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Almost 1.5 million eTickets sold six months after introduction

Newly released figures of eTicket sales have shown that over one million have been sold since the modern system was first implemented last year.

The eTicket scheme, which was first offered to customers by Virgin Trains West Coast in August 2016, in partnership with Trainline, allows passengers to use a ticket stored on their smartphone or mobile device through the train company app, in Apple Wallet and by email. Gatwick Express and TransPennine Express followed suit and Caledonian Sleeper will offer eTickets soon.

Currently, a number of different train companies are using different types of mobile-friendly tickets, including the m-Ticket that is used by Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, Northern, London Midland, ScotRail, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains East and West Coast.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has now announced that 1.4 million eTickets have been sold since the start of the scheme, and that 85% of tickets sold online by Gatwick Express were now eTickets, whilst Virgin Trains West Coast reported that almost half of customers who were given the choice to use an eTicket opted for that rather than a paper one.

Today’s development will stand as a step in the right direction for eTickets, as the RDG aims to work with rail companies to enable customers on every part of the network to use smartphones as tickets by 2018.

Dennis Rocks, RDG managing director of Technology Services, said that the railway must “move with the times”, adding that eTickets presented many benefits to customers.

“All train companies are improving and modernising how they sell tickets, developing mobile-friendly, smarter types of electronic tickets to make it quicker and easier for people to pay to travel by train,” added Rocks.

“It’s great to see 1.4 million eTickets sold in just six months. More and more train travellers are discovering the benefits of being able to buy tickets online and download them to a smartphone or other device rather than having to rely on the old orange paper type.”

Gatwick Express services director, Angie Doll, also said that eTickets were an innovative concept for passengers on shorter journeys looking to travel as quickly as possible.

“With these online eTickets passengers really can glide to Gatwick. They feature a 10% discount and we’re selling 65,000 a month,” she said. “They’re brilliant for the very large number of people making simple journeys to and from the airport – a logical and positive innovation that moves us from the antiquated era of the orange paper ticket to the modern systems used by airlines across the world.”

Though the news shows that the concept is going down well with consumers, some concerns have been raised about eTickets. Writing for RTM, Justin Stenner, head of technology for Heathrow Express, said that work needed to be done to allow interoperability of tickets between different TOCs.

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Noam Bleicher   28/03/2017 at 08:26

All this shows is what a mess our balkanised passenger offering is. A typical long-distance journey may involve two or three different TOCs. If they are all offering different e-ticket solutions on different devices, the electronic option simply won't cover the journey. We need a national offering to reflect the national nature of the network.

John Davies   28/03/2017 at 13:27

Noam, all involved are working hard to ensure consistency of offering. That is what this project was all about. Two tech suppliers including Trainline, four TOCs, four owning groups and RDG all electing to work together to ensure things are done collectively not in isolation. It worked well; quick, effective and cheap.

Rob Denton   28/03/2017 at 14:54

Whilst interoperability is the ultimate destination, small steps like this one do support the view that the direction of travel is improving. Pace of change and timing of hanges are bigger questions for both government and industry to answer. We should also be mindful that terminology like 'modern' and 'e-tickets' seem antiquated already in a world where other industries are embracing IoT and generally the world is becoming more connected.

Alistair Lees   28/03/2017 at 21:58

As the other supplier (Assertis) involved in helping create the eTicket, together with the TOCs, RDG and Trainline, I can confirm that we designed it so that a single design could work across all TOCs for any journey or (almost) any ticket type. Quite a challenge within the limiting constraints of the iOS Boarding Pass format that we used as the basis (and which is used by airlines). So interoperability is already built in. And, as John says, we did this quickly and cost-effectively. Customer and staff reaction has been very positive, and we are making further improvements based on their feedback - the eTicket will no doubt evolve as we add new features into it, such as real time information.

Jerry Alderson   29/03/2017 at 01:07

@AlistairLees Glad to talk to a fellow revenue technologist. I really do hope that RDG gets its act together in coordinating all TOCs to use either a single back office system or one that can interface with all others. More importantly all customer-facing rail staff need to be able to validate an eTicket from any other TOC. I like the Greater Anglia mobile app. I use it to buy mTickets. It is fantastically simple. But it only sells me an mTicket for a jourhey that will be on its trains - presumably because only its staff can validate the bar code. I can buy a ticket on the app for another operator (such as Great Northern) but then I have to go to the TVM and collect a tangerine ticket. This is bonkers. The reason I want to use an mTicket is to save having to arrive at the station at least 10 minutes before my train to ensure that I can buy a ticket since it is a penalty fare area.

Alistair Lees   29/03/2017 at 21:38

@Jerry: the barcode spec is designed so that any TOC can read / validate any barcode issued by another TOC or third party retailer (such as Assertis or Trainline). Information on where and when the barcode has been scanned is shared, so whoever is scanning it can see this history. Additionally we share deny lists (cancelled / refunded tickets etc.) so they can't be used again. The real challenge is getting barcode readers in the hands of staff (not too difficult) and attached to gatelines (rather more difficult / expensive). The barcode is the same whether it's eTicket, m-ticket or self print (also known as print at home). There's no technical reason why Greater Anglia can't sell m-tickets for Great Northern - it's probably just that Great Northern are not yet ready for this fulfilment method. When we were one of the participants in the Northern m-ticket interoperability trial in 2015 (at the time Assertis provided the online ticket retailing for Northern Rail), the Northern Rail apps could sell m-tickets for CrossCountry, TransPennine Express and East Coast on the trial routes (and vice versa). And everyone could read everyone else's tickets and deny lists. It's really just a matter of rolling out to more routes, and gtting staff and customer feedback to keep on improving.

Jerry Alderson   30/03/2017 at 15:51

A very useful and reassuring response from Alistair Lees. One of the annoying features with Greater Anglia and Great Northern is that they have their own smartcard card systems and their own readers, which appear to be incompatible. Therefore the "Key" works at GTR stations but not GA ones, for example. Given that the GTR and GA stations interleave e.g. Ely-Waterbeach-Cambridge i.e. GA/GTR/GA) this is quite a pain. I have no problem with the technology as such but with the deployment (or lack) of it.

Joel   31/03/2017 at 15:12

Do e-tickets disadvantage those who have no access to this technology, or those who cannot use computers etc? If the railway is to be open to all, there should be no price penalty. All passengers should have access to the same fares, and have the same conditions applied.

Alistair Lees   01/04/2017 at 15:21

@Joel No, eTickets don't disadvantage anyone. They are the same fares, with the same conditions. You don't need a smartphone to get your ticket as an eTicket - you can buy one through a website (and print it out). And if you don't have access to a smartphone or computer, then you can still buy the same ticket from a station ticket office, TVM or on-train (as appropriate). eTickets are simply a much more convenient way of getting a ticket that you are buying online. Why force customers to go and queue up to collect an orange ticket from a TVM (with all the uncertainty that entails about how long you need to allow, whether the machine will work, etc.) when they could have the assurance of having their ticket immediately? And being able to give it to someone else too (e.g. a parent buying for a student) which is not really possible with Ticket on Departure. We should be celebrating improvements that make the experience of rail travel easier and cheaper (through lower costs) for customers. This does not mean that anyone needs to be left behind, of course.

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