Thinking fast and travelling slow – designing the Gold Bus Customer Experience

There is a magical bus in Glasgow, Scotland called the Citylink Gold bus ( which links the city with its neighbour Edinburgh, 40 miles to the east. It is much slower than the train and the arrival time is inconsistent, it is just as expensive as the train, it’s start point in the city is more awkward than the train station and it is extremely popular.


‎Stop for a moment and have a look at this great Ted talk from 2012.

‎As the talk explains (much more impressively than I), perception is a an incredible driver of a positive or negative customer experience. If you expect your parcel to be delivered in 2 days and it takes a week, it’s a disaster. If you expect it two weeks and it arrives in 1 week it’s great. Imagine if it’s your wedding day in one week… The prevailing view is that if speed improves people will be happier; quicker mortgage, quicker delivery, quicker trip etc. In the corporate world, it is also driven from the need to create a business case where the tangible benefits in looking at time can be easily understood and accordingly easily signed-off.

‎This is especially true of transport where fantastical sums of money are being spent on improving the time it takes to get from A to B. In Sydney, the Westconnex (western road network) is going to cost $17b or more relevantly around $3500 per man, woman and child in the city. The whole investment is on the perception that increases to volume will require investment to maintain current journey times (some incremental improvement is likely to be cancelled out by the increased journeys as the city grows). Even more fascinatingly is the investment into the northern beaches of Sydney (a traffic Armageddon) on a new bus line with lots of double decker buses at an increased frequency (increased capacity) with new parking lots right beside the stops (increased incentive not to drive). Here’s the rub though; tolls and parking already mean it’s a $40 a day expense to get into the city by car so there will actually be an increased incentive to drive to the bus stop . So there will actually be more traffic on the road with the new buses and as a bonus, double decker buses also take longer to get in and out.

So then, in essence, it’s a multimillion cost to possibly improve the chances of getting a seat on the bus and improve the customer experience a touch?

Leave it then to Scotland to show us in Australia what to do. The above mentioned Goldbus which is slower and just an expensive as the train has done their homework in looking at customers  and have created an experience to match it.

On the train, you can’t get a seat, it’s busy, uncomfortable and impersonal, wifi is ropey but it doesn’t take too long. On the Goldbus, you prebook a seat, you get a free breakfast and a cup of tea, a free newspaper, decent wifi and a steward/ess who manages the tickets and food/drink, and because it’s Scotland no doubt provides some additional banter. You are therefore given the choice to sacrifice some time and convenience for a hugely enhanced customer experience which leaves people with the option to travel as per their own perception of value.

When we design Customer Experiences then, we have to look past the easy answer and start to ask questions which challenge core perceptions of value. What if your commute took 3 hours each way every day and you still chose to do it? What would that look like?

To quote from the Citylink people – ‘it’s more than a journey’


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