Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Urban Transport Management and Customer Perceived Quality: A Case Study in the Metropolitan Area of Cagliari, Italy

Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Urban Transport Management and Customer Perceived Quality: A Case Study in the Metropolitan Area of Cagliari, Italy

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

Public utilities management in Italy has been traditionally characterized by the presence of several monopolies closed to external competition. However, mainly as a result of changing European regulations, the Italian market underwent some radical adjustment since the early 2000's. Liberalization processes have been implemented quite efficiently in some sectors such as telecommunications and electricity (Pacifico, 2006), whilst in others the Italian reforms have lagged behind the majority of other Western European countries. The liberalization applied to the local transport sector fall amidst the latter, having resulted in a plethora of publicly owned societies still largely sheltered from the perils of competition.

Furthermore, the funding of local transport agencies has often been based on parameters such as number of km travelled, rather than passengers carried and/or quality of the service provided. These negative elements have originated from the Italian set of rules on local public transport, which has posed an exaggerate focus on the quantitative supply of transport services rather than the efficient satisfaction of the demand. This, in turn, has frequently produced a scarce attention to customers' needs and requirements. In spite of the drawbacks associated to the afore mentioned managerial and funding criteria (namely reduced efficiency, increased operating costs, limited propensity for innovation, lack of quality and so on) some local transit agencies have proved to be able to achieve and sustain important qualitative standards whilst developing sound budgetary policies. The two issues of high qualitative standards and costs rationalization have become increasingly pivotal for local public transport agencies in Italy, given the (albeit slow) shift from a concession to a competitive tendering system.

This study shed some light on the results of an on-board customer satisfaction survey conducted in July 2010 and aimed at discovering the customers' perceived quality of the transport service provided within the Cagliari's metropolitan area. The research has benefited from the application of a modified Impact Score methodology, following the suggestions comprised in the Transit Cooperative Research Program Report 47 (1999). The implementation of this technique has enabled to identify the main qualitative criticalities as perceived by the usual beneficiaries of the local transport service.

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

The public services liberalization process, started off by the EU in the late 1980s, has been characterized by a significant degree of unevenness among the several sectors involved. Air transport and telecommunications (to name a few) have been quickly and fully opened to the market, whilst in other areas the same process has been implemented at slower paces. Despite these differences, it can be affirmed that the deregulation process has radically reshaped companies' structures and managerial approaches to the market among public services operators. Mergers and acquisitions, internationalization and diversification processes and, significantly, some failures have revolutionized a sector once monopolistic and stubbornly close to competition.

Besides strategic issues, the organizational changes have also determined a renovated interest toward customers' needs and expectations, far too long neglected during the monopoly era. Big companies have started competing in order to retain existing clients and acquiring new ones, with policies based on prices, enhanced quality and innovation often used to increase market shares or enter new markets.

In line with this general trend, local public transport companies have increased their attention on quality and customer satisfaction (Fonseca et al., 2010; Morfoulaki et al., 2007). Developing sound and customer focused approaches in planning and designing public transportation is now considered pivotal in triggering off demand growth phenomena and enhancing customer loyalty both in developed and developing economies (Cunningham et al. …

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