The Winning Ticket

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The current challenges facing travellers taking rail journeys are varied, with passengers often facing complex and friction-filled journeys. Transit authorities and operators must make exerted efforts to demystify the experience and recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Intercity rail commuters are generally looking for the cheapest and fastest route between two locations, and typically pre-book and pre-purchase tickets. The choice between peak and off-peak travel becomes more important in this scenario, but the many complex options can cause frustration and confusion for passengers.

A similar situation exists for urban travellers in situations where they are performing ad hoc travel outside their regular commuting pattern. Applications, such as Apple Transit Maps, that help people plan door-to-door travel and link-in public transit options are helping increase use of public transit for ad hoc travel by providing tools that demystify this travel.

When the UK’s Office of Rail and Road recently employed mystery shoppers to purchase rail tickets from machines across the country, the results painted a clear picture of an ambiguous and stressful fare collection process. Users struggled to see information on the types of tickets available, were provided with little detail regarding peak and off-peak validity, and found it difficult to understand restrictions on specific travel routes. Perhaps most concerning was that around one-fifth of passengers were found to be purchasing the wrong ticket, by either over or under-paying.

In response to these concerns, and having referred to the UK’s 16 million available fares as ‘baffling for passengers’, Rail Delivery Group’s roll out of a trial scheme to simplify the fare process is undoubtedly a timely step in the right direction towards a ticketing evolution. Anything that can be done to demystify the experience and remove the layers of complexity is critical in order to drive more people to use travel. 

Alleviating the pain

With various pinch-points prevalent across the complete travel experience incorporating long haul rail, long-haul operators should consider how they integrate with local transport systems to alleviate the friction experienced by passengers as they approach their final destinations. For many, the journey does not end when the train pulls into the desired station – there is another leg to complete, and often travellers do not know how they will complete that last mile. Imagine a seamless journey that gets a rider door-to-door using a combination of rail and local transport and gets the rider to the destination as quickly or as cheaply as possible using integrated planning and payment services.

The concept of linking together the variety of urban transport options to create a frictionless journey is central to making this seamless journey happen; and in turn, raising the appeal of rail amongst the travelling public. It is this integration of services that is core to the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), and successful operators will create greater customer loyalty through increased service as a result of this type of integration. 

With today’s travellers having higher expectations around efficiency, the need for an easily navigable transit network is vital. Improvement in transit navigation can be achieved through the delivery of localised real-time information, direct to a smartphone. This is where advancements in mobile technology, cloud computing and big data can help create a ‘hyper-personalised’ transit experience.

By being able to locate a person through their smartphone and recognise travel patterns through data stored in the cloud, operators have the opportunity to provide relevant information that has been tailored to riders’ wants and needs – from journey planning and ticket purchasing to updates on service delays. The provision of a more personalised service can help to build trust in the transit system, which drives passenger usage and commercial opportunities. 

Through the smartphone and the ability to deliver relevant information in real-time, coupled with knowledge of a traveller’s location and planned journey, it becomes possible to steer passengers along their routes, which can create positive benefits for the operators. For example, if a train is running late, a message can be sent directly to the traveller notifying him or her that the next service is standing room only and would given an alternate and incentivised option: wait 10 minutes for the next train and receive a complimentary coffee in return. Aside form stimulating loyalty, this information gives operators the chance to balance their proposition and work out the way to manage their services more efficiently. 

A positive ripple effect

Mobile technology and transport ticketing alone may not be able to trigger a chance in passenger behaviour; they do, however, help to reduce the friction and create benefits by helping to personalise the transport experience. Navigating rail travel has always been complex and frustrating and is becoming more so as more rail networks roll out. But with mobile applications, passengers can book and purchase a ticket in one single app and receive real-time information on their devices. Ultimately, this eases up some of the friction associated with trail transport. And once ridership climbs, revenue will follow, and from there operators can explore how to engage with loyalty-style behaviour. 

To add the best value, however, we turn to the issue of integrating long-haul rail with local transport services so as to provide a complete, end-to-end experience. There are already some examples in the market, such as Trainline, that have added the option to book a hotel or hire a car from a single app. And by adding rideshare services such as Lyft and Uber, which fulfill the first and last mile need within a transit journey, the entire transport experience will be richer; examples of this are being explored in markets around the world.

The future of ticketing

To reach a ticketing utopia on the railways, any innovation should start with the customer’s needs, and demystifying of the experience should be at the core of this evolution. The more a traveller can plan a full end-to-end journey, the more a traveller can manage it; and, in turn, the more operators that offer this, the more likely the traveller will choose rail as part of their journey. With the integration of services and other innovations that offer cheaper and more seamless experiences, operators can leverage the offerings to spur ridership. 

Removing the friction should also be at the heart of the transport ticketing and payments evolution. There are already some interesting innovations in urban rail, and potentially long-haul rail, around the concept of gateless and ID-free travel; and we are starting to see trials of ‘Minority Report’ style at-gate facial recognition. Some may initially see this style of personalised ‘account based systems’ as invasive but attitudes will chance once they build trust in its security and realise the convenience it offers.

Rolling out these kinds of innovations will create new challenges for the industry, including the need to educate users and build confidence, with success hinging largely on uptake. But as with all new-to-market innovations, the overall cost savings and efficiency gains through these new services warrants their introduction to the marketplace. 

Historically, transit’s ticketing and payments systems have evolved at a slower rate compared to other industries, but as with many other industries that are being impacted by the current wave of technology revolution, transit is now moving quickly to adopt these changes. The real revolution in ticketing will come from the convergence of 5G, cloud computing and machine learning – where operators will have huge data sets and the ability to integrate, personalise and deliver services and information that are locally relevant to stakeholders. This will drive the next stage of evolution in the industry and will play a critical role in answering the increasingly urgent call for a seamless and fully integrated end-to-end service that goes the extra mile.

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