What if Google ran the tube?

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What if Google were put in charge of the London Underground? How would it look? What are the principles of a digital business that would transform a very physical one?

Democracy works

First of all, the tube would be free. Why? The more people use a system, the better it gets. Therefore removing barriers to use is the biggest priority for a post-digital company – above profiting from those users. Google would offer free transport as well as free Wi-Fi in stations. Access to user data – travel and web access – would allow them to identify untapped revenue and advertising opportunities.

Focus on the user – all else will follow

Even Google would have limited impact on making trains faster – there are only so many trains the network can run. But they can make the experience of getting from A to B better by focusing on the user (not the trains).

Getting from A to B is more complicated than going from tube to tube. So Google would use a time lapse of your route to help you visually navigate once at your destination. For those late-night post-pub journeys, they could use your existing travel data (see principle 1) to  wake you up  just before your stop. And using live data, LED signage on platforms would show which train carriages were most crowded – guiding people’s choices about where to board.

Fast is better than slow

Valuing users’ time is an important principle of developing a valued service. Importantly this involves doing more than just making the trains quicker, but again, thinking about time from the user’s perspective.

Self driving cars at major stations would replace taxi ranks – pre-programmed to get you where you’re going. No waiting – just seamless travel.

This wouldn’t just be a convenient service: the dwell time in the car is an opportunity for Google to surface highly targeted ads, collate engaging content and make commercial offers that are highly targeted to the individual and where they’re going. For example, on your way to meet a professional contact the user would be shown articles that contact has recently clicked on to offer conversation-starters.

These are just 3 of Google’s principles – they demonstrate that these kind of companies don’t only disrupt things because they are in digital technology. Their behaviours and culture are transformative for any business – even the world’s oldest public transit system.