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Trashing the 'ticket' train of thought

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 19

techUK recently published its Future Mobility Services report in which it presented its vision of a multimodal, digitally-enabled, and customer-focused transport ecosystem – with the rail sector forming a major part of this. Jessica Russell, techUK’s programme manager for the Transport and Smart Cities groups under SmarterUK, reports.

Digital technologies are transforming almost every industry, from retail to health to transport. Alongside (and enabled by) the integration of digital technologies, we are seeing a shift towards the provision of mobility rather than transport services. This recognises that we need to deliver dynamic, end-to-end, multimodal journeys and, most importantly, ones that are designed for the traveller.

The transport sector is on the precipice of significant change. The president of General Motors, Dan Ammann, expects that both business and “personal mobility will change more in the next five years than the last 50.”

Although we are indeed seeing innovative ideas and services transform the sector, innovation is not just about designing or integrating new technology. If it is, the mobility services sector may suffer from institutional inertia due to the legacy of traditional and inflexible regulation, legislation, and commercial structures, including franchising, procurement and, of course, ticketing.

Nick Chrissos, director of innovation at Cisco, said: “Innovation has to be about more than just technology… it’s also about thinking and doing things differently.”

To unlock the benefits and realise a vision for the future of mobility services, we need more regulatory flexibility to be able to change how we think about, as well as do, mobility services.

Will sticking to the ticket stop us in our tracks?

Take someone who commutes from a south-east town to London and forgets their season ticket – their bright yellow and orange piece of paper that is still required to prove they have paid for the journey they do daily.

To get to work on that day, they need to purchase a single day ticket and later apply for a refund, the process for which includes: going to the ticket office, filling out a paper form, and waiting up to 28 days for the money to be refunded.

It’s fair to say that this is a far-from-smart process. It reflects an entire industry forced to operate under the influence of institutional inertia and legacy legislation that stifles innovation and the ability to integrate technological solutions.

Ticketing is a particularly painful point for many in the mobility services sector. Inflexible regulation has meant that innovation in ticketing across almost all modes has been, at best, a frustrating, drawn-out exercise; or, at worst, pushed aside into the ‘too hard basket’ in lieu of other opportunities.

But perhaps the question we should be asking is not “how can I make my tickets digital?” but “is ‘the ticket’ the best approach to managing the customer’s permit to ride?”

Let us look at the evolution of tickets in London. The Underground Ticketing System (UTS) was introduced in the 1980s, partly as an effort to improve sophistication and efficiency around selling tickets, and partly to combat “large internal losses due to either fraud or outright theft,” not because it was the most customer-centric way to permit a person to use transport services.

In the early 2000s, we saw convenience feature in the logic of ticketing. London began replacing the UTS with a new fare structure and the iconic blue Oyster card which, while revolutionary, still required travellers to obtain, top up, remember to pack, and use a specific card.

It is also interesting to note that this is not a ʻone-transformation-fits-all-citiesʼ option either, because while London has now started to move onto the use of contactless cards, a lot of the UK is still rolling out schemes reflective of the Oyster with mixed degrees of success.

Further to this, PwC’s annual ‘Smarter travel: the future of ticketing’ survey has tracked a dramatic decline in the use of ordinary paper tickets from 2012 to today, where we are seeing “a much greater selection of ticket options being purchased.” This behavioural change indicates that customers not only expect better services, but are willing and able to adopt them as they are introduced.

Certainly, all of this is not to say that ticket service providers have done or are doing wrong. They have operated within specific regulatory and legislative constraints, and it is the operating environment that has shaped the speed and trajectory of innovation. But, as we are starting to see increasing diversity in mobility services providers, and as we move ahead with the government’s ‘Future of Mobility Grand Challenge,’ we risk holding ourselves back with legacy mindsets that no longer reflect the industry or the customer.

Is the ‘ticket’ really going to support the facilitation of an integrated, citizen-centric, multimodal mobility service that we can imagine? Or do we need more innovation coming from regulatory leeway rather than loopholes?

The transport industry needs a regulatory overhaul if we are going to at least allow or, at best, encourage innovative solutions to support the transformation into mobility services.

There has been much to applaud in terms of the government’s efforts to date, including:

  • Allocating the ‘Future of Mobility’ as one of the Industrial Strategy’s ‘Grand Challenges’;
  • Conducting significant reviews and consultations such as the Future of Urban Mobility Strategy and the Williams Rail Review;
  • Launching the Rail Sector Deal;
  • Law Commission’s automated vehicles consultation.

These strategies, reviews and consultations are important steps towards developing a stronger understating of each mode’s challenges, barriers and opportunities for improvement. However, the scope of the individual reviews means the sector will continue to be siloed in its regulatory and legislative environment – a legacy that could continue to hinder a truly interoperable and multimodal service with payment structures and permits-to-ride that underpin it.

We have indeed already seen success stories where changes to regulation and legislation have enabled progress in facilitating the transformation of transport sectors. In Finland, the home of Mobility-as-a-Service, the Ministry of Transport and Communications adopted the “groundbreaking” Act on Transport Services to “bring together transport market legislation and create the preconditions for digitalisation of transport and new business models,” stating that “its key aim is provision of customer-oriented transport services.”

The UK is certainly capable of making similar strides as Finland, but the government will need to take decisive action and work closely with the wider mobility services industry.

It is fair to say the current challenge is not technical. It is that meaningful innovation is stifled by a regulatory environment that is still shaped by traditions and legacies that are decreasingly reflective of today’s customers’ needs and expectations for mobility services.

Ticketing is just one area that is ripe for innovation and improvement, and there may come a time when we need to trash the ticket as the only or best way of managing permits to use mobility services.

The sector needs to see more holistic reviews and reforms that look not just at individual modes, but at how they can be integrated to provide more interoperable, digitally-enabled and customer-centric mobility services.


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