People with disabilities