Let the train take the strain

3 years ago by Glyn Dore

We’ve all been there, at the station that is, with a bag or laptop in one hand and a phone in the other, trying desperately to find the booking reference to get the tickets from the machine… and the train is leaving in 4 minutes. Then you need to put your phone away to find the card you booked with, if you can remember whether it was the debit card or credit card. Once you have jumped through all the hoops, the machine starts printing five different bits of card which you then scoop up before dashing to make the train – not what I would call a great experience.

Ticket machines – the latest findings
It seems like I’m not the only one that sees room for improvement here. The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) recently published their Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) review. Their focus was primarily on the ability of customers to buy the correct ticket at the best price, and one which suited their needs for flexibility in times. They say that ticket machines were originally designed to be “queue busters” allowing “quick, straightforward purchases”. This certainly isn’t my experience. I was very grateful to a rail staff member who showed me a cheaper ticket hidden on the next page of offerings; I was just about to choose what looked like the cheapest ticket on the first page, unaware that better deals were available on page two.

Will we all use the app?
OK, so use the app, I hear you cry. That’s a great idea if you are planning your journey well in advance, but there are always going to be times when you just need to get a ticket on the day – and it should be easy. We are fans of digital choice, and not everyone will want or be able to use an app for ticket purchase – tourists are a good example. TVMs were used by one third of passengers in FY2015-16 and are therefore predicted to remain one of the most used methods to buy tickets in the next 5-10 years.

Who needs what?
Clearly there are various user types that need to be addressed including commuters, leisure travellers, tourists, occasional business users, groups etc. All of these groups are going to have different needs and levels of tech-savviness (not to mention all the rules of various ticket types).

What’s  next to make my journey easier?
To enable more choice, the Rail Delivery Group has looked at biometrics including fingerprint and iris scanning to enable automatic charging at the gate. This would speed up the customer experience enormously, but will also require huge investment; no timings are yet confirmed. More imminent is the arrival of Bluetooth using beacon technology. Chiltern Railways is running a pilot on the Oxford Parkway to London Marylebone route which will mean passengers are charged the best available rate at the end of the day, taking into account all of the journeys taken. This again would make life far easier for travellers, and remove the need for an encyclopaedic knowledge of train ticketing terms and conditions for current self-serve options. There will be a hurdle to jump to ensure that consumers completely buy into these new technologies, requiring train operating companies to build trust with their passengers and educate them on these new systems.

I look forward to the day when my ticket purchase journey is smooth and hoop-free. It looks like we are moving in that direction – I just hope that everyone can benefit from the latest technology to mean they are paying what they should (not more or less) for their tickets.

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