Jean-Guy Ravel, Strategy Director at Thales, explains how the rail industry can react to post-Covid expectations to rebuild ticketing


The idea of an early-morning commute to work may currently feel like a distant memory for many of us, but with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout now in full swing, the rail industry is looking ahead to the eventual return of daily travellers. However, passengers and providers will be under no illusions – the pandemic has accelerated the rate of change in the sector and will bring it forward by several years.

Processes have already undergone significant change in the last two decades, with digital transformation driving forward the way tickets are bought, distributed and used. These consumer and industry trends are set to take another leap forward as seamless, contactless solutions become more important than ever and passenger expectations dramatically shift. Based on Thales’s experience around the world, this is what we anticipate.


Understanding new priorities

The pandemic will have lasting effects; offices will gradually start to reopen, but it is likely that a large proportion of the population will continue to work from home, even if for a few days a week.

More flexible working patterns mean consumers will be looking for flexibility when it comes to their tickets. The idea of season tickets will become dated if they are not adjusted to accommodate new working schedules. Mix and match tickets may present a more valuable option to customers, where they can purchase a certain number of journeys within an agreed timeframe. More flexible tariff options are likely to be widely coveted too. Account-based systems like Thales’ TRANSCITY mobility platform will be key to this, leveraging features like pay-as-you-go, best-fares or daily fare capping.

The concept of peak and off-peak will also be under greater scrutiny than before and could well be re-defined by new travel patterns and customer feedback. Whilst smart ticket and fare decision-making systems may previously have been lagging behind in rail’s digital transformation, they will now be a key priority for businesses if they want to help travellers easily make competitive decisions on which ticket best suits their journey.

It will take time for the industry to understand what travellers’ new habits are and the permanence of their change. Yet, the initial transition back to regular travel will merely be the start of reform, and ticketing decisions will undoubtedly continue to change as rail passengers settle into new routines.

Championing the contactless takeover

Of course, it is not just our day-to-day travel habits that have changed over the course of the last year. A survey of 2,000 UK adults by Citron Hygiene showed that we are washing our hands more, using more hand sanitiser and are more cautious about using toilets outside of our own home. These findings are not exactly surprising, but it’s important to consider how our attitudes towards health and hygiene might have changed for the foreseeable future.

The transition to touchless solutions in the travel industry, but also across banking, retail, and wider society, was already firmly underway prior to the pandemic. Transit smartcards have been popular in cities, regions and even across nations for the last two decades, while the use of contactless credit and debit cards has been growing significantly in the last ten years.

Even so, contactless capabilities are one of many aspects of societal digital transformation which has been accelerated by the necessary adjustments made in the last twelve months. In fact, data from Barclaycard revealed how almost nine in ten card payments in 2020 were contactless. With heightened awareness as to the public health impact of touching shared surfaces, there will likely be a greater demand for further implementation of contactless solutions wherever possible.

Aside from allaying persisting hygiene fears, these solutions provide other benefits for travel. This includes greater passenger convenience; whereby contactless solutions may well eliminate the need to queue at a ticket machine or ticket office. It will also help passengers plan ahead and streamline their journeys. For transport providers, one of the key benefits of contactless lies in the fact that it enhances security by reducing cash management costs and lowering cash handling risks.


Uniform solutions for the whole country

A dramatic shift in consumer demands combined with a rapidly changing transport landscape means that tickets of tomorrow will no longer need to get people from station to station, but from their front door to their destination, domestically or abroad. Built in the right way, smart ticketing can offer seamless travel through different modes of transport and could eventually incorporate all mobility offerings into an integrated portfolio, from High-Speed Rail and the underground, through to micro-mobility, on-demand car and bike sharing.

Research shows the shift to remote working has accelerated migration from London and other cities, and new infrastructure like Crossrail and HS2 will create greater need for integration between wider transport networks.

There are plenty of uniform multi-modal system examples to follow. In the Netherlands, Thales helped support the Dutch Ministry of Transports to shift from paper tickets to contactless cards and use it as an opportunity to develop uniform mobility. Today, the OV-chipkaart card has transformed how people use public transport in the Netherlands, enabling seamless journeys across bus, metro, tram, and train services anywhere in the country. There are 9.5 million cards in circulation. Solutions like these are likely to be wholly smartphone-focused going forward, with the trend of dematerialisation steadily accelerating, but the Dutch solution demonstrates a great example of what is possible for seamless multi-modal systems.

Like so many other industries, rail and travel will have to work hard to understand new behaviours and what customers will be looking for after lockdown. UK providers will be able to achieve this by integrating smarter ticketing systems and leveraging data to extract consumer behaviours in real-time, similar to what is already happening in Dubai with the Roads and Transport Authority’s Enterprise Command and Control Centre. This level of insight and analysis has benefits far beyond more streamlined passenger experiences, whether that’s supporting emergency services, planning for events, or managing overcrowding.

As the world emerges from Covid-19 and enters a new age of living and working, improved user experience and uniform, multi-modal solutions can play a pivotal role in the recovery of the transport sector and getting the country back on the move.


Jean-Guy Ravel, Strategy Director at Thales