Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
With reviews into the rail sector underway, BBT takes stock of the current state of booking practices and asks industry experts what they’d want changed
However good the main business systems are for booking rail travel, there’s no denying that the British fares system is woefully complex and the way tickets are delivered is not in tune with the 21st century traveller.
There can be literally dozens of fares for any given journey, with the cheapest costing a fraction of the dearest, depending on advance booking, time of day, route, whether you’re prepared to have more than one ticket for the same journey (split ticketing), and the availability of first class on a shrinking number of routes.
So most people have welcomed proposals by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), an umbrella organisation for train operators and infrastructure operator Network Rail, to overhaul the fares system – until they drill down into the detail.
The overhaul is not as radical as the RDG would have you believe, with train operators not bound by proposals that could take years to implement. The RDG is also promising a pay-as-you-go system into major cities to cap the price of season tickets; updating peak hour restrictions to spread demand more evenly; a mix-and-match system of one-way tickets to make it easier when plans change; and a “best fare guarantee” whenever a ticket is bought.
The RDG says: “A reformed fares system would also help make the most of technology like online accounts, smartcards and smartphones to make ticket buying simpler, so that customers are shown fares which match their needs while screening out irrelevant choices that cause confusion.”
The RDG proposals come in advance of the Williams Review, a DfT-ordered inquiry into all aspects of rail, led by former British Airways boss Keith Williams. Its report could propose radical measures for many aspects of rail, including fares and ticketing. A white paper is due to be published in the autumn following a public consultation.
[learn_more caption="Opening up industry data"] For Andrew Cantrell, IT director, Evolvi Rail Systems, one of the biggest areas of concern for rail users is the availability and accuracy of information when services are disrupted. He has welcomed the government’s Joint Rail Data Action Plan, which was published in August last year.
It explains how the government and the rail industry, including the Rail Delivery Group, Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road, and the Rail Safety and Standards Board, will “work together to improve the quality and openness of rail data”.
“The commitment in this plan demonstrates a willingness to share data that can unlock innovation among technology and ticket-issuing system providers, such as Evolvi Rail Systems,” Cantrell says.[/learn_more]
Online self-booking rail tools, such as Evolvi, Trainline and Click Travel (and also, through API links, many third parties) allow corporate travellers to bypass some of this complexity, with defaults to the lowest priced fare. The booking of two single journeys as opposed to a single return ticket has become commonplace, often making worthwhile savings.
While the RDG acknowledges that mobile ticketing will play a role in fares simplification, this is coming slowly. Online systems have been innovative, but they rely on the rail industry to put in the infrastructure to read mobile tickets, and train operators nearing the end of their franchise are unlikely to invest.
As Andrew Cantrell, IT director, Evolvi Rail Systems, notes: ”The RDG has brought forward plans that if implemented should advance fares simplification and smart ticketing, but within this detail is a requirement that any structural changes should be revenue neutral, which seems counter-intuitive if the result of simplification is greater efficiency.”
The government commitment to smart ticketing is welcome but deadlines seem to come and go with only limited progress
“Revenue neutral” could mean some travellers paying more to support any headline grabbing proposals to cut certain fares. Could the victim be the business traveller who needs flexibility and peak hour travel, by any chance?
“Our hope would be that Williams puts rail users first, including business travellers who contribute significantly to rail revenues, so that the benefits of a modern ticketing system are shared through cost reductions where possible,” Cantrell adds.
Meanwhile, the GTMC Next Generation report on younger business travellers found that 84 per cent want mobile ticketing. But few train operators currently offer e-ticketing (a ticket delivered to a mobile’s wallet that doesn’t have to be activated first) on all fares and routes, although a larger number offer m-ticketing (a barcode that can be printed out for scanning or displayed on a mobile).
David Higgins, director of Trainline for Business, says: “Increased use of mobile tickets greatly improves the experience of travelling by rail. It creates a frictionless experience for the business traveller and benefits businesses in general by reducing time spent at the station and helping to reduce the collective carbon footprint.
“The introduction of an accredited system and standardised approach to Delay Repay, fully approved by train operators, would allow our corporate partners to benefit from this scheme in the same way as leisure travellers, with the potential to save considerably on their overall travel spend.”
Evolvi’s Cantrell adds: “The government commitment to smart ticketing is welcome but deadlines seem to come and go with only limited progress. The real issue is around interoperability and while we are seeing the rapid roll-out of barcoded tickets across all operators and routes, the vision for network-wide paperless travel seems some way off.”
Intermediaries such as Evolvi and Trainline will also be able to work with mobile pay-as-you-go schemes coming in for local travel, as with an organisation called ITSO which has successfully launched its first scheme with the tram system of West Midlands Metro.
Steve Wakeland, executive chairman at ITSO, says: “Today’s business traveller wants to be able to keep their tickets all in one place, without needing to carry a physical smartcard or paper ticket. Our plans to bring mobile ticketing to the UK’s rail network will enable passengers to immediately download their tickets on to their smartphone using Google Pay, tap the phone on the ticket reader and easily access the train.”
A reformed fares system would make the most of technology like online accounts, smartcards and smartphones to make ticket buying simpler
Access all areas
One train operator that has simplified ticketing and bookability is Heathrow Express, which is about to introduce dynamic pricing along with the launch of a new website, offering lower fares at less busy times. It works with Evolvi, Trainline and, through its own website, with TMCs directly. It can be set up to offer Heathrow Express on all Heathrow air bookings.
The Heathrow Express API is used by, among others, Atriss, ClarityOne, Travelport, Amadeus, KDS, Aer Lingus, Rail Europe, Car Trawler and Mozio. It also works with airlines and their onboard wifi products so that customers can buy tickets while flying.
TMCs can also book tickets on GDS as part of Access Rail and the UK’s first railfly partnership, designed for customers travelling between Heathrow and the west of England or Wales. Participating airlines include Avianca, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Oman Air, Royal Brunei, Saudia and Singapore Airlines.
Apps deliver a lot more than tickets to customers, however. GoMedia has launched the UK rail industry’s first real-time customer information tool on TransPennine Express, using live data to update customers on the status of their journeys.
[learn_more caption="The buyer viewpoint"] What would be on a buyer’s wish list of changes to rail fares and season tickets?
Anonymous buyer, international consultancy
1. Bulk buying: Bulk buying is needed due to the price of rail tickets and the lack of discounted tickets on routes, such as Birmingham to London, and Manchester to London. We have offices in Birmingham, London and Manchester so travel between them is frequent and there is no way of buying in bulk.
2. “Use by” date: Meetings get moved at the last minute – it’s the nature of the beast! It would be great if tickets had a “use by” date rather than us getting a refund and having to purchase again – that’s a waste of time and effort for both travellers and train companies.
3. Corporate season tickets: A corporate season ticket on a defined route would be useful, so you can obtain a better price and it can be used by everyone. I buy a monthly season ticket (over £1,000) for one director, which cuts the daily travel price by more than half to £188 per journey. It needs only two journeys a week to make it cost effective, so on the other three days it could be passed to someone else.[/learn_more]
[learn_more caption="The TMC viewpoint"] In an ideal world, what would the rail booking process offer TMCs?
Chris Vince, director of operations, Click Travel
1. A simplified fares structure: This would remove the need for split ticketing, which can save a lot of money, but it’s frustrating to have to do it.
2. Mobile ticketing: This needs to be available across all train operators and fares types, as you often have an m-ticket or e-ticket available only for one operator on one journey. We need consistency, and it’s good to see it being worked on.
3. Flexibility on advance tickets: This would enable business travellers to change their route or get the next available train to the one booked if a meeting overruns. A standardisation of the off-peak rules would also help as the restrictions in and out of London vary according to routes and train operators.
Josh Collier, head of proposition – rail & ground transportation, Capita Travel and Events
1. Delay Repay: Innovation is improving but there is still some way to go for the end user to be taking full advantage of improvements. Take third party Delay Repay schemes – innovators, such as Railguard, offer a solution that has caused some train operators to decide not pay out to third parties. A customer should be able to make a decision as to where they want compensation to be returned to.
2. Fit-for-purpose digital solution: This is required for e-ticketing or m-ticketing, and should be available on all ticket types, across all operators and that is easy to use, as a “one size fits all” solution.
3. Simplified fares: Having simplified fares would avoid split ticketing. Due to the complexity behind the RDG’s fares data (which is still working from old British Rail 1980s technology!), it is time to give customers back the confidence that the best fare for their journey has been achieved.[/learn_more]
[learn_more caption="The consultant viewpoint"] Simplification, innovation and a more meaningful conversation would improve business travel by rail Nick Bamford, associate – ground/rail services, Black Box Partnerships
1. Simpler fares: We need simpler fares, but the RDG’s suggested timescale of three to five years will be disappointing to many. Some of the changes will require new technology or a rethink of franchise conditions, which won’t happen overnight. But other improvements could be delivered today and the barriers to their implementation appear more political than technical.
2. Innovation: We need to broaden and standardise the benefits of innovation. Train operators have made significant improvements, but most of these have been implemented by individual companies rather than at an industry level. This can lead to confusion and annoyance when valued product benefits aren’t available across all services, so let’s see the industry collaborate.
3. More conversations: We must start a meaningful conversation around business rail travel, which accounts for nearly 10 per cent of total rail spend, although it’s estimated that only 50 per cent of it goes through TMCs. Yet the needs of business travellers are poorly understood and conversations between stakeholders (train operators, TMCs, the RDG and technology providers) often create more heat than light.
If we want to make the most of the significant opportunities provided by, for example, fares reform and innovation, then we need to find a new, common agenda that drives the conversation forward.[/learn_more]