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Viewpoint: Issue Issue 24 5 Oct 2011

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Fast moving technologies technologies mean the future is changing as it happens

With the Travel 2020 event fast approaching Mark Cartwright, of event partner RTiG, looks at some issues that have recently risen up the agenda.

Mark Cartwright

The discussions and connections that will be made this year at the Travel 2020 conference and exhibition are likely to shape some very significant new developments. Last year’s inaugural event was a huge success, which set the bar high for this year of course. But it looks as though we will be going forward very strongly indeed.

One of the key things we are trying to do is to get a big picture view without losing the relevance to specialist professionals. This isn’t easy but it is necessary. Most of us have a pretty clear role with one system or technology, for example, but it is often how they join up that is most significant. We must all  work with colleagues who have a slightly different role; and become more clearly aware of a wider penumbra of people all working diligently to broadly the same end, namely making public transport better for travellers and hence more successful. The day job doesn’t always give us the perspective on why we are doing what we are doing. This broader context is where the opportunities are to do it better.

What, I wonder will fizz up at the event this year? There are dozens of world-leading experts, both speaking and exhibiting, whereas I’m just one generalist commentator. That said, like all of you, I have a list of expectations, concerns, dilemmas and just plain questions, which will provide the basis of my personal itinerary around the Kia Oval on the 2nd and 3rd of November.

All the developments described - and more - will be explored at the Travel 2020 conference and exhibition in London on November 2-3.  Further details are at

On payments technology, I think we are entering a very confused and difficult period. This is nothing to do with whether the technology is “up to it”. The technology works. Or more accurately, the technologies work...which hints at the issue. Will any given transport operator be able, or willing, to support half a dozen fundamentally different ticketing and payment mechanisms? I doubt it: they will want to pick a couple of mainstream winners, for the best of reasons: cost of operations, and clarity to customers.

A couple of years ago the answer seemed straightforward: Oyster was proven in London, and ITSO would pick this experience up, add in marketplace interoperability, and roll out triumphantly across the world. It doesn’t all seem so clear now, with mobile ticketing, print-at-home, and EMV all providing credible solutions. They aren’t even comparable as alternatives. Where do we go from here? How many of these channels will prove blind alleys, at least from the transport perspective? Or will a new breed of ticketing intermediaries emerge that will happily take settlement from your Paypal account?

Then there is information and integration. OK, it doesn’t involve monetary transactions, so doesn’t invoke the same security concerns  and confidence issues as ticketing. But that just makes for a more complex and nebulous set of interactions.

The Government has had a stab at stating a national policy on this. All data held by public bodies is under a presumption of open release, unless there are good reasons to the contrary. Others are encouraged to follow suit, on the grounds that an open “datasphere” will give rise to unforeseeable good through the creativity of independent developers. But the real world isn’t so simple. What happens when commercial interests are involved? How much data are we talking about? How do we handle it all? How accurate, frequent, standardised does it need to be, and who decides?  There are many perspectives, and few of them are unbiased. I suspect that this will remain a rich source of both creative innovations and commercial/ political tensions for some while to come!

On customer relationship management I think we can be a little clearer. The continued evolution of electronic personas makes for a vigorous future. It’s been a feature of other retail environments for a long time – think Air Miles, Orange Wednesdays, Tesco Clubcard – and there’s no reason this shouldn’t extend to transport. Indeed, there are some vital reasons it should.

There are practical limits to this. Not every bus passenger is going to want a follow-up call to ask if they were satisfied with the service, or be peppered with offers of things to do at their destination. CRM will need to be proportionate, and targeted. A free daily coffee with a rail season ticket? Maybe a bus points system – with 10 qualifying journeys you can have a free journey? Building this into an existing scheme, locally or nationally, would make this easier and create opportunities for cross-brand value-building.

This hasn’t been easy in the past, but personal smartcards, mobile journey planning, operator (and local authority) pages in the social media, at-stop/at-station wireless networking, and other innovations all make it easier, cheaper, more pervasive.

On the business side of transport delivery, pricing, yield management and capacity optimisation are hot buzz-phrases – not least following the McNulty report on “Value for Money in GB Rail”, which strongly recommended greater use of economic tools for peak-spreading. Like road pricing, the issues are not technical or even economic, but political and market driven: what is it that we are trying to achieve, and what can we get away with in pushing to get there?

The challenge is how to refine existing yield management mechanisms without complicating further the ticketing structure. Regulation is an additional complication: in an open market, peak ticket prices would probably rise quite a lot, until peak demand started to be choked off, but that’s not permitted.

There are other themes that T2020 will address. All form part of the tapestry that we are working in, and each offers the potential for both evolutionary and revolutionary change. The elements are varied and complex,  but they all add up to the need for an information exchange at a period of rapidly and very exciting change! See you there!

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