The planning stage of a redevelopment is the key opportunity to look at improving queue management and customer flow – both vitally important aspects of a successful transport hub.

When train stations were first built, travelling by train was the pursuit of the wealthy. The customer demanded a certain level of grandeur and luxury in their surroundings.

Now, with millions of people passing through our stations on a daily basis, luxury and grandeur have given over to functionality, ease of crowd movement and customer satisfaction as considerations that should be at the forefront of a station planner’s mind.

Standards set by the government dictate the amount of time it should take to process a passenger, from an individual entering the station, purchasing a ticket and finally boarding their train. Station operators must make ‘reasonable endeavours’ such that nobody queues for more than five minutes during peak periods and three minutes during off-peak periods.

With rail fares increasing 20 per cent faster than wages, customers are not only expecting a more efficient and regular rail service for their money, but also a better experience within stations. This can be achieved by putting queue management, and hence greater customer satisfaction, at the heart of station planning.

Overcoming building constraints

If a customer journey specialist is involved early on in the process of a station redevelopment, they can advise on many different ways to improve queuing time. The location of ticket offices, entrances and exits, retail units, taxi ranks, toilets and information points all play a part in how people move around a station.

During a redevelopment, one of the biggest challenges faced by customer flow planners can be the building itself. Many stations are listed buildings, and as such there are constraints upon which products and systems can be installed.

Surface fixed barriers are a popular solution in transport hubs other than train stations, as they allow for clear and concise queues to be formed. However, these barriers are physically attached to floors and walls, requiring alterations to the station’s aesthetic. This is something that is very difficult to do within a listed building, often leading to alternative products being sourced. While this may seem like a stumbling block, it can open up the possibility of creating a truly flexible queue management system.

Retractable, freestanding barriers provide an adaptable queuing system for customers to follow. Since the barriers are not permanently attached to a fixture, they are flexible and allow for quick and easy alterations to the queuing system, as and when passenger numbers rise or fall.

Rail station rush hour like no other hub

In comparison to other transport hubs, railway stations experience the extremes of rush hour like no other. The volume of passengers increases dramatically at peak times, which can change in a matter of minutes. Queuing systems have to be designed so that they are easy to use and navigate when passenger numbers are low, but during busy periods must be able to cope with the sudden influx of people.

For example, peak-times should involve all ticket desks dealing with all services; they should be fed by an electronic call forward system and single line queue, which is the quickest and most efficient strategy for processing people. In contrast, during quieter periods, changing to a shorter, multi-line system, with individuals queuing for specific enquiries, reduces the average wait time as customers are able to go directly to a cashier.

The way that queuing systems are displayed and made apparent to the customer should also be considered. There is little point investing in a customer flow system if people are not aware of what they are waiting for and where the queue should begin.

Queuing system for Oyster card

Customer journey and queue management specialist Tensator recently completed a project for London Victoria station, providing a queuing system specifically designed for customers travelling with an Oyster card.

In this case, it was important to appropriately label the products so that customers did not waste time waiting for an incorrect service. Branded webbing between freestanding posts displayed the Oyster Card logo, and signs sitting on top of the posts provided specific information, ensuring only the correct customers moved through the queuing system.

By reducing waiting times and speeding up queue flow, this queue management strategy helps stations meet the all-important government targets they face.

Embracing technology

In addition to traditional methods of controlling customer flow, there are a number of new technologies and systems that can be implemented in rail stations to enhance the customer journey.

The Virtual Assistant is a projected image which uses state of the art technology to create the illusion of a real person. It is one of the most innovative and engaging digital signage products available today and is perfect for promotional, advertising and informational messaging, presenting the customer with the experience of receiving information from a live member of staff.

As the technology allows for common questions to be answered automatically, it frees up members of staff to perform other duties such as operating ticket booths, which will in turn shorten queuing times.

This technology is already found in airports across the world and we will start to see a greater number in major train stations over the next year. A Virtual Assistant would be a perfect solution to assist with passenger way-finding when a station re-opens after a refurbishment.

European attitudes to queuing

Across Europe, attitudes to queuing are different to the UK. In rail station refurbishments in Germany and France, virtual queue management systems are a common site and allow customers to wait in a dispersed queuing environment.

Within the station, customers go to a kiosk and select their service or travel destination. They are then able to wait in a seated area before being called forward to a specific cashier desk to complete their transaction. This is a far more informal strategy as customers are not forced to stand within a regimented queuing structure.

This less formal method of customer flow lends itself well to international rail travel, where customers tend to arrive with more time to spare before their departure. We may see a greater number of these queue management systems in the UK in the coming years as high-speed rail connections across the country allow for international travel.

Architects might be able to create beautiful spaces for a transport hub, but if customer movement is not efficiently managed and controlled, that hub won’t be able to fulfil its primary use – yet another reason why the customer experience should be at the heart of station design.

For more information, contact Kevin Hickson, general manager at Tensator. Visit: