Better customer support — Customers want direct support when faced with issues, and human and automated help desks are adjusting. Cubic has recently deployed a new AI chat bot that can help customers with journey planning or enrolling and managing transit benefits.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Audrey Denis.
Audrey is a strategy manager at Cubic Transportation Systems. Audrey has more than six years of transit industry experience across strategy, business development and project management. A New York City native and transplant to Washington DC, Audrey is passionate about bringing innovation to cities to provide more reliable and accessible mobility options to travelers. She is committed to a future mobility network that is more sustainable, equitable and reliable. Follow on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved public transit. Growing up in Brooklyn, taking the subway by myself for the first time was a rite of passage as was being allowed to go with friends to Coney Island or commuting alongside my parents to my first internship. Having experienced first hand how instrumental transit is for connecting communities to opportunity, culture and healthcare, I wanted my career to enable as many people as possible to access all that transit has to offer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Picking the most interesting story is challenging as I have been lucky to have the opportunity to work with mobility providers all over the world and dig into the unique challenges of different cities and public and private stakeholders. However, one experience that will stay with me was being included in a presentation and publication by the Paddy Ashdown Foundation called Solving the Climate Puzzle: How Systems Thinking Supports Environmental Decision-making.
This brought together thinkers from across disciplines to dig into different approaches for tackling climate change. It was an exciting opportunity to talk about digital mobility; applying systems approaches to better deliver safe, equitable and accessible public transportation systems; and engage in the cross section of this challenge with leaders across education and transportation. Sometimes, we get stuck in our own silos, so it was a great opportunity to see where so many disciplines are making an impact for broad sweeping challenges like climate change and how transportation fits into a broader story.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I did an employee rotation with a partner company in France a couple years into my career. I was giving a presentation in French and could see a couple of my colleagues cracking a smile. I was not sure what it was about, but continued on with the presentation nonetheless. Someone later told me that I had been mispronouncing a word (which I repeated many times in the presentation), and it sounded like a bad word in French. It was a little embarrassing, but I was also proud of myself for giving a presentation in language that was not native to me. It taught me that sometimes you need to power through and commit to what you have started even if there are setbacks and not to take yourself too seriously — you can give a good presentation and curse a couple times unintentionally too.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
Take the time to genuinely listen and connect to as many people in your organization as possible — junior or senior, back office or on the front lines — and take the time to understand their perspective. Ultimately, this diversity of thought is what makes us strong, and connecting across the organization will keep you grounded in your mission and to the travelers that you are looking to help. When you take the time to really get to know where people are coming from, it makes you a stronger leader that can draw on that diversity of experience to drive impact.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My first big break in transportation was leading a demo at a transit conference. Someone on my team was unable to attend at the last minute, and I took over the role. I prepared over the weekend to craft my script and practiced it over and over again in the mirror. It was at that conference that I really got a taste of the transit industry and started making the relationships at Cubic that have fueled me to where I am today. It helped me understand that even when it is inconvenient, taking the opportunity by the horns and showing up when you are needed truly pays off.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
My line of work and Cubic Transportation Systems’ main focus in regards to travel lies in public transportation. Many can attest that public transit serves a pivotal role in some of the world’s busiest travel destinations and is quintessential to the travel experience in destinations like New York City and London. However despite the unique experience for tourists, it is important to recognize public transit in these cities serves millions of riders each year in conducting their daily routine.
Access to public transportation for all is a core value of our company, and the reality in the US is that only a fraction of the population utilizes these services. Accessibility and convenience are contributing factors to whether or not people utilize these services, so we are working to make the rider journey as convenient as possible where we can. Through the launch of the Umo platform in 2021, we are able to bring the services commuters enjoy in London and New York — like tap-to-pay and app journey planning — to smaller markets that do not have the budget or need for a large-scale system. After the pandemic, more and more transactions are becoming contactless, and the travel industry will be defined by it.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
Because of limited capacity and resources, many local transit agencies are under the impression that the most modern transit solutions are reserved for regional or metroplex area transit agencies. Through the Umo Platform, we are breaking that myth and showcasing that these services can fit into any sized market area from a couple of bus fleets to large fleets that include rail. Transit agencies of all sizes can offer their customers a seamless and equitable way to access public transit.
In its initial release, the Umo platform launched across 15 markets in the U.S. and recently has expanded into more than 50 additional cities in Canada and Chile.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
Strictly focusing on North America, there is a dominate car culture present in our society and a lot of the media attention surrounding transportation has focused on the personal vehicle, particularly electric vehicles (EV). Despite this, there is increasing awareness around the impact personal vehicles are causing on the environment, and there is a renewed interest in alternatives modes of transportation like public transit.
Through our work, we are demonstrating public transportation is innovative and is the most sustainable transportation method that has been hiding in plain sight all these years. We want to reduce the barriers to riders choosing to take shared mobility for at least part of their journey. This means creating tools for aligning supply and demand.
On the demand side, we want to make sure that riders can easily plan, book and pay for a multimedia journey. On the supply side, we seek to create a common operating picture for agencies looking across modes to monitor the network in mealtime and respond to incidents. There is then opportunity to create feedback mechanisms, rewarding users for taking shared mobility on particularly congested routes and other tools to achieve policy objectives.
Ultimately, behavior change is going to be a critical piece in moving the needle on climate change, and shared mobility needs to be a convenient and reliable alternative to the private car.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
- Contactless payment/services — Since the pandemic, people have become accustomed to contactless payments and services. We will continue to see transit agencies incorporate contactless devices including turnstiles/fare gates.
- Better customer support — Customers want direct support when faced with issues, and human and automated help desks are adjusting. Cubic has recently deployed a new AI chat bot that can help customers with journey planning or enrolling and managing transit benefits.
- Convenience — Transit providers are offering more ways to pay for fares, matching the convenience online retailers offer when checking out.
- On demand public transit — Private companies have popularized on demand ride-hailing services, but we are now seeing local municipalities experiment with on-demand public transit services.
- Fare capping — One of the most popular services we see transit agencies enable are fare capping policies, which limit the amount commuters pay in a given time frame. This makes it the most economical and more predictable for riders to plan their trips and ensures they always pay the fairest fare.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
I feel like one of the best ways to get to know a city is to hop onto its public transit network. You can get a feel for the residents and communities, see local advertisements for what is coming up and easily get to attractions. A perfect vacation experience for me incorporates some form of public transit — and ferries are always my favorite way to take in the city from the water!
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
For wellness, I’d like to talk about stress. Ultimately, all of our solutions seek to help people get to where they are going, with as little undue stress as possible — whether that is being on time to a job interview, knowing as a bicyclist you are safe in the intersection, or making it home for dinner with the family. Unforeseen delays, or missing a train because you didn’t have your ticket ready can be a draining and frustrating part of travel. Cubic provides Real Time Passenger Information that makes data about next arrivals and disruptions readily available to customers so they don’t have to wonder — and can stop for a coffee or a magazine if they know they have some extra time. Our seamless payment solutions make it hassle free for people to pay for travel with credentials already in their pocket like mobile phones and contactless cards from over 190 countries, without having to be worried about buying the right fare, or waiting in a line to buy a ticket. Our technology at intersections can detect vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bikers and control the traffic signals to make sure that they are safely able to clear the intersection before cars are given a green light. We want to make travel accessible, equitable, and ultimately enjoyable by reducing stress for travelers.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think a lot of this interview has focused on my passion for making public transit easier and more accessible and how I sincerely believe that moves the need for access to opportunity and ushering in a greener world for all of us. So, on a more micro level, I like to joke, I like to get to know my colleagues, and to laugh together — I think a little levity brings goodness to the world and helps us all work a little better.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊
I think it comes back to how we break the status quo. I would challenge people to take a trip that they usually take by car and try it by public transit, walking, biking or scooting — you’ll find you just might like it better; it just takes us breaking out of those habits. The more we can break out of defaulting to cars and trying different modes, the closer we can get to reaching some of our green targets.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!