I can’t quite believe we are now in June. I will be asking for a refund on the year 2020, but that’s as likely as getting a refund on my plane tickets. So, here we are, and I was delighted to be asked by our friends at Smartex to talk about what’s been happening in our industry and about how Ticketer have been helping to make life a little easier for operators at their TCF forum. Anyone who knows me will know that I love talking, so I have been given a word limit to summarise what we discussed, but I’ll probably go over that and I will get told off (as usual).
The New Normal
There are some pretty obvious things going on in the industry at the moment, bus patronage is just horrendous. We take daily/hourly anonymised views across all our operators which is pretty indicative of what’s happening nationally, and it had just dropped like a stone during lockdown. We measure regionally, by stops, and I know that at the low point, in one region, they were running at 7% of their pre-Covid passenger rates. It has come back up now and it’s running somewhere in the region of 18% – 27%. And each time Lockdown eases, so we see that rise.
Currently, and again this varies enormously, we’re seeing something like between 39% and 83% of services running as against normal. So, this gives you an idea it keeps coming back up, but the industry really is taking a hammering. And obviously the big thing there, is Social Distancing. On-Bus at the moment it’s 2 metres, I have no idea whether operator will go back down to 1 metre, and I don’t really know what it should be based on what they’re allowed to do and whether passengers will feel safe if they did knock it down. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to that, but what we do know is that right now they are running at something like 25%, so their capacity has been cut to 25% roughly of what is was previously.
Cash handling – who wants to handle cash right now? I detest handling cash normally, and if you look at the numbers of drivers who have sadly passed away over this period, it’s excessive, it’s madness. Some drivers have refused to take cash now, but it is absolutely key to me that we get rid of cash as far as we can. You’re never going to get rid of it completely because of the unbanked. I do think it’s totally wrong that they should pay higher fares, so we’ve got to look at a way to get cash off, but still let the people travel who don’t have cards.
Absolutely critical is being able to feed information about passengers, I hadn’t realised, but one of the key fears is what happens at bus stops? Passengers could be waiting at stops, but what they do not know is if there is capacity on that bus for them. So, it’s absolutely critical that we can get information back out to the operator and then to their passengers. And then finally, how do we build that safety and trust for the passenger, so they have absolute belief that when they get on that bus, they are not putting themselves at risk. You have to build the trust.
How can Smart Ticketing innovation help operators to adjust?
By expanding payment options. For example, Contactless. But you have to have the technology to deliver what the operator needs, and not the other way round. With things like EMV contactless, it’s not just a case of saying ‘I can tap’, you have got to be able to do Tap On / Tap Off for graduated fees, or you can’t do account based ticketing. Then you’d have to have retail as well, because if a family gets on they need to know that they can pay with a contactless card, so it’s absolutely critical that it’s not just a ‘let’s install contactless’ approach, it’s all the important considerations that go with it.
And it is not just EMV contactless, which is the thing of the day, it’s also QR. People love QR, mTicketing is great, but it shouldn’t just be mTicketing, so we’ve put QR codes on paper tickets and the benefit to that is that you don’t have to hand anything over, you buy your ticket, you scan it, it works.
And then we come on to Tap On / Tap Off. When we first started, we didn’t realise or expect it to be so popular, but it’s building, even more so now. It’s really important that with graduated fares, you not only charge for what has actually happened, but also as time goes on we’ll get better views on capacity from Tap on/Tap off, better views on where people get on and off and for me that’s critical when you’ve got too few buses based on the current capacities and you need to absolutely maximise on how you run those buses and for that you need information. Information is key.
Which seamlessly brings me to richer data which is getting stop by stop information. It’s allowing the operator, and the passenger, to know what is going on and to be most efficient.
But innovations shouldn’t just stop with Ticketing.
Passenger Counting, I’m really proud of this. We now know how many spaces there are on the bus. The operators set up on the Ticketer Portal what they think a safe number should be on-bus and what’s great about it is it makes it an objective measurement for the driver. They don’t have argue with the passenger and more important we can actually start putting that data out on the destination blinds, this bus is full, empty or relatively empty and there are 5 seats left. We are now feeding the Passenger Counting information through to apps, so passengers can be advised early. This mean that passengers do not need to go down to the stop if their bus is full, they are able to make a decision to wait for the next one along. This then frees up the space at the bus stop.
Road restriction alerts, originally this was designed to stop bus drivers from hitting low bridges by mistake but has since evolved. So, there is always going to be new drivers, new routes, bus types being changed – single decker to double decker – so it’s key that we are able to alert drivers when an obstruction or likewise is coming up. Anything that we can do to make the drivers job easier is better for us.
Wheelchair availability, this ties in in some ways with Passenger Counting, again keeping passengers informed is key. So, letting someone know if the wheelchair bay is available or not is extremely important.
First use checks (vehicle checks), this cuts down massively on paper use and delays in waiting for information to be downloaded into a system, as now, we have it on the ticket machine. Which means it goes straight to the back office for checks, for any maintenance required and just gives that real-time security, even for something as simple as ‘has the bus been disinfected’?
So to wrap up, I think it’s absolutely key to just do whatever we can to help bus operators run more efficiently to maximise the use of their vehicles, to let the passengers know what is going on and to make it simple.