Delivering smart ticketing on rail across regional and urban areas


The 2019 UK Rail Summit welcomed over 200 delegates to KPMG's Canary Wharf Offices in London, earlier this month. The one day conference brought key industry figures together to discuss the challenges facing the UK rail network right now.

The third session revolved around smart ticketing. David Fowler reports on the this session below

2018 was "a game changer" for smart ticketing on rail, said Steve Montgomery, First Group managing director of UK Rail, because the DfT had decided to invest via the £80m Smart Ticketing on National Rail programme, announced in October 2017.

"No-one will invest that kind of money in a franchise, because the payback is not there," Mr Montgomery said. The programme had been "a huge step forward". Recalling how it used to be common to have to allow 30 minutes to queue at ticket machines at Paddington, he said" "It's really important as an industry to embrace this, to keep customers coming back."

The industry was starting to see the impact, he said. Smartcard take-up had been low so far, but marketing had only begun in February. "We're starting to see momentum," he said, and on Great Western 25% of revenue now came from mobile tickets.

For the future there were a number of choices, including moving people to mobile devices for season tickets. Once people were encouraged to move over from paper tickets, they liked the experience, he said.

The aim was "to make it an easy option for customers" with one electronic wallet for any ticket and any train operator.

Neil Conner, Fujitsu UK chief executive for transport operators, looked at the retail viewpoint and said smart and pay as you go ticketing were part of a transformation which itself was part of a wider trend in which public and private services were going digital.

Fujitsu already handled £2bn worth of rail transactions through its retail solutions. It had worked closely with train operator customers under the DfT initiative and seven operators were about to go live with its smart Star ticketing solution. It had ational coverage, with over 1,000 Star-equipped ticket offices in England, Scotland and Wales. Ticket office staff would play a key part in getting smart products into customers' hands.

In the future it would be possible to move to "smart by default" and start to replace paper tickets, he said. In February the Department for Transport had launched a consultation on extending pay as you go on rail. Pay as you go would improve the service for passengers, with no need to buy a ticket before travelling, and a fair price promise. It would also make possible automatic delay repay and would reduce costs.

The experience from existing schemes such as Govia's KeyGo on Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, Transport for London, Transport for the North and the overall STNR programme could be built on.

The system would evolve in phases adding new services over time until it was possible to cover complete end-to-end journeys.

Cubic Transportation Systems advisor John Hill said the DfT consultation was making pay as you go on rail "a hot topic".

He said pay as you go was now the predominant method of paying for travel in London. The model was that "you travel, and the overall fare is worked out".

Getting the customer proposition right is essential to success, he said. "It shouldn't be difficult to understand the fare system, so you can trust you're being charged correctly." In London the critical factor was that "Oyster has always been the best value proposition". This would be much harder to achieve in the national rail environment but was a prerequisite for a national PAYG scheme.

The system also had to be intuitive. For contactless in London the proposition was "you turn up with a contactless bank card and you can travel".
Another critical point was that there had to be a scheme owner. For national rail, who would it be? If it was the train operators, the result would be a range of different, smaller scale ticketing schemes – "it won't be transformative", he said.

TfL head of technology and data for payments Mike Tuckett described what he called the public transport payments pyramid. This started with paper tickets at the bottom and progressed through smartcard and barcode tickets to pay as you go by smartcard to contactless, or pay as you go via bank card and mobile devices.

Benefits for TfL had been a reduction in operating costs, increased satisfaction among passengers, and a 5% increase in revenue through making it easier for passengers to travel.

However, national rail had got stuck, for the most part, below the level of pay as you go.

This was because fares are too complex to allow PAYG, a best value promise cannot be achieved, and the system is too unpredictable for customers to "let go" and trust it.

It was necessary to think of PAYG in a different way from a conventional ticket, he said. The significance of the contactless revolution should not be underestimated. It represented the ultimate in ease of accessing public transport and was "a dream" of interoperability because it had adopted a universal standard for payment, allowing people to turn up from anywhere and use a card or device they already owned.

He described a vision of how PAYG could be introduced on national rail. Islands of PAYG in UK city-regions were already emerging. National Rail was already part of the TfL scheme, and would be in other regional schemes such as Transport for the North's. It could complement these by creating its own PAYG islands in appropriate locations. If rail then adopted contactless as an "access token" for pre-sold long distance tickets, for which PAYG was less appropriate, passengers would be able to use a card or phone they owned for all public transport, only needing to buy a ticket for the longest journeys.