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This week members of our Integrated and Smart Travel (IST) programme team travelled down South to attend the Transport Ticketing Global Conference 2020 to find out more about smart transport projects around the world and share the latest update on how we plan to improve public transport for passengers across the North.
The conference – which brings together tech suppliers, transport operators, local authorities and other leading thinkers from the smart transit industry – was opened by the newly appointed Future of Transport Minister, George Freeman MP. Setting the tone for the event, he made clear the UK government’s commitment to rolling out ‘end–to–end ticketing solutions across the country’ and the need to do this quickly.
George talked about the huge opportunities for digitalisation and integrated pay–as–you–go travel promised by the upcoming Williams Rail Review, as well as wider bus reform. Excitingly for us he also made clear the Department for Transport’s (DfT) determination to partner with the North and TfN to deliver seamless smart ticketing across our region.
With the day coinciding with the launch of the DfT’s Bus Open Data Service, the Minister took the opportunity to talk about big data’s important role in smart travel. Speaking enthusiastically about the potential of this approach, he described how ‘data is the new oil’ and suggested that the rise of journey planning apps like Citymapper show the power of open data. With IST’s own open data initiatives in the work, it was great to hear how our regional strategy is being complimented on a national level.
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) was, of course, a common theme throughout the conference, but speakers attempted to look past the ‘buzzword’ to explore its real-world application and the industry’s progress in turning it from a concept into reality.
Visa presented on how account-based ticketing can be an enabler for MaaS. Head of Delivery for Global Urban Mobility, Ana Reiley, made clear that contactless EMV payments have grown beyond all expectations and become the norm around the world. Contactless payment on transport has many benefits, but primarily customers trust it and enjoy the convenience. Ana suggested MaaS must be customer centred and therefore having contactless payments as part of any such platform makes sense. With contactless account-based ticketing still very much a central part of our vision for travel in the North it was great to have it reaffirmed that our approach is right if we want to lay the foundations for future innovations in mobility.
At Transport for the North we often say we want planning a journey on public transport to be easy as ordering a taxi, so it was fascinating to hear how Uber themselves are doing just that over in America. Working with Denver’s Regional Transport District (RTD) they have incorporated the ability to purchase bus and rail tickets into their app. It’s brilliant to see a transport authority working collaboratively with one of the biggest and most successful global tech disruptors to enhance the local public transport offer, but undoubtedly this has been made easier by the fact that RTD are responsible for operating their own network.
Sticking with the steps being taken to progress towards MaaS, it was great to hear from our partner authority Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) on the delivery of contactless, pay–as–you–go ticketing on their local Metrolink network. Sharing the reasons behind the successful rollout, TfGM’s Head of Smart Ticketing Malcolm Lowe explained that they had taken inspiration from the FAANG approach – i.e. looking at how tech giants like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google successfully deploy improvements and maintenance with minimal disruptions to the service user. Impressing TfGM’s need to make sure the system worked perfectly, Malcolm discussed how they deployed a ‘chaos monkey’ to fully test everything – and attempt to break the system – before go-live! We will keep a lookout for it next time we have a meeting at their office…
Big data was back on the agenda for day two with a specific session that explored the challenges and opportunities it presents, as well as a look at initiatives that are harnessing it to improve local transport offers.
Siemens Mobility – who provide data-driven public transport applications around the world – spoke about the valuable insights this data can provide. Particularly interesting was data that can show how far public transport passengers are likely to walk to cover the first and last leg of their journey before deciding it is easier just to jump in the car. With the challenge of climate change and need to promote public transport over private car ownership as a more sustainable model of travel, this can be invaluable information for authorities who are tasked with planning networks and deciding where to deploy ‘demand responsive transport’ offers.
Rail Delivery Group (RDG) shared more about the value of the data being created by their smart ticketing initiatives, including the national rollout of barcode tickets and smartcards. At Transport for the North we are already working with RDG to use this data to track the success of IST Phase 1 – the rollout of smartcard seasons tickets across Northern and TransPennine networks. However, with the Williams Review continuing to loom large, RDG also suggested how this data can be used to help inform fares reform and other decisions relating to future improvement of rail services.
In the afternoon, IST took centre stage. Speaking to a packed crowd, our Business Design Lead Alison Pilling provided a programme update and lessons learnt from our experiences of delivering smart projects in the North. As well as talking about the great uptake of smartcard season tickets and the positive progress in the delivery of our open data initiatives, she was honest about some of the struggles we have faced in delivering a pan-Northern account-based ticketing system similar to that already enjoyed by Londoners.
But it was not a story of giving up. Posing the question to suppliers in the room, Alison asked them to consider how technology can adapt to different policy and regulatory environments to make implementation easier. We were then also able to share our early thoughts on a revised delivery model for account-based travel in the North and the next steps for our programme. Phase 3 will continue to focus on delivering contactless pay as you go travel but just on rail initially. Meanwhile, we will also look to work with our local transport authority partners to deliver localised smart schemes – across multiple modes and operators – that build towards our original smart ticketing vision for passengers in the North. We look forward to sharing more details soon.