A recent study by the Office of Rail Regulation has found that rail passenger journeys are continuing to increase. With the national network already at breaking point, this growing demand could break the system if steps are not taken to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
Adopting smart ticketing within transport strategies at a local, regional and national level can provide a solution and will become mission critical. It is the key to providing invaluable data that will allow for smarter, more informed operations; and meet the changing behaviours and demands of passengers now and in the future.
We are all encouraged to work smarter and live a ‘digital by default’ lifestyle. In a digital world we no longer need to handle paper and ticketing is no exception.
From local transport operators replacing paper tickets with smart cards to the UK government ensuring ticketing systems are ITSO compliant, as an industry we are starting to recognise what needs to be done. It’s encouraging to see more and more decision makers adopting the technology that will bring the rail network into the 21st Century.
Abellio for example, which was recently awarded the new Scotrail franchise in Scotland, has announced plans to replace paper tickets with interoperable smartcards across the country, forecasting that one in eight passengers will adopt the technology by 2016, and one in three by 2017.
In addition, the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), which operates the Glasgow Subway, has adopted its own interoperable smartcard as has Nexus in the Northeast of England and cities like Nottingham. These schemes work in a similar way to the Oyster card in London, but also provide for interoperability on a wider scale with multiple transport modes and operators.
In what is perhaps the biggest indication that operators and the government are seeing the benefits of smart ticketing is the development of the South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) initiative. The scheme created by the Department for Transport, the Association of Train Operating Companies and the U.K. Rail Settlement Plan (a division of ATOC) will deliver smart ticketing services to the rail network within the region and we believe there is potential to replicate this further across the UK.
It aims to provide passengers with a modern smart ticketing service which reflects current travel patterns, but also respond to their future travel and ticket needs. The daily commute for travellers in the South East, which makes up a third of all rail journeys in the UK, will as a result be more convenient and streamlined. Passengers will have the potential to travel throughout the region using services currently run by multiple operators using one ticket that they can top up remotely using an NFC device.
Removing the need to visit congested ticket terminals and carry cash or print tickets at home will improve commuter satisfaction, thus the attractiveness of local transport helping the government meet environmental targets. The cross-collaboration between operators will also maximise economies of scale.
Replicating the premise and innovations behind the SEFT scheme across the UK would transform the industry by creating an integrated, joined up network. This will be particularly appealing to areas like the North of England which last year secured £15bn to improve regional transport infrastructure and will arguably require ITSO compliant, interoperable ticketing to fulfil expectations and capitalise on the investment.
The SEFT system will enable rail passengers to use ITSO-compliant smart tickets to travel throughout the South East of England, and within London at national rail stations. Improving inter-regional transport links on a larger scale would open up the UK network and have a direct affect on local economies. Not only would it encourage travel to London and other major cities, but also improve regional tourism.
An interoperable ITSO based smart ticketing network provides a basis for commercial collaboration amongst transport providers. For passengers, the provision of one smart card capable of being used for any journey within the UK will provide greater convenience and an end to buying multiple tickets for one end to end journey. Rail passenger numbers are increasing and data analytics through the use of smart ticketing provides invaluable usage data for operators. Knowing when customers actually travel, when and where they purchase their tickets and knowing their travel patterns will allow operators to know how to plan ahead. Which travel centre is busiest and when? Offer an incentive to encourage passengers who don’t need to travel on peak trains to move their journey times, offer a reduced fare, loyalty points or a free coffee perhaps. Knowing when a train ticket is actually being used and therefore how busy any given train is at any time enables transport planners to better manage the rolling stock and how they can incentivise changes in some passenger travel patterns. These are just a few examples of what is possible.
There are many examples of successful multi-modal ITSO based ticketing schemes across the UK. In some regions rail operators may prefer to integrate with existing ITSO ticketing deployments or set up their own branded smart card for customers. Access to consumer travel data to enable a better customer experience and value for money is of key importance for all stakeholders.
We are now at a tipping point where the rail network can embrace the opportunities that ITSO based smart ticketing can offer, after all no one wants to buy a standing ticket for a train.