Five steps to a successful transition to digital ticketing in transport

Posted on: December 22, 2017 by David Hinshelwood Bové

Moving to a digital ticketing transport system is a no-brainer. In this ultra-connected world, it’s what people expect. For the customer (the rider) it is faster, easier, simpler and should be completely effortless (my thoughts are my kids, my next promotion, my customer, not where my ticket is or what train the ticket is valid for). For the operator, if done right, digital ticketing will increase revenue, create brand value and free up employees to focus on the rider’s travel experience rather than managing ticket sales. For the Government, it will be a key driver for regional economic growth and reduction in congestion.

It is also, technically speaking, possible and easy to do. You need the vision to ensure you’re not putting in a solution that will be obsolete with the next wave of technical advances and the hardware changes can be costly and, of course, need to be properly managed. But the technology is available and ready to go.

Perhaps the hardest part is managing the roll out to the public and the riders’ changing journey. Transitions can succeed or fail based on the rider. There is high actual and political cost to such a failure.

So, having developed and implemented digital ticketing across the world, we have devised our top tips for a successful roll out of new digital ticketing solutions:

  • Effortless: make sure you deliver the effortless option for your riders. You need to be clear in your mind that people will choose the path of least resistance so how do you make sure that your smart solution is the effortless decision. Schemes such as Oyster, the additional card needed for travel in London launched in 2003, were revolutionary in their time but are now old. People should be able to use their contactless card, mobile phone, watch or other device they will be carrying anyway. If you devise a system with a software solution that is out-of-date by the time you roll it out or cannot be updated for the latest wave of technology advances, it won’t work. You’ll have expensive hardware you will eventually need to replace.
  • Nudge: Change is undesirable to most people so you need to nudge your existing riders and the public to switch. The stick approach is a tempting idea “I’m turning off cash” or “I’m turning off physical smart cards” but we have seen the unintended consequences of such an approach first hand. It’s not pretty. We’d recommend combining simplicity with using some very basic behavioural economics to encourage your riders to make the switch in the first place. London was a great example of this – contactless fares were slightly cheaper than cash fares and fare capping was introduced. Once they have made the switch, they won’t go back.
  • Marketing: Invest in a good marketing plan to communicate the change, the benefits and the excitement of a change to the transport system. It would be a mistake to think that marketing is a “nice to have” rather than a vital part of moving to digital ticketing. It is absolutely vital and as much effort should go into managing this as managing the technical and structural changes needed.
  • Don’t forget your own workforce: Your people are the “front of house”. They need to know and understand the changes and also be prepared for how their role will change as a consequence. The change can mean more diverse and interesting roles but unless you manage this properly and explain it and bring your workforce with you, you will miss a vital ingredient to success.
  • Roll out: Do not rush the roll out of a new solution. Have pilots that are closely monitored, look at customer behavior and even undertake research into opinions on the change. Give yourself time to refine and smooth the transition. Any tweaks need to be ironed out before full roll-out or you will lose confidence of customers, delay their participation and be faced with a barrage of negative media and politics. In Buenos Aires we were working with a number of different partners delivering different aspects of the transport system. We agreed to begin roll-out on a new fleet of buses that were being built before moving onto retrofit older buses. This way we could test the solution in a safe and efficient way.

In short, whilst it is easier to think of a transition of this kind to be based on technology solutions, the reality is that it is as much about people – your riders, your potential riders, your customers and your workforce and bringing everyone on the journey with you.

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About David Hinshelwood Bové
Business Development Director, Digital Transport
David has 15 years’ experience working in the Public and Transport sectors both in the UK and Globally. He has worked in technical, delivery, operations and account management roles. David is focused on digital transport with a keen interest in Smart Ticketing.