Shaken, Not Stirred: The Smart Ticketing Revolution

Is smart ticketing the key to delivering a consistent “anytime, anyplace, anywhere” experience for rail transit customers?

Leaving the product itself aside, Martini Rosso's campaign catchphrase of “anytime, anyplace, anywhere” coined in the 1980s illuminated an emerging customer desire for “in-the-moment” gratification – instant, 24-7, and unconstrained by location. In 2018, this sentiment has intensified to new levels, driven by continual advancements in consumer technology. Indeed, the gap between supply and demand in many arenas has all but closed, thanks to the likes of Uber, Amazon, and Facebook continually rewriting the laws of consumption while swallowing legacy barriers in their way.

Customers are now empowered by choice through nothing more than what they already have in their pockets and expect these habitual items to seamlessly facilitate all facets of their lives, including their right to travel on transport services. For rail, this “right” has traditionally been managed by bespoke mag-stripe products, and the transport experience has somewhat wheezed behind its heavy physical edifices and piles of paper tickets. It’s no secret that rail must undergo a 21st century genetic makeover to avoid spending inefficiently on soon-to-be-redundant tech, enable partnerships with those leading the charge, and ultimately meet customers’ ever-evolving expectations.

The good news is that a smart ticketing DNA modification is well underway in the U.K. and similar changes are following suit in the U.S. Pockets of innovation have taken place over the past few years – most notably through the Oyster scheme within London and independent mobile-ticket initiatives run by some Train Operating Companies (TOCs) outside of the capital – but there has not been an overarching strategy for how smart ticketing should evolve as one to uniformly deliver a consistent experience across the whole of the U.K. rail network. Until now.

Heavy U.K. public and private sector investment has gone into generating an agnostic smart ticketing proposition, resulting in an official government commitment for customer train travel “everywhere with the flick of a card, or more probably a touch of the mobile phone” (Secretary of State for Transport) before the end of 2018. This would be some feat when you consider the intricacy of the U.K.’s interoperable offering; allowing a customer to purchase a ticket on any service from any operator and, crucially, to travel in the same vein. To put this in context, there are over 20 TOCs in the U.K. all working under a variety of commercial models, timescales, and incentives. This is before you even consider the additional Third Party Retailers (TPRs), technology partners, infrastructure suppliers, and the fact that this merry dance all takes place within the revolving rail franchising framework. Consequently, industry-wide initiatives are complex and often stretch on for years or fall by the way-side entirely. As a frequent track-hopping customer myself, this visible smart ticketing commitment by the rail industry to its customers—and the palpable progress seen so far—is something to get excited about.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand what a smart ticket is. It’s effectively an “authority to travel” which is digitally created, typically loaded onto smart media (e.g. smartcards, mobile phones), and ties back to a customer account – creating a record of the customer and their travel. Smart tickets are different because they can contain and generate rich data about a customer and their travel. This unprecedented level of data capture presents a huge opportunity to improve operations and enhance the customer experience. Recent successes highlight the growing prevalence of smart ticketing.

  • 40% of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) journeys across Transport for London (TfL) are made using contactless payment (cEMV) ticketing, with top-bracket customer satisfaction
  • 1 in 10 contactless customers reported using their mobile phone to travel on TfL, with more than 31 million journeys via this method in 12 months (July 2016 – July 2017)
  • Over half of all customers on Virgin Trains West Coast choose a mobile ticket versus a paper one

Most importantly, the customer benefits of smart ticketing can be transformational for transit agencies when seeking to improve the rider’s journey. For example, richer data enables the insights to power personalized customer experiences, service enhancements, and hassle-free travel. For the agency, smart ticketing enables smarter strategic planning, operational efficiencies, and tailored marketing offers.

Some might argue the literary redundancy of the Martini Rosso slogan in asking what possible difference there could be between “anyplace” and “anywhere”. However, for the rail ticketing revolution taking place it couldn’t be more apt: making it as easy as possible for customers to travel any time, from any place, to anywhere on the rail network. The industry’s being shaken by smart ticketing, not stirred.