Rail ticketing held back by lack of investment

Lack of investment is holding back technology development in rail ticketing, leaving tickets on departure as the norm in the UK.

A switch to longer rail-operating franchises by the government could encourage investment and speed up a move to mobile and plain-paper tickets. However, rail-fare providers disagree over the extent to which the process could speed up.

Jon Reeve, director of trade relations at corporate rail self-booking tool Evolvi, said: “There is a technical challenge.”

He told corporate travel agents at the Advantage conference in Malta: “We all aim to get to the same point with mobile and plain-paper ticketing. But it is not straightforward. It is easier to do with season tickets than random journeys. It is going to take some time.”

James Bain, commercial director of rail fare provider redspottedhanky, disagreed. He told Advantage members: “The sooner we can get rid of ticket on departure (ToD) the better. The technology exists to print [rail] boarding passes. There needs to be a willingness to invest on the part of train operators.

“We’re looking to push the industry to the level of airlines and hotels.”

However, Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) distribution manager Steve Fosh agreed with Reeve. He said: “There have been pilot projects of plain-paper ticketing but there are no inter-operable standards, which restricts the ability to have these trials extended.

“The train operators intend to come up with standards by the end of the year. The challenge is the technology to validate plain-paper tickets.”

Fosh added: “Longer rail-operating franchises would make operators more willing to invest. Half of the UK franchises will be re-let over the next three years and longer franchises are what operators want.”

Reeve said the industry needed to eliminate ToD because “footfall on stations is very high” forcing clients to queue at ticket machines. More ticket offices are due to close, he said, and installing extra ticket machines at stations would add to the industry’s capital costs.

Bain conceded: “Short-term [rail operating] franchises didn’t help the industry. Longer franchises will help. Then plain-paper ticketing will come rapidly.”

The Advantage conference last weekend drew 400 consortium members and suppliers.

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