It’s cold and dark as I walk bleary-eyed through the 5am din to the Oxford Tube, which I’m afraid is a bus, not the train I’d usually take. Thing is that while I am an enthusiastic advocate of train travel, when a journey lasting just an hour from Oxford to London on peak is £60 I can’t ethically endorse it – so I pay a tenner more for 12 Oxford Tube journeys (£70). This works out at just £5.80 per single journey between Oxford and London, whatever time of day or night. It comes with comfortable seating, patchy WiFi and plugs and USB ports that are sometimes on. The journey takes at least an hour longer than the fast trains. But still, very early in the morning I’ll be the one snoring open-mouthed on the top deck at the front of the bus – so I can feel like I’m chasing the sun.
The conference opens with a video message from Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport – who talks about the successes of the previous year, in London and in other cities, but mainly in London because when you’re in London, most people only care about London. Mature negotiations led to the successful roll out of the Smart Cities programme in:
- Centro – Birmingham
- West of England – Bristol, Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
- West Yorkshire Combined Authority
- Transport for Greater Manchester
- Nexus – Newcastle/Tyne & Wear
- South Yorkshire PTE
- Nottingham City Council
- Leicester City Council
Following on from this Mike Tuckett from Transport for London talks about last year’s introduction of contactless in London. 13% of people in London are now using contactless – which means 87% aren’t, but this is okay, it’s still a success. the only issue seems to be when bank cards are declined and passengers don’t know why the barriers aren’t opening.
Matthew Beeton, Chief Operating Officer, at Vix Technology talks about the future. He tells us 3.5 billion people now live in urban environments according to the UN – and that number is only going to increase. 40% of millenials – those people born after 1982 – will use public transport in the future. On the screen the statement THE YOUNG ARE DRIVING LESS appears. I imagine the block capitals are intended to really drive home this point. He also tells us that according to an Accenture study, 90% of people would like to use social media for transport updates. And not just that, 63% of those 90% aged 65 and over also want transport updates via social media. 70% of those surveyed want to move to paperless ticketing, but 50% think it’s actually possible. “Operators need flexible systems that can evolve with customer technology and change,” he says.
Next up there’s a panel of old, white, men. They are probably all very important.
“Unless you’ve been seconded out selling rugs for a year I’m sure you’re aware of what’s going on in the industry,” Ben from Masabi says. He isn’t actually very old at all. I had not been seconded out selling rugs, although I can picture myself in a souk holding a lovely red Afghan number and shouting “roll up, roll up!” Still, even though I’ve been here the whole time, I do not know what is going on. I don’t really think any of these people are going to enlighten me either, but gather it’s all about contactless, wireless, paperless and maybe even RADAR (I try to work out the opposite of RADAR incase it’s about radar up close, realise radar spelled backwards is radar, remember something about BlueTooth, give up).
Someone says something awful along the lines of “your credit rating is a reflection of your moral standing in society.” I’m pretty sure I don’t have an amazing credit rating, partly because I don’t have a credit card. But I like to think I’ve got pretty tight morals. Haven’t killed anyone lately. Maybe I’m missing something.
Ian Wright from Passenger Focus talks next about how digital can enhance the user experience. Having done really lots of surveys, free WiFi on trains has come out as a priority. When I asked one of the TOCs (train operating companies) about this problem recently, they replied that the bandwidth would suck if they had free WiFi. Trouble is that it sucks for those who pay too – so is actually a rip off.
I liked the quote Ian used next, “the future of transport is as much about the transportation of information as it is about physical mobility.”
South West Trains have a good traffic light system for getting a seat so customers can report how busy trains are, he says. And Dutch operator NS have an app called Planner Xtra – a realtime planner that ranks how busy trains are from 1-3… 3 = congestion level; sardines, 1 = my bag has the right to be seated as well.
Following Ian, David Whitley, Head of Regional Services at London Midland, gives an entertaining talk about harnessing the power of social media. He refers to social media as a, “Weapon of Mass Dissatisfaction,” noting that the people who answer complaints on Twitter don’t have an easy job – they’re dealing with an abusive channel and need to make sure they have a lot of company knowledge and are able to suggest alternative routes. They also can’t get drawn into arguments and have to be able to get all the information across in 140 characters. David also tells us London Midland tend not to use Facebook for real-time – “you have the “commuter warriors” there – the people who just go on and on and on.”
He’s very pleased London Midland have such a huge number of followers on Twitter (100k+). Indeed many TOCs do now, he points out. The number of tweets they have to send out is relatively stable as long as there’s a balance – “and that way you won’t end up in rehab.”
Then some nice people came on to talk about something called the KeyGo Pilot Project which is all about paying as you go and using a cloud. The pay-as-you-go-in-a-cloud pilot went from Southampton all the way up to the London border with GoAhead for Southern – and will now have extended scope on Thameslink and Great Northern plus season pre-paid tickets and pay as you go. It uses the smart pass (in this case the Key – much like London’s Oyster) configured to allow the gates to open – and different data sets to work out whether combined fares are cheaper for the customer and incorporates break a journey optimisation – the system then works out if you are breaking a journey (stopping off at a destination on your way to another all in one day) and if you are, charges you for a single journey – if a customer has a season ticket they get a zero fare if travelling along the route covered by their season ticket – if they go just outside the bit covered by their season ticket they will only be charged for the part of the journey outside of the season ticket area. The only issue they’ve had is that people who use season tickets find it difficult to tap twice – they’re looking at auto complete.
Comments about the pilot are very supportive – TfL love it – commenting, “this is really useful for everyone in the room thinking about account based ticketing”
There are many other highlights, Manchester’s transport system is going to be massively upgraded, Ireland have achieved success with their smart card – the Leap card and the transport dude from Thessaloniki talks about building a better transport system after the dawning of a new age in Greece. They just need a low cost solution. I hope they get one.
Transport Ticketing Global is a niche interest type of conference and maybe I’m mad, but I do genuinely enjoy it.