How to control a river? That is a question often asked in The Netherlands. Because living in a river delta comes with special challenges, especially when most of the country is below sea level. Managing water flows is so crucial and critical that The Netherlands even has a ministry for it; The Ministry of Water.
A river is a simple metaphor to discuss Passenger flows. Rivers carve out their way into the land and bring water towards the seas and oceans from the mountains. Due to seasons and extreme weather, water comes in different volumes. All riverbeds have a maximum capacity; that’s why high volumes of water cause floods. Dredging rivers or building higher dykes to manage these peaks is a solution, but not necessarily the most cost-efficient one. Because solving a limitation at one point instantly creates new issues downstream (read Donella Meadows on System Thinking).
“We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.” _ Donella Meadows
A good example is the Waal river project in The Netherlands. The river was expanded to create additional overflow capacity to manage peaks. Other currently built ideas are large water buffers and overflow areas that can take in water and release it when water levels are on the way down.
With these enhanced tools, the Dutch are finding the right balance between cost and impact and are back in control over water stock inflow and outflow to keep the feet of the people dry even under the most extreme conditions.
Flow, passengers flow.
Back to passengers. Passengers are like water. Mobility hubs like Airports and railway stations are riverbeds that manage different levels of inflow and outflow. Either structural growth or temporary/seasonal increase. With hubs being bound to the current infrastructure or country regulations and organizational structures, they can’t adapt quickly. Even with predictive analyses and all the world’s data, slight unpredicted fluctuation and errors can destroy a perfectly functioning flow. But how to solve that? Two significant issues keep hubs from solving the challenge.
1 — No one is responsible for the water influx, the passenger flow. Although you would assume differently, passengers are not the core business of an airport. It’s the airlines business. It’s like the riverbed and the water that flows through it. They are separate entities. That’s why airports call passengers PAX, a quantitative unit. It’s like asking, “who owns the river?” Is it the ships on the river, river management, the city, country, or the state it flows through?
2 — No one is responsible for managing the whole flow from the mountain to the ocean. Every part of the organization is only responsible for specific functions. The experience of parking, operations, security, or retail is more than the sum of the parts. Like in any system, the impact of one action at some point has a direct effect on other factors. Longer processing time at the security gates reduces the time for the passenger to spend money at the retail side of the airport. You can not just make the river wider at one point and not expect issues two kilometers downstream. You can not expect the person responsible for measuring to grab a shovel and start building dykes once the water rises.
Airports worldwide build new terminals, implement new technology and launch new commercial concepts without an eye on the impact on the end-to-end passenger flow. And with the effects of Climate change on the horizon. The volatility and unpredictability of passenger volumes force airports and airlines to rethink their business and operating models. If you are looking at making a decent profit, the last thing you want is passenger appreciation dropping, more mistakes, long waiting lines, more required staff, and additional space to solve it. With investments being on an all-time low, where to put your money?
“The most unpredictable factor is people. Understand them, and you’ll be more in control than any other technology-driven solution.”
Like studying water, understanding passengers’ behavior is key to solving the main challenges in the cheapest possible way. Behavioral science and digital technology provide clear and straightforward answers on how to unstuck clogged flows and prevent potential problems in the future when new regulation or technology is implemented. But it can also unlock potential new revenue streams.
By looking at the flows more holistically, you can easily predict which changes (security, tech, regulatory, commercially) inflows will trigger what kind of behavior in which specific passenger group. With that understanding, you control all the levers to optimize the flow. And..better flowing passengers are better for business.
With these challenges in mind, we developed a holistic tool and method with AMS called Flownomics. A methodology better predicts the impact of changing regulation and new technology on passenger behavior and the end-to-end flow. With that, we can now assess where and what changes are required to steer behavior in the most efficient and effective direction at the lowest possible cost.
Know more? Read the following article Flownomics, managing The behavioral Delta, or download more reads here.