Will Phillipson: Ticketless travel is about more than being 'ticket free'

07 March 2017

New technology in the rail industry can also help buyers with data visibility, duty of care and savings

To take a look into the future, it is always worth first examining the past. After all, you can’t know where you’re going unless you know exactly where you’ve come from - an analogy which feels particularly appropriate in this case.

So, what did business travel once look like? Such has been the scale of developments in recent years that it’s easy to forget how disjointed it was, say, 30 years ago. Even at the turn of the millennium, business travel almost anywhere in the world involved a series of separate transactions for individual parts of any single journey. In London, for instance, the Oyster card was not introduced until 2003, yet now it is a vital piece in the travel picture - the start of making seamless journeys possible. It’s now hard to remember a time when Londoners didn’t all carry and use an Oyster card as a matter of course.

But progress waits for nobody; the Oyster Card may have revolutionised the way Londoners travel but it is no longer revolutionary. It is certainly still relevant, and will continue to be so in the future, but we are already seeing the emergence of new payment methods that are changing the way we travel, for example contactless cards and mobile payments.

What we want to know is this: what comes next?

UK rail operator Chiltern Railways has recently announced that it is piloting a ticketless travel scheme where passengers will be able to use their smartphones to detect commencement of travel and Bluetooth technology to open ticket gates. These automatically charge passengers the best price for their journey. Chiltern Railway’s managing director Dave Penney says: “Customers want to travel easily with assurance that they have paid the best price; this app-based concept eliminates the need to purchase a ticket, instead using Bluetooth and geolocation tracking to determine journeys taken and charging the best value fare at the end of the day.”

Indeed, ticketless travel could revolutionise the way in which we travel for business to the same extent that Airbnb altered the hospitality industry or Uber turned the traditional taxi business upside down. When we are considering the current change of pace in tech it is also worth bearing in mind that neither of those ground-breaking firms, both now so prevalent worldwide, existed 10 years ago.

The real beauty of tickletless travel is that everyone wins. For business travel in particular it means the traveller gets more efficiency and convenience. Businesses get more value for money through the possible introduction of UK train operating companies offering weekly, monthly or annual “fare caps” for travellers across national rail journeys, in a similar way to that offered by Transport for London (TfL) with the Oyster card. At the same time, corporate travel managers can track business journeys much more effectively, enabling them to gain a better understanding of employee travel preferences while allowing them to fulfil duty of care obligations. As a result buyers will be able to generate real-world data that actually means something. It is not something that needs to be imposed on either party - there are genuine benefits across the board, so when companies are ready to press the button, there will likely be zero resistance.

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Oyster-720London's Oyster cards started the ticketless way in the UK but there's more to come

It’s about more than travelling ticketless

Firstly, let’s look at exactly what’s in this for business travellers; so often overlooked when it comes to ticket pricing. Even in this digital age there remains colossal confusion around ticket pricing and what constitutes the best deal. But the latest technology will automatically seek out the cheapest and best solution without the traveller having to do any comparisons.

There will be no more need for paper tickets (hands up if you’ve frantically searched every pocket and bag as the inspector approaches!); no need to queue at the station to buy them and an assurance that the journey is priced as efficiently as possible. And if the app is connected to a corporate credit card, there is no need to worry about the time and hassle of having to claim back the expense as this is automatically done already. This is also a huge benefit to the business from a productivity perspective, with employees spending less time on admin and more time on high value matters.

Next, let’s look at what’s in this from an organisational perspective. As businesses keep a firm eye on costs, ticketless travel is a way of guaranteeing that employees are travelling in the most value-conscious way. At the same time, the system is completely transparent - giving travel managers full visibility of total spend with particular suppliers. This transparency can drastically improve travel mangers’ ability to negotiate better rates with key suppliers, allowing the company to deliver new cost savings.

It is also worth mentioning that from a corporate perspective, travel managers inside companies will have a much clearer picture of their duty of care responsibilities – knowing exactly what journeys are being undertaken on their time. Previously this has been harder to track, as often business travel tickets are purchased and then not used by the traveller; in some organisations this can amount to as much as 14%. This can raise all kinds of duty of care concerns for travel managers, not to mention unnecessary costs to the business.

The introduction of ticketless travel enables travel managers to easily compare what travel was booked versus what was actually travelled. This type of insight makes it simpler and easier for travel managers to then negotiate processes with suppliers that could automate the repayment of untravelled tickets – generating huge cost savings for the business. That’s without mentioning the automation of ‘delay repay’ for delayed journeys, because how many business travellers actually take the time out to claim those? If it was automated they wouldn’t have to. Seamless ticketless travel like this could solve an awful lot of travel mangers challenges today.

From one mode of transport to an entire journey

We are now at a point where we have the technology and capability to piece together a much more efficient, simple and user-friendly way of getting not just from A to B but from A to Z and all points in between. Across Europe there are already some promising ticketless travel schemes in place such as Uber or Ouibus in France. However, these schemes operate in isolation across just one mode of transport whereas the future of ticketless is to incorporate complete journeys from start to finish via multiple modes of transport so that the benefits of ticketless travel can be replicated across entire journeys.

To empower travellers further, the travel booking systems of the future will also enable users to better plan their door-to-door journeys, as well as transact on them. By integrating all the different transport data sources into one in real-time, travellers will be able to read the temperature of their commute before they leave the house or even enable automated alerts. This will help them to understand the current and future hot spots, no-go areas and re-routes. Travellers will be able to get where they need to be in the best, most affordable and efficient way possible, skipping from transport type to transport type, and, for the first time ever, ‘ticket free’.

The benefit of ticketless technology is there for all to see. The real beauty lies in the all-round nature that it can bring; it is much more than simply allowing passengers to travel without a ticket. It is an end-to-end solution that delivers frictionless travel and cost savings for both customers and businesses.

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