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There has been a significant decrease in the number of people travelling on public transport in Timaru, so much so that the service has become inefficient and less sustainable.


With a council led project team set up, my role was to lead a small team to carry out the Service Design work for Environment Canterbury, whose initial research indicated that an on-demand public transport system might be a viable alternative.

The work encompassed two phases: seeking to understand the current customer experience, and then prototyping/testing with customers.


An analysis of the existing data provided us with a good understanding of the current state. We then travelled to Timaru and completed a ‘Service Safari’, finding out about the service (timetables, locations, Metrocard), riding all four bus routes and documenting our experience.


We also engaged with key stakeholders and carried out qualitative research with the customer groups we had identified. We also spoke to some of the bus drivers, to understand their challenges and pain points. 


This entire first phase of work allowed us to map the current state customer experience and develop validated personas, which were then presented to Environment Canterbury. 


We started the next phase by co-creating a Service Blueprint in collaboration with the project team in Christchurch. We used the process of developing the Service Blueprint with the team as an effective way to identity key areas of the service to prototype and test. Over the next few weeks, we returned to Timaru a few more times, engaging customers using various techniques.

  • Storyboards
    Using storyboards to help people visualise how a potential on-demand public transport service might work and to start them thinking about what their journey might be like in relation to the key touchpoints. These were particularly effective when talking to people who did not speak English as a first language.


  • Roleplaying
    A 'mock contact centre' was set up, allowing customers to role-play booking a test bus trip over the phone. This allowed us to prototype a test script for the contact centre operator, whilst customers were given no script, allowing for great learnings around effective questioning and information exchange.


  • Prototype mobile app
    We developed a basic prototype mobile app and tested this with a wide variety of customer groups. Developed in-house using Adobe XD, this meant we were easily able to test, refine the design (based on feedback) and then quickly test again, constantly iterating as we went.


  • Service Staging
    Whilst much of the prototyping focused on the booking part of the customer journey, our workshop with Environment Canterbury revealed a desire to carry out in-vehicle testing with ‘passengers’. This was a really useful way to identify opportunities, problems, challenges and to see what works. It was also easy for the project to test ideas/scenarios early in the design process, at little cost. 



One of the key customer groups identified was bus passengers with physical and/or mental disabilities. Engaging with these customers was vital, in particular when testing the booking process. For example, we spoke with a customer with Down syndrome, a customer with cerebral palsy, a customer who had a severe speech impediment and a customer with a learning disability.


In each case, the barrier to access in terms of booking a seat represents a significant challenge. Comments from my report are highlighted in this news article. From a personal perspective, engaging with these customers was a hugely rewarding experience; one I appreciated and learned a great deal from. 

Working with an entirely external project team, a healthy challenge I faced was providing the sponsor & business owner with insights, advice and recommendations that didn't necessarily align with what could be perceived to be 'the desired outcome'. This required discipline and integrity, and it was something Environment Canterbury were appreciative of, given their ultimate goal of getting the right public transport result for passengers, the community and the ratepayer.



The work carried out, including the reports and presentations delivered, has provided Environment Canterbury with a rich, detailed view of the current customer experience. This includes a better understanding of both their current and potential customer base for any potential on-demand service. The prototyping and testing provided an effective and relatively inexpensive way to gain insight into how customers might engage with this new mechanism for public transport, highlighting benefits and challenges alike.


  • Qualitative Research

  • Service Safari

  • Storyboards

  • Service Staging

  • Journey Mapping

  • Personas

  • Prototyping

  • Service Blueprinting

  • Stakeholder engagement


Timaru Stakeholders Customers


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