I often travel from Edinburgh to Leeds by train — pretty much every week in fact. I use the Trainline app (other apps are available) to search for train times. All sensible options I might care to consider (except perhaps for split ticketing) are displayed with their departure times and prices. I click on the one that I want, pay by card and download the barcode ticket to my mobile. All from one device all in seconds. It is very customer focussed because they know they will sell more that way and there is competition. I don’t even mind paying their booking fee and their credit card fee for the convenience.
I also travel regularly from UK airports by train to Consult Hyperion’s offices and use ticket vending machines (TVMs) to buy my train ticket when I arrive. I know I should just use the mobile ticket app even when buying tickets on departure, right? Well, unfortunately that option is not always available so I revert to the TVM. On some routes I would need to ‘Print from a ticket machine using your payment card’ which is a horrible experience requiring not just the payment card but typing in a long code. With barcodes rolling out across the whole of the UK by the end of 2018, it will be possible for some to bypass the TVMs entirely.
It is not always possible to buy in advance since I don’t know when or whether the plane will arrive. On these occasions I buy a ‘ticket on departure’ from a TVM. These machines seem uniformly unpleasant to use compared to the mobile experience. The customer is required to select options such as which route they want to travel to their destination or what kind of ticket they require (peak, off-peak, etc) without being given the other information they need such as when the next train leaves and what time is peak time. It is a stressful situation even for seasoned travellers. Tourists have no hope.
But this is not news. The government published the Action plan for information on rail fares and ticketing in December 2016. Around the same time, RDG published a ten-point plan for the improvement of TVMs. More recently, a progress report was published in December 2017. Descriptions of how the actions relevant to TVMs in these reports will be achieved include:
- Ticket vending machines will tell customers when they are configured to sell off-peak tickets so that the customer will know that by waiting (e.g. in 15 minutes) they can purchase a cheaper ticket or by going to the ticket office (!)
- DfT and RDG will collaborate on a strategy to ensure a consistent high quality customer experience of ticket vending machines, including the role of the Ticket Vending Machines Design Guidelines; and consider whether these contain principles which should form the basis for obligations in future franchise agreements. (Due early 2018)
TVMs were originally introduced as queue busters at train stations for simple tickets only. However, the reality is that one third of passengers now use them and the options available are highly complex. So, in summary, it does not look as though the customer experience at TVMs is set to improve significantly any time soon due to all the constraints and even if it did, it would almost certainly be less good than the mobile app experience:
- Ability to select and buy tickets from anywhere with internet connection with relevant information automatically supplied to aid decision making.
- Delivery of tickets directly to the mobile device; no need to print anything out.
- Better support for overseas visitors who will usually not want to have to understand the fares and routes details before travelling.
- Freeing up space in crowded stations (you think we have problems, we are working in Mumbai where Churchgate station has same traffic as London Waterloo but 25% of the space)
- Reduced costs from not having to operate so many ticket windows and TVMs.
- Opening up the ticket retail market and promoting competition.
- Easier to deploy enhancements due to simple app software updates.
Clearly, mobile is not the whole solution (having spoken to industry colleagues, it seems only about 10% of rail tickets in the UK are sold using mobile apps) but the legacy that is TVMs is a big part of the problem.
I was asked again this year to act as a judge for the TTG18 Transport Ticketing Awards. Imagine my excitement when I spotted not one, but two submissions for TVMs (Ticket Vending Machines) that solve the customer experience problem.
Both solution proposed are to provide an audio (and optional video) link to remote ticket clerks where simple advice can be given or the clerk can also remotely control the TVM’s user interface. While this might provide better accessibility for those unable to use the TVMs (e.g. signing for the deaf, or offering other languages). I realise it does not suit everyone, but I think I’ll stick with my smart phone app.
The train I am on today writing this blog is delayed by over two hours due a broken-down train ahead of us. This means that I will get a full refund due to the Delay Repay regulations. Yay!
We look forward to seeing you in London at TTG18 on 23 and 24 January. If you would like to meet with Consult Hyperion while visiting the event, let us know so we can book a slot.