Today the Inside Track talks to Mostafa Gulam, Head of Technology at the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) which represents the 23 train operating companies that provide passenger services on the privatised British railway system. Its work is centred around three main areas: 1) The Rail Settlement Plan, which is a central clearing house for train operators, allowing passengers to travel on any part of the rail network, from any station 2) A customer service operation, providing up-to-the-minute information on times, fares and disruption through National Rail Enquiries and 3) Providing various discounted and promotional railcards.
A particular area of focus for Mr. Gulam at the moment is the future of ticketing and in particular the role of smartcards for passengers and operators.
Luke Upton (LU): Hi Mostafa, so just what is it that makes smartcards attractive to passengers?
Mostafa Gulum (MG): “Smartcards are a particular attractive option for passengers as they are able to offer discounts, are more physically robust and offer a faster route through the station to the train, eliminating needs to pick them up or queue to purchase. With the success of the Oyster card in London and development of similar smartcard technology in other UK cities it’s an increasingly common, effective and popular form of transport fare payment.
LU: And what are the advantages of smartcards for rail operators?
MG: “In the UK we are delighted to see a growth in passenger numbers, but this is not without its challenges. The data and insight that can be acquired by smartcards can help companies predict passenger numbers and journey trends far better. It can make train operators make smarter choices in terms of deployment of rolling stock, resources and staff. And the smartcard can also enables rail operators to target customers with offers such as discounts or free trips more effectively. A smartcard can provide particular value to regular passengers and commuters who typically pay the highest fares.”
LU: With more rail operators using smartcards, what other opportunities are there around them?
MG: “In the near future I think they will enable rail operators to communicate much better and smarter with passengers. For example, a ticket may enable real time information to be passed to passengers, it could tell them that the next train arriving at the platform is very busy, but the one after is quieter. As much as it will enable the train operator to work smarter it’ll enable the passenger to move through the network more efficiently and easier.
LU: Sounds impressive and no doubt would be popular with passengers, what other technological developments are operators looking at for passengers?
MG: “Well, another potential development is the growth of phones being used as tickets via barcodes or QR codes that can be downloaded or scanned in place of paper tickets or smartcards. This is something already is use for certain airlines and is already being used in a few railways around the world. This would link closely to train operators mobile and App sales sites.
A second area that’s already growing is the use of WiFi on-board trains, with passengers keen for better reliability and operators beginning to harness some of its potential beyond simply a selling point to passengers. For example, a WiFi connection could let passengers know precisely from which platform and when their connecting train is leaving from. At the moment the train manager often announces the most popular connections over the on-train PA system but this could offer a personalised service to each passenger. This would be particularly useful on long distance train journeys involving several changes which we know does have the potential to cause anxiety. At the moment there’s a lot of potential around fare collection within railways and we have an exciting time ahead of us.”
LU: Thanks Mostafa, looking forward to hearing more in Amsterdam in November.