Passengers using public transport are increasingly expecting a seamless travel experience, regardless of the route they take or how often they use the service. In the ideal world of the future, we imagine easy access to the most convenient public transport mode at any given time, without having to worry about finding the best ticket deal or work out where a ticket can be used and where it can’t. Not having to worry about getting a ticket at all is the very essence of what makes Account Based Ticketing so great.
In London, the dream has already been realised, but fare structures elsewhere across the land do not allow such hassle free transport, even within just a single mode. With a plethora of ticket types – single, return, 1-day, 3-day, 5-day, 7-day, 14-day, 30-day, short hop, medium hop, long hop, single zone, multi zone, this-and-not-the-other-zone, paper, smartcard, mobile, and so on – and a multitude of payment options, is it any wonder people unfamiliar with catching a bus don’t know where to start?!
When you add to that the differentiation of fares by payment option, we add another layer that complicates things even further. A good example for you; the same 1-day ticket costing £4 when paid by cash, £3.90 when put on a smartcard, £3.80 when bought via a mobile app, and £3.50 when bought as part of a 10 ticket carnet. From an operator’s perspective, there are plenty of reasons to price like this, but it’s easy to see how passengers might feel overwhelmed.
Fortunately, great strides are being made towards the ‘ideal world’. Account Based Ticketing (ABT) is a system in which the ticket is no longer stored on your mobile phone, smart card or on a piece of paper, but in the cloud. The card or device becomes simply a user identifier which is matched to an account in a centralised system. Every time the ticket is used, it is recorded in the system and the user is charged accordingly.
One of the main challenges for a successful ABT deployment is the integration of different payment systems, which are provided by third party suppliers. Migrating to an ABT system, despite the obvious benefits for the end user, might take months or even years. This depends on how ingrained the traditional cash and smart card payment methods are.
Some operators offer discounted fares when buying multiple tickets like the return or weekly in advance. However, as any regular public transport user will appreciate the real world is complicated as we don’t always know when and where we want to go. Wouldn’t it be better if I could just pay-as-I-go instead of buying tickets that might end up unused? Even better, wouldn’t it be great if my travel costs were automatically capped based on the best value for the travel I’d used that week or month?
ABT offers the best deal to users and removes the friction of planning how best to spend their money across the network, days or sometimes weeks in advance. ABT is appealing when considered with transport focus group surveys in Scotland and West Yorkshire. These suggest that friction is one of the largest contributing factors for people not taking public transport; not understanding pricing structures and simply being too embarrassed to ask.
Despite the obvious benefit to the end user any ABT strategy is destined for failure without the element of trust from the end users. Often forgotten as passenger numbers fall, trust is fundamental to the perception that users have towards any public transport service.
Are services running on time? If not, are you open and honest about why? Are your customer service team responsive and able to give good quality advice? Do you clearly, and in good time, communicate changes across your network, either in service or cost? Building trust between a user and the operator is no small task, and if people can’t rely on your services, or information when they need it, it’s not hard to see why they might not trust you to make the right decisions about how much they need to be charged after the event.
Communicating clearly how any new system works, and how the best value calculations are being made, is key to its success. A list of frequently asked questions, like this from TfL, and an explanatory video, like this great one from LeapCard, can really help to inform customers. The change has to be consistently communicated through all available channels – such as marketing in vehicles, on stops, by email, in your apps and of course via social media.
It should come as no surprise we’re a long way into the development of a new fare capping option which helps to increase user loyalty as well as incentivise more people to use public transport due to its simplicity. We’re hoping that regular and nonregular users alike will really benefit from our approach to fares and fare capping in the modern age.
We think fare capping is going to be a game changer over the next few years. While implementing it will take a well-considered communication strategy, for passengers more used to a traditional fare structure it’ll have a huge impact on increasing public transport use by those that currently don’t. You may or may not be ready to begin considering an ABT implementation, but actively building customer trust should be underway already.