Slow train coming: rail passengers and ticket vending machines

13 February 2017

Good to see the Office of Rail and Road taking up the regulatory baton on Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs).

Back in 2008 we got this ball rolling with our work on selling tickets at stations. We wanted to really understand why TVMs can stand idle while queues form at ticket windows. Simply passengers need advice to get the right ticket.

We then followed that up in 2010 with work on how easy it is to use TVMs. We found some people overpaying, many confused but fine if you know exactly what you want.

In the meantime the industry has made many improvements to the machines but it has been very slow: so ORR is taking welcome action. We have consistently opposed the shutting of ticket offices without improvements to TVM numbers and usability.

How did we get here? The fares and ticketing system is complex – the build-up of thirty years of change. Government and regulatory rules sometimes don’t help. The front end of these machines are hardly at the cutting edge of search machines. The supply of the machines is in the hands of a few suppliers and making changes appears to be expensive and slow. Essentially the machines display what a ticket clerk sees. But, you are left to work it out without their knowledge, skills and nouse.

However, passengers standing in front of a machine might need more help. Passengers like the choice the fares system can offer but want to make informed choices to get the right ticket for them.

The Action Plan for Information on Rail Fares and Ticketing will help, as might the ORR proposed price guarantee. In the meantime, if in doubt, passengers will continue to want to talk to human beings. Some operators, such as South West Trains, have introduced TVMs with a human interface. This seems like a good half-way house.

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