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What is a mobility service rider persona and why is it important?

This comprehensive article breaks down what exactly a rider persona is and how you can use them to boost ridership by tailoring your mobility services towards the needs of your riders.


Niklas Mey

Rider persona

If you're familiar with sales or marketing, you’ve likely heard the term “buyer persona.” A buyer persona is a detailed description of your target customer that helps inform how products are created and promoted.

But the concept of a buyer persona can be applied to any industry. Publishing companies, for instance, will craft a reader persona that helps them determine how to market a book: who is most likely to enjoy this type of book and how do we reach them? And when it comes to mobility, creating a rider persona can help ensure your services are tailored to the needs of riders while boosting ridership by providing insight on who you should market your services to.

In this post, we’ll cover the basics of a rider persona: what it is, why it’s important, and how to make one — including examples!

What is a rider persona?

A rider persona is a research-based profile of your target rider. A single mobility service may have multiple rider personas, but the idea is to pinpoint specific characteristics of who is using your service (or who is likely to use it) so that service development can be focused on those riders.

Note the words “research-based” in our definition. While there is room for aspiration when it comes to developing a rider persona, it should ultimately be based on data about who is most likely to use and benefit from your service.

We’ll cover what kind of information you may want to cover in a rider persona in a moment, but first, let’s clarify why crafting a persona is a step you shouldn’t skip.

Why should you create a rider persona?

You can think of a rider persona as a “North Star” for your company to look to while developing a mobility service. Any time you’re making a decision, you can turn to your rider persona and ask yourself if you’re really addressing their needs. If not, you may need to reconsider aspects of your service designs.

For instance, maybe you know that a current neighbourhood where you’re intending to launch a new service lacks adequate access to the downtown core. But are most people going downtown for work, leisure or to access specific services? Are they traveling on their own or with families? Do they have specific mobility needs?

Ultimately, a rider persona allows you to hone in on what kinds of challenges or “pain points” your rider is experiencing and what their definition of a successful service might look like. Some examples of what defines a successful mobility service include:

  • Coverage
  • Frequency
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Walkability
  • Affordability
  • Comfort and Saftey

How to create a rider persona

As mentioned earlier, your rider persona needs to be based on data. While there may be people you strongly feel will benefit from your services, a persona should ultimately be formed of research-proven puzzle pieces.

But who should you talk to, what kinds of information should you seek from them, and what do you do with the information you receive? Let’s break down the steps of creating a rider persona.

1. Determine what information you need

While your rider persona is a fictional person, you don’t need to write a book about them. Start with the basics. Demographic information can help develop the foundation of your persona, covering factors such as:

  • Age – Is the rider more likely to be a high school student or an elderly person?
  • Location – Where do they live? Are they close to transit?
  • Occupation – Does their travel pattern include going to or from work? Are they retired?
  • Income – Is it likely that the rider owns their own vehicle?
  • Special Needs Status – Does this rider have a disability that necessitates certain vehicle features, such as wheelchair accessibility?
  • Family Status – Does the rider travel alone or with dependants?

You’ll also want to fill out the picture with information that affects how the rider travels. For instance:

  • Travel Type – Why are they traveling? For work, medical service, daily necessities, recreation or something else?
  • Pain Points — What transit challenges are they currently experiencing?
  • Definition of Success — What are the characteristics of a mobility service that successfully meets their needs? You can think of these as the opposite of the pain points.

2. Conduct rider research

Now that you know what kind of information you’re looking for, it’s time to start the research process. Ideally, you can combine a few different methods of data collection to ensure you have a holistic understanding of your riders, and so that you avoid diversity data gaps.

Building automatic opportunities for feedback into your service configuration is an efficient way of continuously gathering data that you can use to optimize your rider persona. So let’s start with three automatic research options.

Surveys

If riders use an app to book your mobility service, you can present them with an in-app survey that asks questions about who they are and their rider experience. In-app surveys have the benefit that they are guaranteed to reach riders. Of course, there are other means, such as sending surveys via newsletters or displaying an in-vehicle ad that directs them to a survey link.

Providing an incentive, such as entry into a giveaway or a free ride, is a good way to increase the likelihood that people will interact with your surveys.

Sign-up Forms

If people need to sign up in some way to use your service — downloading an app, purchasing a transit card, etc. — you can use this as an opportunity to gather data. That said, be careful of asking for too much information. A lengthy sign-up form may dissuade users, as can asking for too much personal information off the bat.

Rating Requests

Once again, this applies mostly to services that are booked through an app. But asking for ratings on 1-5 different aspects of service after each trip is a quick way to gather information at scale.

Rider Interviews

While surveys are good for gathering a lot of feedback, they’re not skilled at capturing the minutiae of your riders. Pairing things like surveys with in-person interviews allows you to humanize the feedback, and to confirm that what people are saying in the surveys applies on the ground.

After all, it’s no secret that people tend to provide feedback online when their experience skews to an extreme — whether extremely positive or negative. Talking to people directly can provide a lot more nuanced feedback and access to people “in the middle.”

You might choose to interview riders through cold calls or by inviting them to a focus group. But don’t overlook the benefits of actually talking to riders while they’re “in-transit” — whether waiting at a stop or in the middle of a ride. Chatting in this context can provide candid, in-the-moment feedback while their experience is fresh in their mind. It can be a fruitful way to gain individual insight, such as a rider’s favorite driver or a bus that’s always late.

Third-Party Information Providers

A benefit of relying on mobility planning software is that they typically provide access to an anonymized internal database that allows planners to leverage information and make data-driven decisions. Spare Realize, for example, makes it easy for transit planners to derive meaningful insights from their mobility data by simulating mobility patterns using advanced machine learning algorithms.

Once you’ve compiled a range of different information sources, what next?

3. Refine your data into a rider persona

It’s time to make sense of all the information you’ve gathered. Luckily, you already defined the kind of information you want to comprise your rider persona in step one, and you can use your research to fill in those blanks.

Need a hand getting started? Our rider persona template can give you an example of what your service’s personas might look like.


Rider persona template

A rider persona is a research-based profile of your target rider. You can think of it as a “North Star” for your company to look to while developing a mobility service. Any time you’re making a decision, you can turn to your rider persona and ask yourself if you’re really addressing their needs.

This template will help you nail down the basics of your rider persona, including who your rider is, what mobility challenges they’re encountering and how you can help.

Name:

Demographics

What are some key characteristics about the rider?


Travel Type

What are the common travel habits of the rider?


Pain Points

What mobility challenges are they currently encountering?


Definition of Success

What do they want out of a mobility service that successfully meets their needs?


We hope this template is helpful! Feel free to continue adding details that might be helpful — but be careful not to make the rider persona too dense. Think of it as a reference sheet that details the most important information about your riders.


Rider persona examples

Here are a few examples of what a rider persona might look like in action for a microtransit, paratransit, or ride sharing service.

Microtransit Rider Persona

Let’s say you’re starting a microtransit service that helps high school students living in a rural area who have to make multiple transfers to get to school. Below is a sample persona you might build for your average rider.

Name: Ramona Cardo

Demographics: What are some key characteristics of the rider?

  • 16 years old
  • High school student
  • Lives in a rural area outside of town

Travel Type: What are the common travel habits of the rider?

  • Going to and from school on a daily basis

Pain Points: What mobility challenges are they currently encountering?

  • Long walks to the bus stops
  • Unreliable service that can result in prolonged and/or unpredictable travel times
  • Comparatively long travel times because of many stops and detours

Definition of Success: What kind of service do they need?

  • More accessible bus stops
  • Reliable service that arrives and departs on schedule
  • More direct route to school that allows the rider to get to school faster

Paratransit Rider Persona

The needs of an elderly person who relies on a mobility aid and needs to make weekly medical appointments, however, will be very different from that of a teenager commuting to their high school. Let’s cover a sample paratransit rider persona.

Name: William Baxter

Demographics: What are some key characteristics of the rider?

  • 80 years old
  • Lives at a nursing home
  • Uses a mobility aid such as a walker

Travel Type: What are the common travel habits of the rider?

  • Going to and from weekly medical appointments

Pain Points: What mobility challenges are they currently encountering?

  • Infrequent service can result in long wait times
  • Unreliable service that can result in prolonged and/or unpredictable travel times
  • Conventional fixed-route buses come with accessibility issues and poor walkability

Definition of Success: What kind of service would meet their needs?

  • Frequent service with short wait times
  • Reliable service that doesn’t have too many stops or detours
  • Accessible vehicles that provide door-to-door service

Ride Sharing Rider Persona

Finally, let’s cover what a rider persona for a ride sharing service might look like.

Name: Matilda Girard

Demographics: What are some key characteristics of the rider?

  • 30 years old
  • Lives and works in a central part of town
  • Enjoys walking to and from work, doesn’t own a vehicle
  • Relies on public transit for errands or daily necessities

Travel Type: What are the common travel habits of the rider?

  • Recreational travel, going to concerts, events, restaurants, etc.

Pain Points: What mobility challenges are they currently encountering?

  • Not enough coverage with public transit
  • Wait times between buses are long and schedules are unreliable
  • Long walks to bus stop feel unsafe at night

Definition of Success: What kind of service would meet their needs?

  • Mobility options that provide more comprehensive coverage of the area
  • Decreased wait times, and on-demand or more reliable schedules
  • Ability to get dropped off closer to home at night

Rider personas allow mobility planners to understand their passengers on a deeper level so that they can develop services that truly meet the needs of their passengers. Hopefully, this guide has you on your way to creating your own, and boosting ridership and positive rider experiences!


Understanding your riders is key to creating transit that meets their needs. If you want to learn more about how Spare can help your transit service make data-driven decisions, drop us a line at hello@sparelabs.com.