What the users have to say
In November last year, Kevin Sanders of Mintlab and Evelien Marlier and Sandra Lima of the European Passengers’ Federation carried out a survey into the experiences of people who had used the LINK.Gent dashboard for the first time. You can discover more information about exactly what was covered in this survey here. Afterwards, we checked the results of the researchers against those of a number of eager participants.
The majority of the research focused on the thorough testing of the platform and its various components. Participants provided feedback about their experience of using the dashboard via journals that they kept as well as online interviews. Kevin Sanders: “A large number of the users thought the system was very interesting, while others were less enthusiastic. But that’s just what we expected. A lot depended on the type of user and their travel behaviour. In many cases, the participants also provided a clear indication about why they found some particular aspects useful and others not. That kind of information is very valuable to us. One of the aspects for which we received a lot of feedback was the alerts sent out to people about their everyday journeys. At the present time, users are not only alerted if there are problems on their route (for example, if there is a traffic jam or a road closure), but also if there are no problems. Some people find this useful, because it means that they can leave a little later or because it provides them with a reassurance. Others find it a nuisance and would rather only be notified in the event of problems. We have to take account of the fact that there is less traffic due to the current situation with the coronavirus of course. This means there are currently more alerts going out indicating that there are no problems and this can present a distorted picture. But we also received useful feedback on many other aspects.”
Positive first impressions
A second, smaller-scale survey looked at the experience of the participants on their first encounter with the dashboard and to what degree it met their expectations. This was carried out under the supervision of Evelien Marlier and Sandra Lima of the European Passengers’ Federation (EPF). “The participants were able to provide their feedback on all kinds of aspects – from layout to design and user-friendliness,” said Evelien Marlier. “That provided us with a lot of useful information. The first impressions were generally positive and a lot of the participants said they would use the dashboard in the future. One important added value that emerged was the fact that one single dashboard is able to provide a wide range of information, from the availability of shared bicycles to real-time information about road works. The real-time information about the occupancy of the bicycle and car parking facilities also emerged as an immediate winner, as was the option to receive alerts if there are problems on a habitual pre-set route. The fact that it is possible to put together a personalised dashboard based on a particular mobility profile was also very popular. What we saw therefore was a number of interesting points emerging very clearly. One downside that appeared however was that participants found that the dashboard could benefit from being a bit more intuitive. They felt that it can sometimes take a long time for users to find what they are looking for. Another element that came up was the demand for a LINK.Gent app.”
One of the goals of the survey was to continue the optimisation of the dashboard and its various components. “Unfortunately, the TMaaS project is nearing its end, which means that it is no longer possible to integrate all the feedback that we received,” said Evelien Marlier. “But that does not mean that it will be lost, just the opposite in fact. We have now reviewed the results together with our partners Be-Mobile and UGent and the feedback we received is also invaluable to them. Be-Mobile wants to continue developing certain functions, so they will certainly be using the input we received for their products. And here at EPF we can also roll out this information on other projects that we are working on. There is no question therefore that the findings of this survey will continue to be useful for us. ”
The research also provided a number of useful insights in a broader sense. Kevin Sanders: “The feedback about the system of alerts suggested that we must strive in the future for a system that is more tailored to individual users. The ‘one size fits all’ approach is not so appropriate here. I believe we are faced with an exciting challenge to enhance the options for personalisation. The system can take note of what the users want to see or what they don’t want to see, when they want to see it, whether they can actively request it themselves, etc. There are many subtle differences between users, a problem that can be overcome by using personal settings. I think this is a complex, but interesting option. ”
In the words of a few participants
Michelle Hannes was one of the participants in the survey. This “returned” resident of Ghent, who had been living in Heusden for a few years, hoped that the platform would help her to familiarize herself with her new environment in Sint-Amandsberg. In addition to this, she loves anything to do with the wonderful world of apps and the cyber world. So she was the ideal profile for our survey.
“I take the same route every day and I am happy to say that I experience almost no problems on it. Everything runs exactly as it should. Which does not alter the fact that I immediately had a number of comments. It was possible to find solutions to some of the issues by increasing the use of the dashboard, while others remained unanswered. For example, I had questions about flexibility. I normally always leave for work at the same time, which is what I indicated in my preferences. Due to certain circumstances, however, I had to set off a bit later on a few occasions and it was not so easy to integrate this information. This means that it is necessary to actually change the settings every time, which is not convenient at all. The platform is not tailored therefore to people with floating timetables. It should be possible to call up a status at a specific time without having to change the settings. Another point in question is that the website does not work on all browsers. Safari is set as default on my mobile phone, but the website does not support that. I also hope that there will be a LINK.Gent app. Everyone works with apps nowadays.”
All mapped out
When asked whether she will also use the platform in the real world, Michelle answers positively. “It certainly seems that it would be useful for journeys to and from work. On the other hand, I like to make impulsive decisions about what I am going to do, so in that respect the platform may not be perfectly suited to my needs. My life and my routes are not mapped out like that. (laughs) However, I do catch myself checking my emails every day to see if there is a LINK.Gent alert; the reports are always pretty accurate, which means that the quality is good.”
Iris De Herdt
Iris De Herdt heard about the survey via a call for participants on Facebook. Her interest was aroused and she decided to sign up for it. She ended up taking part in both the small-scale survey during which she familiarised herself with the dashboard as well as the longer survey during which she kept a journal.
“At first sight, the dashboard seemed quite muddled, because there were a lot of icons on the screen. But once I had found my way around, it was very user-friendly and practical. The great advantage is that you can pick up all the information you need from one single location in a matter of minutes,” said Iris De Herdt.
Then came the more in-depth survey. Iris De Herdt: “I set the alarm on my mobile phone every day so that I was sure I wouldn’t forget to fill in my journal. I live in Merelbeke and in principle I travel to Ghent on my moped every day. I study at UGent, at the Dunant Campus on the Watersportbaan. It all worked perfectly. I found it to be a very useful system. I travel by moped and I don’t have a GPS that I can rely on. So, it’s very practical to have another way of finding information about your route. For example, if you come across road works, you can find yourself well and truly stuck if you don’t have a GPS. Thanks to LINK.Gent I was informed well in advance when there were roadworks on my route.”
There are a number of drawbacks however. Iris De Herdt: “When you use the dashboard for the first time, it is not always easy to navigate. I couldn’t find any information for instance about my bus stop in Merelbeke. And I couldn’t use LINK.Gent for my journeys by bus to Ghent. Clear captions or a tutorial might help (the system does provide information about bus stops in Merelbeke, editor’s note). I think that the system seems to be geared somewhat towards cyclists as it provides a lot of information about charging stations, bicycle rental, etc. That presents a bit of a problem if you never use a bike in Ghent yourself. It would be better if you could enter your preferences for certain modes of transport and disable others.”