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Reimagining the transit 
 for India’s first Water Metro system

Public transport in urban areas has gained greater attention in recent years for improving sustainability and quality of urban life. It helps residents move around easily while saving money, travel time and fuel. It alleviates traffic, reducing congestion and our collective carbon footprint. 

Yet, a system originally designed for convenience is often perceived as cumbersome and confusing. Most consumers now expect ease and efficiency of digital experience in all their transactions, and hence they are choosing alternate options, like hailing a cab, instead of navigating through the complex public transport system. 

Our goal through this research was to transform the transit passenger experience for the upcoming Water Metro. We aimed to help users of the ferry system to move around the city with ease, efficiency and delight—giving them more and better reasons to use public transport.

The deliverables of the research were: 


  • Benchmarking Report – A detailed compilation of the 5 most reputed ferry systems across the world.  The report identified best practices and provided recommendations for tailoring global solutions to the local context.

  • Visual and Cultural Ethnography Report – Comprehensively captures cultural significance, local stories, tourist attractions & essence of surrounding areas of the main terminals. The insights acted as fodder for ideating on visual themes to enhance the station environment of the terminals.

  • Stakeholder and User Research Report – A study of perspectives and pain points for a nuanced understanding of the expectations from the ferry service. The report highlights interventions for addressing the needs of the local and special travelers such as fishermen, islanders, students, differently-abled and elderly.



Project Duration

2.5 months


Senior Researcher,

Project Planning


Purnima Gupta

Abdul Khader


5 global water transit systems around the world were studied through secondary sources and benchmarked for best practices. Brisbane, Rotterdam, New York, Bangkok and London were studied.

Ferry Connectivity  |  Station Environment  |  Ticketing System

First and Last Mile Connectivity | Services and Facilities

Accessibility | Signage and Wayfinding

Brand Language | Digital Presence | Social Media | Promotions


The best practices on the above-mentioned categories were identified and tailored into recommendations to address the local requirements of the water metro system. 


In order to capture the essence of the city, the research team spent 15 days traveling around the city and interacting with the locals. This was an open inquiry into the lifestyle of the natives, the emotional connect they have with the city, their values and mindsets. 

Another aspect was to learn the history and unearth local folklore by interacting with the natives. Gaining the perspective of the natives regarding local folk tales helped us to curate themes for the station environment. The scope of the project was limited to 7 stations.

We learned about the important locations in the vicinity of the terminal stations and their relevance to the natives. This helped us prioritize the locations to be highlighted at the water metro stations. 


The inputs from cultural and visual ethnography were distilled into 

inspiration boards for station theming.


We identified a set of emotions and keywords for each station. A story was created for each station to define its identity and communicate it’s association to the city and the people of the city. Moodboards were created to visually represent the essence of the station’s culture and heritage. The themes, stories, keywords were created through multiple brainstorming and team discussion sessions.


Design recommendations were provided based on the themes and moodboards for the station environment and space design.


1. To understand the users' latent needs and the pain points in the existing ferry system, we commuted with passengers and observed the hurdles in their journey. We inquired about difficulties encountered in reaching the station, purchasing tickets, boarding the ferry, the commute itself, and reaching the destination. 


Taking the ferry ride with the passengers helped us empathize with their needs and expectations from the upcoming Water Metro. This also gave us the opportunity of engaging with islanders who currently reside in isolated islands, otherwise inaccessible by any other means of transport.


These conversations were impromptu in nature and took place at 7 different stations with a diverse group of users, including:

  • Daily Commuters

  • Remote Islanders 

  • Students / Youth

  • Women

  • People with toddlers

  • Tourists

  • Senior Citizens

  • People with reduced mobility

  • On-the-job crew


2. We interacted with the Water Metro Project Leadership to understand their vision and long-term goals. 


3. We also took into confidence the Panchayats & Municipal Corporations in the city region. They highlighted the potential benefits for their community, such as increased employment and connectivity.


The inputs from the interactions led us to understand the motivations and expectations of the users, on the basis of which we were able to create a Hierarchy of User Needs for the various personas.

We also created Persona Journeys to identify the pain points and expectations at each touchpoint of the journey, for all the different personas.

These recommendations were shared in the form of a reference book, that acted as the guiding principles for the design phase. Below is a glimpse of some journeys and insights.


The most challenging aspect of this project was planning for a very short timeline. The project was executed in 10 weeks which required detailed planning for the fieldwork, multiple aspects of which were "open-ended" and "impromptu" in nature. To manage this, I detailed out the day-to-day schedules for the team and set targets in order to cover maximum ground in the least possible time.

Another challenge was having the natives open up about the hassles they face in their daily commute (despite having a local translator). Having a light-hearted conversation on our observations about the city and our experience, served as a memory flag for the users and helped them get comfortable and talk about their experience.


I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project as it gave me the opportunity to understand a new culture and people, honing my skill of empathizing with the users as a researcher. 


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