Rail passengers and value for money: can smarter ticketing help?

31 January 2019

Passengers give widely varying scores for the value for money of their ticket in relation to the journey they have just done in our National Rail Passenger Survey. Regular commuters, who probably see the price as a kind of tax, often give lower scores. Leisure and business travellers, who probably feel they have exercised more choice, usually give higher scores. Could smarter ticketing, which might give passengers more sense of choice and control, help?

There certainly seems to be a suppressed demand for smarter forms of ticketing. Mobile, app and barcode tickets often have high take-up rates. While this may be more of a comment on the desire to avoid queues or ticket machines, it shows what can be done. The Government’s ambition for most passengers to have a non-paper ticket option by the end of 2018 has been achieved with many smart or barcode options. There remains the stubborn problem of cross-London tickets and some journeys that involve more than one train company.

Transport Focus has been working with the Department for Transport and rail industry on these developments, making sure it all remains passenger focused. One of the key issues we wanted to ensure happened was that operators’ staff were involved in these developments right from the beginning.

Some early smart card schemes were marred by staff not having the knowledge or equipment to sort things out on the ground. Processes and equipment should support staff and these remote online only developments were causing real frustration. For example, having to telephone to request a smartcard and then having it posted was a real bar to take up. Much easier if it can be done at the station. Staff telling passengers to ring for help is not a good sign of a joined-up initiative. So, some real wins can be secured here.

There is more to come in 2019. Staff training and awareness campaigns are underway. Season tickets will at some point become smart by default – paper tickets only on request. The Rail Delivery Group/Transport Focus fares review will report in a couple of weeks.

The possibility of making fares and ticketing simpler, more flexible and attracting more off-peak travel could be coming. Louise Coward, Transport Focus’ acting head of insight spoke at the Transport Ticketing Global conference held in London this week about the issues and barriers infrequent and non-users of public transport face, including the complexity of ticketing .

So, the venerable orange card ‘magstripe’ rail ticket seems set be around for a while longer, but its long heralded demise could finally be in sight.

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