In Germany, France and the UK, over two thirds of commuting to- and from- work takes place via car. While commuting by car may be the norm, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option.
The Inrix Global Traffic Index states that Parisians spend an average of 65 hours a year stuck in traffic. That’s right – 65 hours of irate drivers, endless beeping, whirring aircon, and listening to the same songs on the radio. Those that have ever attempted to drive from the banlieues of Paris to the inner city will have asked themselves time and time again, is there a better way?
The downsides to travelling by road are not limited to waiting, bored, in traffic. The emissions generated by idling engines are a major contributor to global warming. As the global interest in the latest carbon neutral voyage over the Atlantic proves, this is no longer a fringe issue. Commuters increasingly care about reducing the carbon footprint of their trip to work.
Surely this would be enough to make anyone wish for a different transport method? Maybe, but wishing for change won’t help anything – finding a suitable substitute will. Sadly, across many European locations, the alternative option of rail travel isn’t necessarily that attractive either.
Ageing carriages with old, worn seating are not likely to lure those commuters away from their cars. Culture is a fickle thing – commuting by rail used to be a status symbol. When train carriages looked like hotel suites, people wanted to be in them. Somewhere along the way, in the search for cost efficiency and space, that aspect was lost and train interiors became functional rather than pleasing. Now it’s cars that carry the status. But that can change.
A renewed focus on traveller experience in trains may require a small investment in the short term, but the medium-term benefits of greater passenger numbers and increased revenues should make this a key consideration for rail operators. By working with contractors and OEMs to build trains that will inspire a new generation of European commuters, carriers can recapture the golden age of rail, brighten their customers’ days and help reduce the impact of climate change.
The key question for train companies is how to match functional needs like cost and durability with the need to improve passenger conditions. Traditionally ‘luxurious’ materials like wood and standard leather come with hefty price tags and don’t age well – your first few thousand customers will have a great experience, but over time these materials wear out. A modern equivalent is required – a way to make customers feel special without risking durability and cost efficiency.
Fortunately, new manufacturing technologies are emerging that can help bridge the gap. By engineering organic materials to last longer while retaining their tactile and aesthetic qualities, train makers can satisfy customer and accountant alike.
Modern materials such as engineered leather provide the natural look and feel of more expensive, fragile materials but last far longer without showing signs of wear – ensuring that the rail commute stays every bit as pleasant as the car. The use of reclaimed and engineered materials also has a positive impact on the environment, reducing waste and the impact of new acquisition on natural resources.
It’s also important for train interiors to reflect the branding of the carrier. Brand loyalty is an increasingly powerful tool across industries as consumers come to identify with the image projected by their chosen providers. Engineered leather can be coloured to match the carrier’s brand, creating a more unified experience for customers and subtly connecting the quality of the experience with the company itself.
Train operators and manufacturers also need to be aware of the impact of upcoming EU regulations. These are aimed at opening up competition across borders by allowing operators and manufacturers to operate across borders, creating a more integrated European railway. This will radically change the market in EU countries, as previously secure monopolies are challenged and competition becomes more fierce. Manufacturers will need to ensure they can stand out in a far more crowded field – which means that customer experience is going to be more important than ever.
The use of superior materials in interior design will be an essential component of a successful strategy for succeeding in this competitive environment. Cost alone will no longer be enough of a differentiator – companies need to be able to offer a premium experience to go with it. Modern technology is helping to make those two opposing goals work together. Materials are changing – it’s now possible to provide a constantly excellent train environment without having to then charge first-class fares for the whole carriage.
When commuters ask themselves if there’s a better way to travel than car, the answer is almost certainly yes. However, this cannot be achieved if manufacturers and operators continue to stick to their old standards. Instead, they should prioritise searching for innovative solutions that will make daily commutes far more enjoyable.
Nico Den Ouden is the Global Sales & Marketing Director at service provider ELeather, which specialises on comfort solutions for the transportation sector. If you're interested in learning more about passenger experience and meet brilliant speakers and companies, book your ticket now and join us at SmartTransit LA, on October 28-30th.