Smarter ticketing

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/Mar 2014

Two recent developments could really move smart ticketing on rail up a gear, says Lindsay Robertson, chief executive of ITSO.

Last month, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) launched a review of the retail market for the sale of rail tickets.

The purpose of the review is to ‘consider how current regulation and industry arrangements and practices within the retail market are facilitating choice and, in particular, promoting investment and innovation in the best interest of passengers’.

Also in February, the rail industry body FutureRailway* announced a £2m competition to reduce ticket barrier congestion, saying it wants to “look at alternatives to the existing gate-line and ticket detection system in order to cope with increased passenger flows within the same floor space. Safety, security, and revenue protection will be significant factors in finding a solution to this challenge.”

This competition also insists that any solutions proposed should fit in with the DfT’s vision for ticketing, focussed on ITSO (the national standard for interoperable smart ticketing).

A reality at last

But where is smart ticketing in Britain now? Although widespread on bus, after several years of talking about it, smart ticketing on rail into London is now a reality – on a growing scale – at last.

Southern has become the first operator to offer rail passengers weekly, monthly and annual season tickets on ITSO smartcards. This breakthrough was launched by transport minister Baroness Kramer in October.

Their passengers can load seasons for journeys to London Victoria, London Bridge, Clapham Junction and East Croydon onto their ‘the key’ smartcards - either buying online, or from a Southern self-service ticket machine outside the London Travelcard area.

More than 15,000 ‘the key’ cards have been issued to Southern customers and they currently use them for an average of 3,900 journeys a week (202,800 a year). 100 people have already opted to get their season tickets to London Victoria on their smartcards.

Upgrading TfL’s infrastructure

Upgrading the ticketing equipment on Transport for London’s (TfL) system to accept ITSO-compliant media like ‘the key’ has always been seen as the pivotal point for introducing smart ticketing on rail. After all, 61% of the 1.5 billion rail journeys a year in Great Britain either start or finish in London.

There is no doubt that rail passengers like the idea of smart ticketing, however it might be branded. A Passenger Focus study published last year states: “There is clearly an appetite for smarter ticketing among commuting rail passengers, both in terms of moving the ticket format from paper tickets for added convenience, and in being able to access more innovative and flexible ticket types as a result, so saving money.”

But the effective implementation of technology is probably not the biggest challenge in smart ticketing. Particularly with rail, the world wide web is awash with gizmos to help people wade their way through the complex business of trying to get the right seat on the right train at the right time for the right price, splitting their tickets if necessary. Simple it ain’t…

Stripping out unnecessary and outdated products and processes

ITSO has been taking part in a transport dialogue with key transport ministers and MPs regarding the government’s door to door strategy. Together with representatives from some of the big engineering companies, we’ve pointed out that the technology does and can work across all regions and modes of transport – but it requires operators, ticketing equipment manufacturers, and system developers to cooperate, paying particular attention to stripping out unnecessary and outdated products and processes and delivering what the paying customer wants.

ITSO CEO, Lindsay Robertson, has been involved in smart ticketing for over 10 years, including working with TfL’s Oyster team, and says that the industry has a huge amount to learn from this highly successful smart ticketing scheme.

He said: “In some senses it was much easier in London because of TfL’s governance structure and the nature of its contractual relationships with the providers of its public transport. TfL has always had a clear vision of the desired outcomes, can stipulate the product structure, and only has to worry about its tickets working in London with its own operators.

“In the rest of the de-regulated country, we rely on operators working together when it is not obviously in their commercial interests to do so. This has resulted in a hotch potch of different schemes springing up throughout the country and there is now a critical need
to try and bring them together for the passengers’ benefit.

“It’s not simply a question of opting for one technology in preference to another, but rather building the environment that allows alternatives – i.e. ensuring the passenger, the customer, has access to the right product, at the right time, and in the form that they want to use. And the technology will, of course, continue to evolve: for example ‘the Cloud’ and ‘always on’ connectivity have the potential to bring many more solutions to the market than when ITSO was first conceived.”

Smarter cities

But ITSO can be used as the basis for systems which can cope with existing and future ticketing. Much detailed and collaborative work is already being done by ITSO and its members, who have set up a number of working groups that are also liaising with the Smart Cities Programme Board. The aim is to pool resources and knowledge to achieve effective smart ticketing on public transport throughout the country.

Robertson said: “People have recognised it’s not just the technology, but that the ‘business rules’ need to be agreed. Template ticketing products and back office interfaces need to be set up in a way that allows everything to work together and process data effectively, while always ensuring that passengers can ‘beep’ their way through gates or ticket machines and validators quickly and get on with their journey.

“Operators and transport authorities don’t need to keep re-inventing the wheel every time they set up a smart ticketing scheme.”

You then have to add in to that mix a willingness to cooperate on exploiting the real time information services and ticketing structures so that they work together to provide the passenger with the accurate information they need to help them plan and pay for journeys, or change them quickly if required.

“People can already buy many other things in their lives in a simple way using their mobile phones or laptops. The fact that it is much more complex to enable this in the transport ticketing world is not their problem: it’s ours.”

Funding and control

But who is responsible for making sure it all comes together? “Some might argue that an overarching national system funded by both government and operators to deliver real time information and interoperable transport ticketing would be the most effective solution,” he said.

And government is already doing a lot. The last few months alone have seen a raft of initiatives surrounding smart ticketing, particularly on rail.

• In August, the government announced a £2.85m paperless ticketing trial to be run this year by c2c, which operates between London and the Essex coast. This is part of the £45m SEFT (South East Flexible Ticketing) initiative.

• In September, then transport minister Norman Baker announced a competition to be run this year for a flexible ticketing pilot scheme to be run with a London commuter operator.

• Also in September, Baker announced a plan for a pilot scheme to run in 2015 that could see all long-distance rail tickets sold on a single leg basis to allow passengers to buy the most appropriate ticket for each leg of their journey and avoid the nonsense where currently single tickets can cost nearly as much as returns.

• In October Baker’s successor Baroness Kramer announced that, as part of SEFT, £3.25m is to be made available to South West Trains to upgrade its current ITSO ticketing system.

• Meanwhile RSP (Rail Settlement Plan) is busy procuring systems for the SEFT initiative and agreeing business rules with the 12 operators currently involved in running trains in the region.

• The DfT is funding a pilot scheme in Norfolk to provide knowledge and support to other areas wanting to get smaller bus operators on board with their smart ticketing schemes.

Rail franchise involvement

From an operator perspective, five rail franchises in England are already running ITSO smart ticketing pilots or part schemes – East Midlands Trains, London Midland, Merseyrail, South West Trains and Southern Railway. In Scotland, on First ScotRail, ITSO smart ticketing was launched with 12,000 staff and season ticket holders in March 2011. And smart ticketing requirements continue to be hard-wired into upcoming franchises in England and Scotland.

Meanwhile, other operators are offering m-ticketing, 2D barcodes, contactless bank cards, or print at home tickets to help meet their customers’ needs.

On bus, the big five operators already have smart ticketing equipment on board and others are joining up to local managed service schemes. That means concessionary passes can now be used smartly for around 600 million public transport journeys a year in the UK outside London.

Go-Ahead says its operating companies, including rail, now have a total of around 500,000 cards in circulation and around 130,000 daily journeys are being made using ‘the key’ card (nearly 47.5 million journeys a year).

Transport authorities going smart

Elsewhere, multi-operator and multi-modal commercial smart ticketing schemes are in place or are being rolled out throughout the UK.

• Latest figures from Nexus are that 60,000 smartcard journeys are being made a day on its Metro system using its Pop card.

• Strathclyde Partnership for Transport went smart on the Subway in November and now 20,000 customers a day are tapping in.

• Transport for Greater Manchester is currently testing validators to introduce smart ticketing initially for concessionary travel on its Metrolink tram system, but planning a much wider multi-operator and multi-modal scheme called mygetmethere.

• The Oxford SmartZone alone is seeing around 22,000 daily smart transactions on either Stagecoach or Go-Ahead owned buses.

• The Swift card has been launched in the West Midlands and there are major plans for collaboration with London Midland.

• There is the Cheshire Travelcard, the NoWcard in the North West, Leicestershire has the OneCard, Merseytravel the Walrus, and Transport for South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight wants the Solent card. In the South West SWSAL (South West Smartcard Applications Ltd) is a joint venture between 15 highway authorities and 17 transport operators.

• Scotland is aiming for a national Saltire card and Wales the national GoCymru card.

But before we all get carried away with IT for IT’s sake, we need to remember that the aim is to make things better for the paying customer and, as both Baroness Kramer and transport select committee chair Louise Ellman MP would remind us, not all of them have access to a bank account, or have the confidence or ability to engage in smart ticketing – so their version of really smart ticketing will probably always involve the opportunity to buy a ticket with cash.

*FutureRailway is one of the delivery activities working on behalf of the cross-industry Technical Strategy Leadership Group (TSLG).
It has been set up by the rail industry to accelerate the uptake of innovation. The team is hosted by RSSB (the Rail Safety and Standards Board), and is supported by the Rail Delivery Group, as well as the Department for Transport.


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