Rail Industry Focus

04.04.16

Ticket machines: A question of trust

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

In a world where passengers increasingly want to do things virtually, David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, asks why so many make an exception when buying train tickets.

Proposed changes to the way in which passengers buy tickets from conventional ticket-offices can result in thousands of objections from the public, even if staff will still be available elsewhere to help, advise and sell tickets. 

Also, when we talked to passengers as part of our smart ticketing research programme, looking at options from Oyster-like products to contactless payments on ordinary bank cards, we found most still wanted staff on hand at stations to help. 

Our recent report, ‘Passenger attitudes towards rail staff’, also highlighted that help from customer-facing staff is seen to be an essential part of the service passengers expect to receive when buying tickets. 

We know that, at present, just 48% of passengers overall are satisfied with value for money, a figure that drops to 34% for commuters. While this figure is partly influenced by the punctuality, reliability and frequency, we suspect that cost matters too. 

‘Obstacle course’ of restrictions 

Additionally, the fares structure continues to be complicated, confusing and illogical. A journey could cost £15 or £119 depending on the options you select – or a fare of £40 one way could seem better value when you realise the return fare is just £41. 

The chief complaint is often one of the ‘obstacle course’ of restrictions attached to tickets. For example, what time you can travel, which train company you can use and what route you can take. As things stand now, it is the passenger who needs to be smart to ensure they are getting the best fare. 

Understanding what the difference is between two tickets at a ticket vending machine, with a big difference in prices, when you only want to go to Birmingham and back in a day can be a minefield. This requires quite substantial levels of knowledge about availability of different operators, whether there are different routes, and what this operator’s definitions of peak and off-peak are. 

Ticket machine trust

All this, and passengers know the heavy price that can be paid if you are found with an ‘invalid’ ticket by being on the wrong train with the wrong ticket. So how can the industry encourage passengers to trust its ticket machines? 

Passengers need to be guided more effectively to the right ticket for them, not have to guess from what can be a baffling array of different tickets. Industry must think differently about ticket retailing, with the onus on retailers to sell the right ticket, rather than on the passenger to buy the right ticket. 

This includes providing greater information via the ticket machines, and reassurance that all fares options are available. We still hear many passengers saying that they prefer to ask someone to make sure that they are being offered the cheapest available option… I know I do! 

An internet search on how to buy the cheapest ticket will always throw up a recommendation to try ‘split ticketing’; booking a single leg in two parts to take advantage of cheaper fares to/from intermediate stations. If passengers can do this on their own laptops, why can’t they do it on a station ticket machine? 

In short, the rail industry needs to act now to make sure it doesn’t lag behind as technological advances improve customer service elsewhere.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

J Gomersall   11/06/2016 at 20:48

Before the days of savers, super savers and other silly names for tickets you had singles, returns and cheap day returns. These three names told you what you needed to buy. Last time i looked to make a rail journey from Sheffield to Kidderminster it would be split over three operators and cost over £108.00. This web enquiry was five days before travel. Did i buy the ticket - dont be daft, I took the car for £25.00 diesel and £3.00 parking. Technology has a lot to answer for but price for what should have been a cheap day ticket was not even an option. This is where the railway has lost touch with the average joe on the street.

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