UK Smart Ticketing – Mystery Shopper Project – Part 1
By Trevor Crotch-Harvey, 22.2.17
During October – December 2016, Fenbrook conducted a Mystery Shopper project on smart and mobile ticketing schemes throughout the UK. This was a crowd funded project, and Fenbrook is grateful to those organisations which made it possible through their subscriptions.
The genesis of the project came through seminars which Fenbrook has given for several years at Smartex smart ticketing workshops. These gave a broad view of smart ticketing schemes across the UK. Time allowed meant these talks were necessarily broad and sweeping, and did not dive into detail on any individual schemes. The content of the seminars was built up through scheme announcements, Smartexpress, ITSO News, TCF presentations, and anecdotal reports from scheme participants. However, there was a growing nagging feeling that the situation on the ground might not reflect the glowing positive words in the announcements. Hence, I decided to see for myself.
I visited nine cities/conurbations during the project, riding buses, trams and a few trains as an ordinary member of the public – I didn’t touch London. I tried as far as possible to order local transport smart cards or apps ahead of time and load tickets or stored value onto them. I wanted to test how easy this was, on services of both large and small operators, and how readily these cards/apps were to use in the hustle and bustle of real life services, and whether the interoperability boasted of in the announcements existed on the ground. I also wanted to observe regular passengers to see how far these schemes had penetrated their travel habits. I also had my eyes open for what Donald Rumsfeld would describe as “unknown unknowns”, i.e. unexpected discoveries.
I went to: Bristol, Newport/Cardiff, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Tyne and Wear, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I was assisted throughout by the excellent “Smart Ticket Checker” by Rambus ecebs, which allows an Android phone user to interrogate a contactless smart card using NFC. This is what I discovered…
- ITSO works
The years of development and many millions invested have paid off. ITSO cards issued by one operator can be used on the services of others. I found no instance where this was a problem. On the contrary, I presented cards containing two valid ticket products issued by different entities to a reader on a bus operated by a third, and it worked seamlessly. Technical interoperability appears to have been achieved, and perhaps we can now move on, to focusing on the user experience.
- Cash is still massive
Living in the world of smart ticketing schemes, I was not prepared for the degree to which cash is the payment means of choice for such a large proportion of the public. In many cities, large numbers of passengers board buses and give cash to the driver, who then has to provide change. I observed this especially on Monday mornings when passengers were presenting £20 notes to buy a paper weekly pass. Naturally, this led to long dwell times – several minutes on busy routes. I was bemused that operators hadn’t done more to address this.
In some cities, there are exact fare cashboxes. Passengers seemed well trained to board the bus with the correct money, and these were quicker than those offering change.
What was even more confounding was that this cash phenomenon was so prevalent on buses displaying posters promoting smart cards or apps, offering discounts for travel. There is clearly some disconnect between the declared desire of operators to migrate passengers to cards/apps and the way large numbers of bus users want to travel.
- Travel smart cards are not widely used
I was surprised how few travel cards/apps were used. Observing passengers, ENCTS aside, only the occasional passenger presented a smart card to pay for their journey. (There were a couple of exceptions to this – see 5 below.) By contrast, paper passes were commonly presented, although the journeys these were being used for often went unrecorded by drivers – don’t operators want to collect data on these journeys?
In many cases I got the impression I was the first person to try to load a particular product onto a card, or to present it on a bus. In several instances drivers were unsure what to do – it seemed cards were not common enough for acceptance to have become slick. In other cases, they were pleased to help, as if I was offering them with a rare chance to use their product training.
- Phone apps are starting to be used
I did observe small numbers of users using phone apps. Typically these were younger people, under 25, on routes which served universities. I downloaded the First app myself and found it very slick, once I realised I had to activate it before use. The app allowed me to download tickets for later use, which I did in Bristol and Glasgow, easily and seamlessly.
However, the user experience of transport apps does not appear to have been co-ordinated. For instance, my experience of the “get me there” app in Greater Manchester was very different, and it doesn’t allow purchase of tickets for later use. This could become a big issue as phone apps become more prevalent (which I think is inevitable) and if interoperability is desired.
- Non ITSO schemes work well and are used
Not all card schemes are based on ITSO. They have been introduced by single operators to speed up boarding on their services and collect travel data. These make no pretentions to scheme interoperability, but do appear to be commonly used on their services. Examples I observed were the Wessex starcard in Bristol, and the Lothian ridacard in Edinburgh. These schemes have got something right.
Continued in Part 2…
Let me know if you have any questions or comments about these experiences. You can call us or contact us through the Fenbrook website if you want to discuss any of this further: www.fenbrook.com, or use the Contact Form from this website.
Fenbrook Consulting advises businesses about the commercial opportunities and technical requirements of Smart Ticketing and Near Field Communications