Citizen Feedback – How Washington State Keeps a Pulse on Ferry Riders with an Online Panel

Major public transportation agencies are successfully leveraging the latest marketing research technology in community and panel management to better serve its riders and communities.

Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry system in the United States, serving eight counties within Washington State and the Province of British Columbia in Canada. With annual ridership of almost 23 million passengers, the system has nine routes and 20 terminals that are served by 22 vessels.

Although passengers are transported by water instead of wheels or rails, the ferry system must understand its passengers just as any major public transit agency in order to be successful.

Washington State Ferries decided to build and maintain a feedback panel of riders in order to listen and to communicate with them regarding fare, route structure changes, and general customer satisfaction.

Washington State Ferries launched the Ferry Riders Opinion Group (F.R.O.G.). This was a revolutionary method for a transit agency to continuously monitor rider experience.

The F.R.O.G. panel is made possible through a partnership among Washington State Ferries, QuestionPro Communities, and a research consultant. While the research consultant provides the questionnaire design, reporting and presentations, QuestionPro Communities provides the software backbone of the project, including panel management, survey invitations, survey execution, and full analytics.

Riders were recruited to the panel using a variety of methods, including ride-aboard intercepts, interviewers, and a link on the Ferry System’s website.

Building The Panel

Riders who wish to join the F.R.O.G. panel are directed to an online portal ( where they can sign up using their email address. As part of the signup process, users are also asked to fill out a profile. The profile was designed and customized by the Commission to reflect segments such as casual, vacation and daily commuters. The voluntary profiling allows Washington State Ferries to be in full control of sampling and analysis.

Some other profile questions are:

– Age

– Gender

– Frequency of usage (ridership) – Route Information

– Residency (Island or Mainland)

Once registered with the panel, riders are invited to participate in research studies, including online surveys. Some of the data collected is also shared with riders as “quick polls” to keep them engaged and develop a shared sense of responsibility. The system has consistently received over 50% participation rates on surveys, in large part, because of this capacity to share the data with its constituents.

The QuestionPro Communities Platform that drives the F.R.O.G. panel is a one-stop solution for managing customer and rider feedback via digital connections.

Research Projects and Surveys

Surveys are developed and programmed using the QuestionPro point-and-click interface to create questionnaires. They are deployed to the panel members via email invitations and smartphone-based push notifications (depending upon how riders have elected to receive communication). Opt-in push notifications can even be sent based on the riders’ physical location – such as a particular terminal, route or destination – using smartphones’ geolocation function. Survey responses can include photographs – capturing maintenance issues, rider experience and more. Automatic email alerts can also be sent based on survey responses.

The QuestionPro Communities platform allows multiple administrators to create and deploy frequent ad-hoc and tracking studies without any help from IT staff or the delay and cost of an outside marketing research consultant.

Learn more: Community survey software & tool

The Results

The F.R.O.G. panel has been a tremendous success. The system has used rider feedback to introduce new fare structures, improve rider satisfaction and better serve the communities that depend on the ferry service. The Washington State Legislature was so impressed by the usefulness of the program that a new statewide transportation survey panel has been funded. Other Washington-based regional transportation agencies are laying the groundwork to establish their own user panels as well.

According to Bill Young, WSTC project manager, “The use of the QuestionPro Communities’ suite of advanced features has aided WSTC in its efforts to maintain a close connection with riders and make the Washington State Ferry a better system.”

Engaging riders regularly through a survey panel is proving to be an invaluable method for transit agencies to stretch their research dollar, gather new customer insights and build customer engagement like never before.

QuestionPro Communities is a purpose-built community insights panel solution. Our feature rich tool set is at your disposal to help you create engaged communities, collect real-time customer insights, and positively impact your business. Contact us today – or