The public transport operator in Oslo, Ruter, aims to prevent increase in private car use despite population growth. This means that public transport has to serve more diverse needs to compete with the allure of car ownership. One of these is the flexibility and time saving provided for families attending organised sports. How might public transport take a more active role in this?

Nominated to Prize for Sustainability at AHO Works Awards 2019

Seven week project with Nikolai Sabel, spring 2019
Course: Service and interaction design specialization
Oslo School of Architecture and Design

My role:
Me and Nikolai did many activities together but delegated sub-tasks to increase efficiency: During interviews, Nikolai was the smooth talker, while I documented and asked the critical questions from the sideline. When designing prototypes, Nikolai did the screens, while I synthesized insights and planned the user flow. At the final stage of the project, I prepared our visual materials like photos and mappings, while Nikolai planned our presentation and storytelling. We used each other regularly as sparring partners, passing work back and forth for iteration. When we were completely stuck, a short walk outside to get coffee together usually let our discussion flow freely around the problem at hand.

Ruter Lag (Ruter Teams) is a service for sports teams, where coaches, players and their families can travel alone or together by public transport before, during and after matches.

The team ticket and planning service in integrated in Ruter Pilot, the new travel planner and ticketing app from Ruter. Registered clubs unlock the new feature, where the primary user, the team coach, can view and organize the team’s travel schedule for the season.

Coach - Planning before the match

While the team is provided suggested routes and travel times to reach their matches, the coach is free to change both starting point and departure time as he or she sees fit for the team.

Coach - Adjusting travel plans

Parents and players can also view the travel schedule, and will be notified if the coach makes any changes. They are also free to travel independently from the team if they need to.

Parent/player - Joining the team or traveling individually

While the team normally travels on existing routes and departures, if the match is especially far away or complicated, Ruter will provide them a direct route with the request minibus service Ruter Flex.

Minibus offer

Ruter Lag includes distributed tickets for coaches, players and all family members. While today’s Ruter tickets can only be active or expired, we propose a new ticket state: inactive. The team’s tickets are active on game days, while inactive between.

Active ticket and control

In collaboration with the national soccer association and their “Eat Sleep Move”-program, which promotes healthy habits, the team can pick up a free healthy treat after the match at kiosks near transport hubs.

A healthy reward after the match

A shortcut to view the quickest route home appears on the app’s home screen after the game.

Home route quick suggestion

The service is partly financed by the whole club paying for a season pass. To prevent members with monthly passes from paying twice on game days, the monthly passes are discounted according to the percentage of days covered by team tickets.

Discounting to prevent paying twice

Ruter has produced a vision film sketching the future customer experience towards 2030. In the video, we can hear about Ruter sending a minibus to pick up a boy and his team when his mother has to work overtime at work. When we looked at the numbers behind this idea, exploring how to provide and scale this service got really interesting to us.

Soccer and public transport

140 000 registered football players in Oslo

Over 260 matches are played every day between 5 and 11 P.M.

The team’s transport needs are determined in advance by the season planners.

Background context

About 16% of Oslo’s population are registered soccer players. Adding parents, siblings and others traveling with the team, we can estimate that about 20% of the city’s inhabitants are set in motion by organized football through the week. Because the team’s destinations and travel times are set preseason, we imagine that a transport service could be more effectively delivered through closer coordination between Ruter and the national soccer association.

Over three weeks,
we were the service

Shadowing and then prototyping with a children’s football team was central to develop our design proposal. The real life coincidences helped us uncover valuable insights and user needs. Here are some of them:

Status quo

Neither the current digital or analog ticketing systems are suitable for large group travel.

A single smartphone or 36 pieces of paper.

We wanted to buy 30 single tickets for 11 children av four adults round trip. The ticket machine allows for only 15 tickets to be purchased, rejecting the debit card on following purchases. The current ticket app permits 25 tickets to be purchased, but are then locked a single smartphone, preventing further individual travel. In the end, we got our 30 tickets by visiting a kiosk sales point. Afterwards we were then met with the challenge of keeping track of identical children’s and adult’s tickets, then diligently sorting the used ones from the unused. To track our expenses, we ended up with six different receipts in our hands.

Economic differences

Economic and social differences across Oslo manifest themselves in the matches.

Some teams simply cannot afford to travel far.

There is a clear need for a more economic and logistical accessible solution.

Interviewing parents in different soccer clubs uncovered how costs of traveling exclude east side clubs: West side clubs experience that east side clubs don’t show up. An east side coach told us about issues getting enough parents to rideshare, having enough bikes to bike the shorter trips and lacking capacity to pay for tickets to away matches.

User needs

When you’re traveling with a gang like this, you need flexibility.

The incidents on only one the 260 daily matches is astonishing.

None of the days we traveled with the team we left on time: Both players, the coach and the subway were delayed. Out of nowhere a sister and a player from another team wanted to join for support. The waiting time made one of the players decide he’s had enough and hopped on the bus instead. And on top of all that, the whole team needed to pee. Parents also require flexibility: A mother had to leave in the middle of the game because her daughter had fallen off a horse on the other side of town and needed emergency care.

Time squeeze

By providing the teams with organized transport, the service frees parents’ time to make dinner and care for siblings.

Dinner, dishes, bedtime and match

When the team had to travel to a far away match, we hired a minibus. This freed up a full hour from traveling, sorely needed in a busy family weekday, making time for dinner before the match. Parents could also do the dishes and put siblings to bed before showing up at half time, because the players had left together in the minibus.

Team talk

Traveling as a group is a great opportunity for the coach to give a pep talk, also engaging other nearby travelers.

“No dangerous words, okay?”

The first time we traveled with the team, we noticed other travelers were visibly annoyed by a team of loud eleven year old getting on the subway. The mood changed however, when our coach saw the trip as a perfect opportunity for a pep talk about fair play and good team spirit. Several onlookers took off their headsets and nodded approvingly while the coach told the players to not use “dangerous words” towards the other team. The players wondered how many “dangerous words” they had to endure from the opposing team before they could hit them back. When we left the subway, we saw other travelers smiling at us, as if they were wishing us good luck.

Bonding time

After the match, where each player used to sit in their own family’s car on the way home, an opportunity for shared celebration or comforting now arises.

The time between match time and bedtime

Together with the coach, we noticed how much the time together after the match affected the players. The coach could use the time to either celebrate the victory, or help the team get over a disappointing loss. “Normally they just go home sad in their parent’s car.” While the day has been a rush from the moment the morning alarm went off, suddenly the time squeeze lifted itself after the match. In other words, this is an opportunity for new cultural meaning and community.

We systematically documented and sorted our insights in an insight database, which we provided as a self initiated delivery to our partner Ruter. Our aim was to make sure the valuable insights live on inside the organization.

From observation to insight, to requirement and implementation

The insight database is structured by categories sorting insights by topics. Every insight is linked to an observation we collected during interviews, participatory observation or prototypes. Each observation is in turn linked to an informant code, letting us keep track of sources while still maintaining confidentiality. The last two columns are what implication or requirement the insight set for our solution and how we implemented it in the final design proposal.

It was important for the viability of the concept to get stakeholder buy-in. We therefore approached both national leaders and local season planners at the national soccer association to discuss if collaboration with Ruter was of interest.

Response from the national soccer association

“This would be interesting for the larger national sports association, but we want to be first.

Yes, yes, yes

When we approached the national soccer association (NFF) at the beginning of the project, they seriously considering how they can reduce the carbon footprint of their activities. When presenting the final design proposal to them, they were pretty eager to scale this up nationally. Their “Eat Sleep Move” program is already promoting walking, biking og ride sharing to matches, and public transport would be a natural extension. They also insisted that Ruter Lag would be of interest to the greater national sports association.

Response from the season planners

“I’d like to see the politician who doesn’t approve of low income children traveling to organized sports by public transport.”

“You need more than a smoothie reward to please parents whose 14 year old daughter is traveling home by subway at 11 pm, though.”

Yes, no, no

After leaving NFF with high praises, we met with the local season planners. While they liked the concept, they could “never” plan the matches according to the public transport routes. They simply have too many factors to account for already. They admitted that due to the high ratio of matches to soccer fields, some matches get scheduled undesirably early or late. There is a dire need for more soccer fields.

While we were slightly discouraged by the season planner’s scepticism about a small reward, we got a clear confirmation from a parent during our last feedback session:

Parent response

The important thing is what this smoothie facilitates. You don’t need a three course meal. You come a long way with just three chocolate chips for the kids. We have a deal in Kåffa that that we never leave without gathering on the field, but it’s hard because people want to head home. But a ready smoothie will keep people around.”