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TOCs defend themselves against ‘ticket machine jargon’ criticisms

TOCs have promised improvements to the self-service ticket selling process after a report by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found that too many passengers are still experiencing difficulties using ticket vending machines.

The first ORR ‘Measuring Up’ report on TOCs’ levels of customer service identified some positive changes, such as a decrease in passenger complaints.

However, it highlighted a number of issues around vending machines, including the use of jargon such as ‘London terminals’ and ‘Any permitted’ without sufficient explanation, lack of important information such as what journeys a ticket is valid for, and a lack of filters to sort results.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said it had developed a 10-point plan to deliver significant improvements within the next six months.

These include a cleansing of industry data to reduce the number of routes or tickets that cover the same journey; making the National Rail Enquiry ticket restriction text feed available to suppliers; greater consistency between suppliers as to when off-peak tickets are sold; and providing on-screen information about which products are sold at a machine.

It is also developing a new product management system with vending machine suppliers in order to improve the quality of data about areas such as route descriptions and off-peak validities available to TOCs.

However, the ORR report said: “While some progress has been made there is clearly more to do to ensure that ticket vending machines (or whatever technology might replace them), are capable of providing passengers with the kind of service that they expect.”

It said that the range of products available at vending machines was still limited compared to that available at other points of sale.

The report also found a wide variation in the length of time when off-peak tickets went on sale after peak services departed: from five minutes on East Midlands, to up to 15 minutes on Northern, to no set time frame on Govia Thameslink.

But a spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the ATOC and Network Rail, said “independent research carried out on behalf of the rail industry” showed that 19 out of 20 passengers bought the right ticket at a vending machine.

However, he added: “Operators have to strike a balance between making ticket machines quick and easy to use while offering passengers a comprehensive range of fares, and we know we have more to do.”

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, agreed: “Operators still have work to do to show that they are truly on the side of the passenger.”

Sidebottom wrote for the most recent edition of RTM about a Transport Focus survey showing that passengers still consider customer-facing staff vital for buying tickets.

The ORR said it could use methods such as mystery shopping and audits to inspect individual companies whose services failed to reach standards.

This could include Chiltern, which experienced a higher level of complaints about vending machines than any other service.

(Image c. Lauren Hurley for PA Wire)


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Joel   03/06/2016 at 12:57

I'm intrigued how ATOC is certain that 19 out of 20 passengers have bought the right ticket. Is that out of all tickets (face-to-face, ticket vending machines, online) or just machine-purchases? Having battled TVMs on more than one occasion because of the complexities of getting a senior railcar ticket and no two TOC machines working in the same way, I've been left uncertain that I have the right ticket more than 1 in 20, and I'm a former rail worker with a good understanding of fare structures. I often need to speak to someone, but that can be hopelessly impractical - length of queue, delays in reaching the station, no relevant online ticket to buy in advance... Or no through cheap fares if on a journey changing TOCs/franchises, but significantly less cost to buy two 'local' tickets instead of one through one. And so on.

Noam Bleicher   04/06/2016 at 09:47

If you buy two tickets on an NSE card from a TVM, it will only give you the NSE discount of 33% on one of the tickets. Pants.

Henry Law   04/06/2016 at 19:21

My experience of TVM machines is that they are all dreadful, though in different ways. On-screen keyboards are a disaster area all of their own. In the bad old days of early British Railways, this kind of thing was the subject of careful study and user testing before being rolled on for public use. There is an entire engineering discipline dealing with problems of the man-machine interface, but this seems to have passed by the people who design these systems. The ORR should have a crackdown and ensure a good quality standard national design.

GW   05/06/2016 at 22:13

Let's not forget that the last 'improvement' was a sticker advising people to seek advice from the Ticket Office - so the TOC's keep attempting to close them, aided and abetted by the DfT. The DfT motto on the West Coast Franchise document - Moving Britain Ahead - what into a ticketing dead end?

Douglas Robinson   06/06/2016 at 11:47

This problem is not confined to the UK. German ticket machines are very poor, incredibly slow and even with good German often incomprehensible.

GP   30/07/2016 at 09:22

I have lost count of the number of times that I have bought a single ticket from a ticket machine when I wanted a return to London. The machine interfaces are poorly designed and the machines themselves are often poorly sited so that reflections on the screen make it difficult to see the information that is being displayed. What is worse is that when you spot the mistake and tell the conductor you end up having to buy another single ticket for the return leg. Not just upgrading the existing ticket to a return which is often on 50p or £1 more than a single. I now always buy via an App and then collect from the machine rather than 'buying' from the machine itself.

AS   27/09/2016 at 11:48

A link to the report would have been handy!

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