Public transit usage has drastically declined in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States alone, transportation agencies within the country’s largest central business districts have reported the loss of millions — sometimes billions — of dollars in revenue. The cause behind it all? Health and safety concerns from riders who, in many cases, now have the option to work remotely instead of coming into the office.
As a technology leader that enhances workplace environments for companies all over the world, we know that commuting has become critical to the overall tenant experience. “When you drill into the tenant experience, the commute is a huge part of it,” explains our CEO Chase Garbarino in a recent Commercial Observer article. “We went from a vitamin to a painkiller […] Landlords need us to provide incentive to get people back [into the office]. Thus, we integrated with traffic solutions and parking garages to help make that happen.”
These solutions include best-in-class transportation, micromobility, and parking technologies — such as TransitScreen, SPACES, Ridy, and TripShot — that can address tenant and employee pain points when it comes to the daily commute. To dive more into this topic, I sat down with Alicia Karr, TransitScreen’s Vice President of Product Marketing, to get her thoughts on the industry and share how landlords and property teams can offer safe and modern commuting options to their tenants.
It’s so wonderful to meet you! I’d love to kick things off by learning a little more about your background and current role with TransitScreen.
I joined TransitScreen as Vice President of Marketing to leverage my 18 years of experience in commercial real estate, working with owners and landlords to enhance tenant engagement. This means that I have been really hands-on with identifying opportunities for marketing, on-site amenities, and nearby points of interest so that employers and owners can attract and retain people for their buildings.
Most recently, I was at CoStar, an information services provider for CRE properties. I came over to TransitScreen because I believe in the idea of creating a better experience for tenants, employees, or anyone who is traversing the city to experience great amenities. And when I talk about a better experience, I mean what’s going to allow for the most efficient and least painful commute to a given destination.
I think owners and landlords sometimes forget about what can be the most painful part of an employee’s day. So I thought this was a really interesting way to leverage my experience and get behind something that has a real mission to help commuters and the environment.
Let’s talk about that. What does TransitScreen do, and what’s the company’s overall mission?
TransitScreen is dedicated to the idea that personalized mobility information is the key to unlocking faster, easier, and more sustainable commutes. You’ll see those objectives throughout all of our products. Our mobile app CityMotion can be accessed through the HqO platform or stand on its own, and is designed to inform commuters on every trip. Our second product, also called TransitScreen, can present information at-a-glance about all mobility options and nearby amenities for a particular building.
Our third product is called CommuteWise, and basically serves as an education and benefit election tool for employers to help ease their employees’ commute planning challenges. We designed it so that it can really customize a commute plan to any employee’s preferences. If they want to have a very sustainable commute, they can prioritize that. Or if they want to have the cheapest commute, they can prioritize that. It’s really about creating journeys that are customized to the commuter in a way that benefits their lifestyle.
That’s incredible. What is the user experience like for these products? How do they work?
So, like I said, CityMotion is the app version of TransitScreen. It’s based on the location of a building. Property teams can highlight which types of information they want to include on their screen, which is then displayed to their commuters. So if you want to include flights because your tenants travel a lot, you can include flights. Or if your building offers private shuttles as an amenity, you can display the schedule for it. That kind of thing.
CommuteWise is a web-based solution for identifying the best commute itinerary. It asks users a few questions that they can rank by importance. Once they finish ranking the questions, our AI recommendation engine makes a best-fit suggestion based on your preferences. It also gives people multiple options in case they change their mind on factors like price or timing. It includes all possible transit options — like scooters, buses, trains, and so on — which is really what differentiates us from your standard commuting tools.
That definitely sounds helpful, especially in a post-pandemic world. Based on what you’ve seen, how has COVID-19 impacted commuting?
Whether you’re in the city or the ‘burbs, the commute has drastically changed. New commuting patterns are emerging with the rise in hybrid and remote work because people now need to align new public transportation schedules with their revised work schedules. There are also a lot of changes in individuals’ lifestyles and routines, and what they’re prioritizing to be a part of their work day. For example, urban commuters are much more likely to be exploring micromobility options like bikes and scooters. These allow them to create safe and efficient commutes that minimize travel time and are more eco-friendly.
Are there any particular trends that stand out to you that landlords should pay close attention to?
I think it’s more about creating modern amenities and not necessarily the specific shift in how you get to the office. Landlords should be asking themselves: How am I safely getting people to and from the building? Companies are really contending with this idea of the hybrid environment, and what it means for their business. We’re seeing a lot of statistics indicating that the commute is often the worst part of an employee’s work day. It’s really about providing commuting options as part of the amenities at your building, so that traveling is less painful.
And we’ve all had painful commutes! Either the bus is late, or you are crossing the street and somebody almost runs into you. Those experiences come with you into the workplace and impact your whole day. You might have to change your schedule if you’re running late, or your mindset can be completely thrown off if you’re frustrated. These are the things that impact productivity and morale. That’s why big companies like Google are providing new kinds of amenities, like private shuttles, to help people come into the office and stay there. It contributes to their overall work culture, so that it’s a place where people want to work and be productive. That’s not to say that on-site amenities aren’t valuable, because they definitely are. But those amenities need to be supplemented with other experiences to truly address all tenant needs.
And how do you think technology is helping landlords solve these problems?
It’s simple: technology provides landlords and employers a means to amenitize the commuter experience, whether an employee is working remotely or commuting into the office. For instance, our real-time transportation information creates a very personalized mobility experience. Something that is particularly relevant right now is our crowding feature that tells commuters if a particular mode of transportation is more or less crowded at the moment. This empowers commuters to make decisions based on their personal health, to take a different bus or train that will allow them to social distance and avoid uncomfortable situations. Little things like that drive big value.
What other technological capabilities drive value?
Being able to track the carbon footprint of employees and your business is also becoming incredibly important. More and more we are seeing owners of office space reporting on sustainability initiatives, not just because it’s important for the planet, but because tenants and employees want to be a part of a culture that takes care of the environment. That’s why we offer the ability to decrease and eventually track overall carbon footprints through our commuting options. It’s an efficient way to prove to people that you care.
Those are all useful features! In your opinion, what makes the HqO and TransitScreen partnership so unique?
HqO empowers landlords and owners to create really customized, really engaging tenant experiences through data and technology. Our partnership ensures that tenants have the information they need to make informed decisions about their commute to and from the property. Together, we’ve been able to help landlords and owners extend the ability to delight and engage their tenants beyond the four walls of the office. That is obviously very important right now.
The partnership also supports landlords who are proactively taking steps to improve the commute to their properties, whether it’s via public transportation, private shuttles, or private micromobility options. As the partnership continues to grow, we’ll be able to help landlords and owners become more informed about which tenants are the best fit for their properties and which amenities are the best for retention.
We’ve also seen the push for more customized experiences in the office. How do you think that plays into the future of commuting?
Oh, it’s all about a more personalized experience for the employees and commuters! That’s why we are expanding our solutions to address other related needs like parking. We want to be able to help everyone, whether they’re in the office, working from home, dropping off their kids at daycare, picking up their dry cleaning, stopping to get Starbucks, all of it. A tenant’s commute should be the least stressful and significant part of their day. That subtlety is what makes it great.