Can ‘Smart’ be the enabler for true rail ticketing reform? By Russell McCullagh

On the 18th of February, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) published proposals on reforming the rail ticketing fares system based on responses from a public consultation. It is no secret that the UK has one of the most complex fares systems in the world – according to the Rail Delivery Group some 55 million different types of rail fares exist. Is it any wonder that passengers find ticketing challenging and complex to navigate?

There have been positive improvements over the years, in the form of new rolling stock and increases in services to keep up with the sheer growth in passenger numbers, which have more than doubled since rail privatisation was completed over 20 years ago. Whilst the most important focus for a rail operator is to keep trains safely running, innovation needs to move up the priority list in order to improve customer satisfaction. The RDG announcement is welcome news as it is collaboration, a genuine desire for change and the adoption of new technologies that can simplify the customer ticketing experience.

The customer journey starts long before they arrive at the station
The majority of ticket sales today are still based on the orange magnetic stripe ticket we are all so familiar with, but the way we want to access travel is changing. A single reusable smartcard, which can hold tickets for multiple operators rather than multiple cards or orange tickets is better for the environment and offers greater security and protection for passengers. If a registered card is lost then a new one can be issued and the ticket products reloaded rather than lost for good.

We are also increasingly looking to use our smartphones to purchase and store tickets for travel. Time is an increasingly precious commodity so avoiding queuing to collect or purchase tickets has to be a positive step forward for passengers. There is also the ‘first’ and ‘last’ mile of travel and options are increasing here too with the availability of hire bikes, services such as Uber and public bus services, which can all be made more convenient and accessible when accessed through our devices. The inclusion of real time information then helps us make the best choice for our needs.

Truly integrated travel is another passenger desire. For example, delivering joined up fare offerings can allow passengers to travel across multiple rail operators with a fare calculated that is appropriate and fair based on how they travel. Integrated and interoperable smart ticketing can address these scenarios and support more tailored ticketing offerings based on differing travel needs. It isn’t about adding to the 55 million available fares, it’s about making it easy for people to choose the best ticket and fare for their journey and delivering that ticket in a way that is convenient for them.

Where are we today?
The UK government mandated an interoperable ticketing specification, which was put in place almost 20 years ago. Initially this focused on the concessionary ticketing market for elderly bus users, and is still widely in use today. Commercial ITSO based ticketing followed with examples such as the POP scheme run by Nexus, the Robin Hood card in Nottingham and the Glasgow Smartzone ‘Tripper’ card. Government has been funding the building blocks for ITSO based ticketing on national rail with the goal being more convenient, accessible and interoperable ticketing for customers.

There are many stakeholders across UK rail and there is a desire to see through this positive change, but it’s clearly not as simple as anyone would like it to be to make this change happen. Rail operates in a de-regulated market, each franchise can have contracts with many suppliers from station gates, ticket vending machines, at station desk equipment as well as the systems and software across all of these, which all need to integrate to a common standard to ensure when a customer presents their smartcard or mobile phone that their ticket is reliably validated and they can make their journey. Whilst this all sounds unlikely, or even impossible to achieve, we are getting there. An ITSO based common back office is in place for all of the rail companies to integrate with. Rail equipment suppliers must be capable of supporting ITSO based ticketing and there are now individual operator smart ticketing customer deployments.

What happens next?
When a rail company sells an orange ticket they have very little additional information on how that customer actually travelled – or even if they got on the train at all. By increasing the uptake of smart ticketing, they can glean valuable travel data based on how people travel. This can provide real insight into which ticket products are working best for their customers and changes that could be made to have meaningful impact.

The steps to come may be the hardest of all – clearing out the complexity of the old ticketing fares system and making it fit for the modern traveller. Longer term we foresee the everyday transport experience focused more on Ticketing as a Service (TaaS) — enabling passengers to travel seamlessly across multi-modal transport systems using their mobile device or smartcard with the correct fare being calculated in the back office. Passengers stated they wanted “a fairer, more transparent and easier to use experience,”- it’s the duty of all stakeholders to work together to deliver this.

For this reason, Rambus recently expanded its collaboration with Worldline to help deliver this innovation into the UK rail industry. With the integration of Rambus remote ticket download (RTD) software, Worldline can now deliver ITSO-based smart tickets to customer smartcards with its @Station and Mobile Ticket Issuing Service (MTIS), providing passengers with a reliable and more convenient ticketing experience. Together, Rambus and Worldline are paving the way for a frictionless future for the UK with industry-proven technology.

Russell McCullagh is Vice President and General Manager, Ticketing at Rambus. Dedicated to making data faster and safer, Rambus creates innovative hardware, software and services that drive technology advancements from the data centre to the mobile edge. Its architecture licenses, IP cores, chips, software, and services span memory and interfaces, security, and emerging technologies to positively impact the modern world.