Just the ticket: Mobile’s increasing influence on public transport

How transport operators can help get travellers’ perceptions back on track through the intelligent use of mobile, thereby shaping a win-win scenario for both operator and customer alike.

While there is still clear demand for public transport systems, passengers’ patience levels are wavering as a result of increasingly confusing fare structures and friction-filled journeys. Adam Croxen, Managing Director, Future Platforms, shares his insight on how transport operators can help get travellers’ perceptions back on track through the intelligent use of mobile, thereby shaping a win-win scenario for both operator and customer alike.

Ambiguous and complex fare structures have shrouded the transit industry in a cloak of negativity, and train operator representative Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has recently added to the gloom having hailed the 16 million available fare options as ‘baffling’ for passengers. In a bid to shine a light at the end of the fare tunnel and simplify the structure, RDG is set to roll out a trial scheme this May. And in lieu of even more damning news emerging from the Office of Rail and Road that one fifth of passengers are purchasing the wrong ticket, this initiative couldn’t come at a more critical time.

It's not clear, nor is it likely that rail companies are deliberately misleading customers to sell more expensive tickets, but what they are guilty of is a lack of commitment, both in terms of understanding their customer and in implementing technology intelligently. These two aspects are so interdependent that one cannot (and should not) exist without the other.  

Only when operators can identify the pinch-points and are armed with rich customer insight can they design a system and interface that removes the friction from the experience and surpasses passengers’ expectations.

Habitual users

Designing and deploying technology solutions across a mass transit landscape is no mean feat, and some may ask, is it really worth it? Well, there’s a clear indication that more and more Europeans are turning to public transport as their preferred method of travel – a fact that is spurred by rising fuel costs, increasingly unmanageable demands on our road networks and a heightened awareness of climate change and carbon emissions. And so yes, it’s absolutely worth it.

Looking more closely at future transport industry trends, a Deloitte report indicates that millennials, who also lead the charge when it comes to mobile usage, are more likely to use public transport [Deloitte: Transport in the Digital Age – Disruptive Trends for Smart Mobility] than any other age group or demographic.

The report also shows that across all age groups, the average number of miles driven by Europeans has fallen by 8.5 per cent since 2002, while usage of public transport has risen. In 2012, 1.59 billion railway journeys were taken in the UK alone, surpassing a record set in 1923; a rate of growth that would see 2.5 billion railway journeys taken a year by 2025 were it to persist. 

The ubiquity of mobile

While the growth of public transport usage has increased steadily, the rise of mobile usage has been both explosive and rapid, which has positioned mobile as an important influencer in the arena of public transport and related ticketing. 

Across the board and in almost every industry, the usage and influence of mobile on both internal business processes and customer experiences has reached an unprecedented level. General consumer trends have seen smartphones become the go-to device for practically everything, including communication, shopping, gaming, banking and, crucially, travel and transport. They are now the most-used internet devices in UK households, trumping the laptop; a trend that indicates that now more than ever is the time for travel operators to devote focused attention to the platform.

When combining the increasing popularity of public transport with just how frequently users are turning to mobile and their smartphones, it’s clear to see the impact and influence mobile is beginning to have on the industry. Indeed, the Deloitte report crucially points towards a real convergence of digital initiatives and public transport, asserting that 90 per cent of all transport transactions will take place without the use of a paper ticket by 2020.

Evolutionary developments are, indeed, already sweeping across both mobile and transport sectors, with benefits abound for both the user and the operator/provider. In transport itself, change is afoot with the emergence of a range of innovative mobile-first products; disruptive ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, cross-medium comparison tools like GoEuro and Skyscanner, and agnostic navigation tools like Citymapper and Google Maps. With these products has come a user-savviness and thirst for data, where people hold just as much information about transport services as the providers themselves, with the power to pick and choose the services they use.  All of this means that today’s travellers are more knowledgeable and increasingly digital-first, holding an expectation that just like their banking, shopping and entertainment experiences, they’re able to book and undertake travel services that place mobile and digital at the core. 

The virtues of mobile ticketing

With this in mind, it is evident that more and more customers are already purchasing travel tickets and passes on their mobile devices, before collecting them at their point of departure or using the device itself to have the ticket scanned or read by a machine on-board. 

Transport for London’s network-wide integration of contactless payment also means that customers can travel on pay-as-you-go terms without needing to ‘purchase’ a ticket at all, instead having the cost of the journey automatically deducted from their payment method upon completion of their journey. Put simply, paperless ticketing is convenient, personalised, and flexible, opening up the possibility of spontaneous travel that doesn’t require advance purchase.

For operators, managing a single ticketing system that works across the entire network and in the same way for every customer, is also a means to cutting costs and increasing revenue. As well as saving money by no longer having to maintain hundreds of paper ticketing machines (and their contents), mobile ticketing brings the ability to trial, update and make changes to a system quickly and at a reduced cost, while learning more about the customers on the network.

Making real-time data work

Ideally speaking, the best mobile public transport solutions should simply ask a customer where they want to travel – it may even know already if it’s capable of identifying patterns and frequently travelled routes; something which Google Now does excellently. From here, users should be given their options based not just on how an operator’s system determines a route from point A to point B, but also on real-time variables. 

Whether it’s a clear understanding of travel and arrival times, the cost of travel, or simply the route a bus or a train takes, the more accurate information a customer has about their journey, the more confident and pleased they are likely to be with the service – which in turn could boost ridership and revenue for the operator.  

An app or website that could take into account factors such as traffic, weather, congestion and delays would then provide users, at best, with alternative route suggestions, but with a more realistic expectation of how long a journey will take in real-time. This type of information service, which is dynamic, tailored, and incredibly relevant to each and every passenger, simply isn’t possible with traditional customer service or timetabling methods, and would vastly improve the customer experience.

For operators, moving to a mobile-based system would provide more data on passengers, lending towards a more accurate picture of who is buying tickets, at what frequency, and to which destinations. This type of information greatly affects areas of investment, marketing and advertising efforts, maintenance and repair priorities and more, allowing decisions regarding each of them to be made by analysing tangible data rather than from predictions and estimates. Rather than costly blanket campaigns, smaller marketing campaigns could be targeted at customers whose data shows that they travel specific routes regularly, reducing the overall cost of the campaign while increasing its likely conversion rate.

Access to more data would also enable operators to make more intelligent decisions on pricing and ticketing. Learning customers’ travel patterns and frequency across different routes and at various times could help better predict supply and demand. While perhaps a way off, this data could be further used to price regions or routes based on their actual cost to maintain, or to re-divert resource (buses, drivers, or train carriages) to higher-demand areas of the network.

Get smart

A wider adoption of mobile is also an effective way to empower employees working in the public transport sector, providing them a greater number of tools to conduct their jobs more efficiently. Customer service has already trended this way, with a large majority of transport providers responding to customer queries through social media, but bringing this digital influence into the physical space could further enhance the experience. 

Putting mobile devices into the hands of station and platform staff can allow them to instantly provide travellers with journey information, answer ticketing queries, and communicate with drivers, managers, and other staff members both at their location and across the network. Staff could also use these tools to report incidents, log repair or maintenance requests, or seek emergency assistance.

Today’s trains and buses are also equipped with a wide range of sensors and readers that can relay information about speed, location, and the actions of drivers. A management dashboard could help pull off all this information together across the network, giving providers a comprehensive picture of operations and infrastructure. Using the dashboard, drivers could quickly report faults or observations, request assistance, and gain a better overall picture of their route and anything to be aware of.

How to make the most of the opportunity?

Transport operators have an incredible opportunity to take advantage of these trends, by putting a greater amount of investment behind mobile and digital initiatives. And both passenger and operators can harvest more benefits from intelligent, context-aware solutions that take much of the stress out of travelling. 

An additional advantage for operators is that mobile and digital solutions are an ideal way to drive increased revenue, gain better insight to how a business is operating, and thereby provide the ability to make key-critical business decisions that are backed by valuable, tangible data.

What’s crucial is that operators build solutions around the needs of their customers, identify a long-term roadmap and vision, and constantly strive to improve the product. Solutions need to work as effectively for frequent travellers as they do for those taking their first journey, they need to be part of a justified and measurable strategy, and should be constantly refined to meet consumer and take advantage of technological opportunities. If they stick to this strategy, then the benefits can be significant for all. 

Adam Croxen, MD, Future Platforms
Image Credit: Carballo / Shutterstock