Around the world, public transport users and operators continue to be significantly impacted by Covid-19

As with all modes of transport, much has been done in the rail industry to mitigate virus transmission risk… hand sanitisers, face coverings, mandatory seat reservations, onboard passenger counting etc.. Even so, recent research by Transport Focus (Transport Focus Survey – Travel during Covid-19: key lessons for 2021 and beyond) indicates that less than half of people who have not used public transport say they would feel safe if they made a journey.

It is clear that even when the pandemic eases, getting back to ‘normal’ for the rail industry is going to take some time. However, what does seem certain is that there will likely be a lasting legacy in ticket retailing resulting from the upheaval, including demand for more flexible fares for less frequent commuters. The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards contactless payments, and with consultation underway to increase limits to £100 for bank card and mobile transactions, this could have a significant influence on retailing.This increased limit would capture a much higher proportion of train journeys.

Paul Rogers, Sales and Marketing Director at Flowbird, a leading mobility technology partner for train operators in the UK and around the world, said that the company’s payment systems were ready to accept the higher value contactless transactions and that the effect would be to speed up ticket retailing on self-service machines.

‘These terminals continue to provide a valuable service to passengers as an on-station information point and for ticket retailing’ he said. ‘Smart ticketing continues to advance, but for many passengers they still look to self-service technology to satisfy their ticketing needs, either out of a personal preference for using cash or card or as a result of a lack of enabling technology, such as a smartphone or internet access. Self-service machines provide access to train running times, journey planning advice, simple fares navigation and, in the absence of local ticket offices in some areas, they also offer a way to communicate with staff who may be located at a different station.

‘For these reasons, these terminals remain a vital part of the fares retailing mix and are important in delivering universally accessible access to fares irrespective of how journeys are paid for – and this will continue even as smart ticketing evolves.’ The pandemic has prompted renewed interest in the remote ticket office capability of the company’s terminals, which connects passengers on the station platform remotely with customer support services, while also reducing almost all touch interfaces at self-service machines.

‘Our innovations in video-assisted retailing technology enable passengers to connect directly with customer service personnel via the terminal, perhaps to request journey planning help or to receive support up to the point of purchase via a remote desktop controlled by the advisor. Passengers then pay to complete the transaction – more so via contactless as the limits increase’ said Paul Rogers. This remote ticket office can retail tickets 24/7, wherever terminals are located and including when conventional service desks are closed, ensuring that passengers without smart phones or internet access are not disadvantaged in using public transport services. As such, Flowbird believes that self-service terminals remain a critical component in bridging the gap between conventional and digital ticketing and payment systems.

The company is involved in the digital transformation of ticket retailing across every sector of the public transport infrastructure, including in UK rail. It has successfully deployed Account Based
Ticketing and Open Payments systems around the world, bringing the vision of ‘Tap and Go’ access to transport to life for millions of people. Flowbird also continues to invest in research and development focused on customer facing hardware, ensuring that its self-service systems are entirely in step with the digital ticketing and payments revolution, for example through the digitization of cash and the top up of smart travelcards at terminals.

Its innovations in touchscreen passenger interfaces mean that terminals now mirror a tablet experience, while its powerful operating systems enable new passenger functionality to be added easily through APIs. The technology also opens up new revenue opportunities for operators, for example through tailored at terminal advertising or third-party retailing agreements. ‘It’s not just about ensuring that everyone can easily access rail services, it’s also about seeing self-service retailing as a means of meeting the needs of passengers, whether through 24/7 information, one-to-one help and advice, or terminal-based functionality that contributes to the smart ticketing revolution’ said Paul Rogers.