Rail travel has been much in the news in the last few weeks in the UK, and it’s not been good. There are ongoing sporadic strikes at South Western Railways and Northern Rail. New timetables have not bedded down in some areas, leading to ongoing cancellations. Perhaps it is small wonder that a customer survey by Which?, published today, has indicated that rail travel is the least trusted consumer service, apart from second-hand car sales.
Ticket prices frequently come in for public criticism too. The announcement this week predicts fare increases of 3.5% for 2019, in line with RPI (retail price index) . But it is not only increases, and the absolute level of fares, that are problematic. As has long been the case with airlines, people sitting next to each other on the same journey may have paid a very different fare, based on complex and opaque rules , which may not be available on all sales channels or at each location. For example, this has led to the well-known anomaly where it can be cheaper to purchase multiple tickets to cover a whole journey (known as “split ticketing”) rather than accept the best available point-to-point fare.
In a widely welcomed development, the Rail Delivery Group has announced a consultation on fare simplification , with the aim of producing recommendations by the autumn for the government to consider. If customers are presented with a simple set of options, with understandable rules, they will have more confidence that they have captured the best available fare, and will save time; perhaps making the difference between opting for public transport or adding to congestion and pollution by using a private car.
Ideally, customers will investigate their journey options, pay for their right to travel and present those rights via their mobile phones, instead of adding to their own stress and station congestion by trying to assess their options at a ticket vending machine . If such a facility can be integrated across other modes of public transport, so much the better.
In our assignments with transport authorities and operators on every continent, we have found that implementing politically-mandated changes to fare structures and policies, with legacy ticketing systems is rarely straightforward. Typically, a range of kiosks, vending machines and hand-held devices need to be changed – in ways that may never have been envisaged when they were procured. In the worst case, customer media, such a smart cards could need to be re-issued. In all cases, changes must be introduced across the estate as quickly as possible, to avoid incompatibilities and anomalies.
For these reasons, the focus of our consultancy and technical design services with agencies around the world has been on account-based ticketing. In this concept, the interaction between customer media (preferably, self-provided) is kept very simple: essentially to log the entry and exit of the passenger into the public transport system. Back-office systems check the customer’s right to travel, reconstruct journeys to ensure that the most advantageous fare is paid for pay-as-you-go, and arrange for net settlement between operators, so that all are compensated according to agreed rules. When a necessary change to fare rules is required, there is a one-off change to a central system, which, following adequate testing, can be switched on, universally, overnight.
Consult Hyperion is helping transit operators on all continents across the world to make the right choices and deliver improved customer experiences. Keen to hear more? Contact us at info@chyp.com.

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