Smart ticketing: The way ahead

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 18

Jacqueline Starr, managing director of customer experience at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), runs through the nationwide progress in rolling out smart ticketing as the infamous ‘tangerine ticket’ starts to become a thing of the past.

What is smart ticketing and what is “smart” about it? Why is it important to the customer experience?

It is worth pointing out, first of all, why some paper tickets are not that “smart.” A lot of people are still using the old magnetic stripe orange tickets and for the foreseeable future there is always going to be an opportunity to buy a paper ticket. But the equipment needed to manage paper tickets, such as ticket printers and barriers, is expensive to maintain. Paper tickets are subject to fraud and it is difficult and expensive to track their use in real time, so we can’t provide customers with additional highly-valued services such as proactive information on delays. Paper tickets fundamentally limit our ability to innovate.

That is why the partnership railway wants to give every customer the choice to travel smart by the end of this year. The RDG is working closely with the DfT and train operators to deliver this. Some of these tickets are available now. Smarter ticketing is all about being able to give customers added value through understanding them better.

There are different types of smart tickets which broadly fall into two categories: barcode tickets and smartcard tickets. Both are encrypted, making them harder to forge than traditional paper tickets and thus reducing the level of ticket fraud. Barcode tickets all have a barcode which allows devices to optically read and interpret the content of the ticket, whereas smartcard tickets store the ticket on a plastic card and allow contactless readers to read the ticket content using radio. 

E-tickets use barcodes and can be displayed on a mobile device or printed; mobile phone m-tickets also use barcodes and are coupled with further security features suitable for specific routes; and paper roll barcode tickets can be bought from some stations or onboard inspectors carrying the new handheld ticket machines. There are barcode tickets available for journeys on most train operating companies, including Virgin, Chiltern, TransPennine Express, Greater Anglia, Great Western Railway (GWR), Arriva Trains Wales and Northern.

Greater personalisation

ITSO is a UK standard for smartcards and electronically stores travel tickets on a credit card-sized plastic ticket. These can be used today on c2c, Greater Anglia, Southeastern, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), East Midlands Trains, South Western Railway and ScotRail.

These types of tickets are smart because they enable the industry to promote more flexible options and offer customers more choice. They give train companies the ability to provide better and more personalised customer information. They are convenient, doing away with the need for cash or, in most cases, to carry a lot of paper tickets, allowing customers to buy tickets in advance and online. They also allow the ticket to be tracked from creation through use, meaning the industry can more easily tailor the services offered to the customer. We are just at the start of realising some of the benefits of personalisation and expect this to be an area of exciting change in the coming years.

Having customer details on train company systems is already leading to positive benefits. More flexible products can be offered, such as flexi-season tickets, pay-as-you-go, carnet tickets (books of tickets) and off-peak travel discounts. The feasibility of all these products is currently being looked at and is already in place for some train companies. There can be automation of some services such as delay repay, and off-peak travel refunds.

Smart tickets will provide operating companies with crucial information about passenger journeys and patterns of travel. This means that timetables can be designed around customer demand, which will enable passengers to be able to travel when they want to. In the future, information at the point of use can be provided such as on delays, offers, and what’s on.

National adoption

The partnership railway’s Smart Ticketing on National Rail programme is made up of four strategic parts. There is an £80m government investment programme for ITSO smart cards, which will mean most journeys can be made by ITSO smartcards; a £27m train operating company programme for national acceptance of barcode tickets; Transport for the North’s ‘ITSO on Rail’ project, which will complement the DfT’s investment in smartcards; and a number of existing franchising commitments being delivered by train companies. Barcode tickets are being sold by 80% of train operators as well as by many of our third-party retail partners and will soon be accepted by seven out of 10 routes. 

On behalf of the rail industry, GWR has already piloted ITSO smartcard ticketing for the Severn Beach Line. This could be developed further to allow combined rail and bus travel tickets.

In addition, KeyGo – a contactless ITSO smartcard – has been introduced on the GTR network. The KeyGo system now allows passengers to register their card to tap in and tap out for many journeys, and automatically be charged the most appropriate fare. Other operators are looking at similar initiatives.

There is clearly a big appetite for mobile-friendly tickets which can be stored on a smartphone or mobile device in the train company app, Apple Wallet or even e-mail. Over one million e-tickets were sold in the first six months of sales, and this is clearly an area for development in the future.

Next steps

Later this year, the RDG will be publishing its updated fares strategy for consultation. We have also made a commitment to reduce outdated phrases on ticket and are in the process of removing these. Train operating companies have also worked hard to give clearer information on their websites, better explaining ticketing options, and are working on further advertising of better value fares without the customer having to ask.

Smarter tickets will make moving through stations and trains easier and quicker for customers, reduce overcrowding at busy stations, and will help put the customer in control with more choice, time and freedom. The aim is to provide customers with tailored information and services so that travelling by rail becomes a seamless part of an end-to-end journey. 

In the partnership railway’s recently-launched long-term plan, we made a commitment to deliver simpler and smarter ticketing, more services, quicker journeys and better value for money for our customers. Our aim is to increase customer experience by improving the network in order to remain the top-rated railway in Europe. The smart ticketing market is moving quickly, and we look forward to bringing more value-added services on board.


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