Published on in TransportDigital Transformation

So you’ve decided you want to go somewhere.

What’s the first thing you do?

You buy a ticket!

Ticketing is a universal way of securing your place on a plane, train or boat. It’s as old as time. But today our way of ticketing is starting to look old-fashioned. I don’t really understand why, in this digital age, we still have tickets at all.

Last year, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced plans to extend smart ticketing across Britain’s transport system. This means that everyone should be able to use smart ticketing to pay for their travel by the end of 2018.

This is a big step forward in the process of making UK transport better for passengers and achieving Chris Grayling’s strategic vision of ‘connecting people’.

Smart ticketing means more than just sticking some tech on the pre-existing system. It’s a way of enabling passengers to move through the network quickly, all the while ensuring that they pay a fair, consistent and clear price for their journey.

It helps transport operators to deliver a good customer experience, so that people have a pleasant time on the trains, trams, metros and buses that they use.

But I think we can do more. We should aim to create the best customer experience – something we can achieve if we look beyond smart ticketing and think about an integrated, personalised method of payment – known as account-based ticketing or ABT.

In this blog post I’m going to explain why ABT is the future, and how we can get there.

The evolution of ticketing

The traditional paper ticket still comes in handy, but an increasing number of us are choosing digital payment options.

Just ask any teenager how they pay for travel! They’ll probably talk about buying an e-ticket and downloading it to their phone. Or they’ll tell you they use a smart travel card.  This is a reusable card that stores passenger information such as recent journey history and account balance. In London they call it the Oyster, in Paris they have the Calypso and in Dublin it’s named Leap.

But the smart card isn’t hugely new technology. It’s been around since the ‘90s.

And whilst smart cards are an improvement on paper tickets, they are also expensive to produce as the intelligence is held in the chip in the card. And, more significantly, there are too many different types.

Each city or region has its own version – meaning a person who travels regularly between London and Liverpool will have to keep track of an Oyster card and a Walrus card, and the balance that they have on each.

To make travel throughout the UK a truly hassle-free experience, we’ll need to integrate all of these different smart cards into one system.

This could involve using contactless credit cards, or a form of smartphone payment like Apple Pay. It could even, in the distant future, involve a biometric like facial recognition or a fingerprint.

Whatever the format might be, we need to find a single way for passengers to pay for their travel that will work wherever they are.

ABT means developing the back office

The ABT system is the answer to this.

It works like a smart card in reverse, in that passenger information isn’t stored on a card for the barriers to read. Instead, passengers simply use a token such as a credit card, a smartphone etc. at the gate or as they hop on the bus, and the back office logs each journey that the passenger takes against their account. Each day, the back office takes payment from their account for the total cost of the journeys made.

The back office can apply rules such as discounts, or daily capping, and it can work our which was the best value fare for the journeys taken, ensuring the passenger never over-pays for their travel.

All the information about the passenger and their account is exchanged in the back office. This is the master record of every journey made, and the payment for each journey, and it’s this fact that could make the ticket redundant. Why carry around your ticket, when it’s all in the back office?

ABT is a golden ticket

But alongside greater flexibility, ABT promises great advantages.

It can join together modes of transport operated by different stakeholders, meaning that end-to-end journey costs are simpler to calculate for passengers and operators themselves.

Passengers are also more likely to trust a single payment method to charge them the minimum fare possible.

And, of course, it’s less stressful to only have to remember one thing when it comes to pay, rather than juggling lots of different cards.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory taught us this: if one ticket can get you anywhere, it’s all you need.

Plus, the long-term economic potential of an enhanced ticketing system is huge.

In our industry we tend to talk about cities as islands and the journey between them as bridges.

Making inter-city travel effortless will bring an end to the isolation some areas experience – and build bridges that will boost economic vibrancy as businesses everywhere become better connected. At the moment, passengers tend to pre-book tickets for cross-country journeys – but if we can develop an ABT system that works out the cheapest fair, this extra hassle won’t be necessary.

But the implications of strong inner-city travel shouldn’t be overlooked either.

It’s just as important that someone can get around Manchester as get to Manchester. Local communities are forged through accessibility, and we want to be part of this story by developing municipal mobility in the UK.

Data advantage

Another advantage of ABT is that it provides a great insight into passenger preferences and habits by giving transport organisations access to large amounts of data.

You can see, for example, how many people start their journey at a certain station at a specific time – and this can help you plan your service.

And further to this, you can personalise the service that customers get by sending relevant information to a passenger’s account to help them avoid delays or notify them of changes. If you know that a person usually ends their journey at a particular station, which has been closed suddenly, you can send them a notification to warn them – all because ABT works on an account basis.

Easy as ABT

Transport is a complicated business – but it’s vitally important to people’s day-to-day lives.

We want to find a way to make it easy, so that we can encourage as many people as possible to use public transport and avoid using their cars. Removing unnecessary ticketing complexity is an important part of providing this good passenger experience.

The smart card is a great start. But we can and should go further.

Britain’s transport network is all about the passengers who use it; and we need a ticketing system that reflects this passenger focus. ABT offers this, along with the chance to harness data to boost operational efficiency.

And of course I have fully confidence that one day ABT will be extended right across the globe – at which point we won’t need separate cards for Paris, London, Japan. We’ll have one single ABT ticketing system anywhere in the world.

This might be idealistic, but there’s no denying that it would make our lives easier. As easy, you might say, as ABT.

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