The importance of investing in customer journeys
First Bus Leicester and First Bus Potteries, in partnership with Ticketer and Littlepay, recently announced the implementation of one of the largest Tap On/Tap Off (TOTO) schemes outside of London. Owen Hughes, Head of Retail Development at First Bus, discusses the scheme and its role in creating a seamless customer journey.
Simplify tickets, improve customer satisfaction
Passengers are at the heart of every bus operator and everything that the industry does to get customers where they need to go every day of the week. Since the publication of the National Bus Strategy (NBS) earlier this year, everyone at First Bus has been encouraged to see the entire sector renew its focus on customer service, to encourage people to get back on buses post-pandemic.
We believe that one of the best things that we can do to encourage people to take the bus again (and to entice those who have never been regular bus users to take the bus more often) is create simple and frictionless journeys. We want to provide bus services that help people to reach their destinations in a reliable, affordable and user-friendly way.
Consistently, one of the key things that customers want is an easy, seamless way to pay for travel. As technology advances and customer behaviour changes, we have to keep innovating to meet this need and build on our existing customer technology.
In this spirit of innovation, we’ve recently worked closely with our technology partners Ticketer and Littlepay to implement new contactless payment technology that instantly simplifies the fares transaction process for customers on 92 buses in our First Leicester fleet and 105 buses in our First Bus Potteries fleet.
Bus fares go digital
The scheme is one of the largest of its kind outside of London. Called Tap On/Tap Off (TOTO), the technology allows customers to ‘Tap On’ with their contactless card when they begin their journey and ‘Tap Off’ at the end, building on the ‘Tap and Cap’ technology that we rolled out in 2019 and 2020.
So, instead of having to purchase multiple tickets or worry about whether or not they will get the best value from a daily or weekly pass, passengers are automatically charged for the travel that they undertake, with daily and weekly fare capping applied.
For many customers, this approach really simplifies bus journeys, as there is no need to pre-purchase tickets or worry about paying more than necessary.
Better boarding experience
TOTO is a more efficient way to board the bus, since drivers do not have to inspect each individual ticket. This means that people can get on the bus quicker. In turn, that helps buses to leave stops on time, even during busy periods, and helps the whole system to stay on schedule.
Improved service information
TOTO technology provides us with real-time information as passengers board and alight our buses. This information helps us to better understand customer journeys and will enable us to improve future services.
Further opportunities to solidify relationships with local authorities
In Leicester, the TOTO scheme has been rolled out in partnership with Leicester City Council and funded by the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Transforming Cities fund. In Potteries, the launch of TOTO has been recognised as an example of the Enhanced Partnership approach outlined by the NBS. Ahead of the forthcoming deadline for Bus Service Improvement Plans, ticketing is a key area of discussion with other stakeholders, so lessons learnt in Leicester and Potteries will benefit other areas in the future.
Continued investment in technology
Our sustained investment in technology to simplify the experience is having a significant impact on how our current customers transact with us and makes it much simpler for new customers. Pre-pandemic, we’d already grown digital channels (contactless, mobile app, web) to more than 50 per cent of our overall commercial revenue.
Growth in digital has accelerated through the pandemic as we’ve articulated the benefits, and we are now at 66 per cent and still growing. In some markets, digital uptake is even higher, where on-vehicle cash has now reduced to less than 20 per cent of revenue.
Contactless payments has been the biggest area of digital growth over the last 18 months, having increased from 20 per cent of revenue pre-pandemic to 36 per cent now, reflecting its ease and convenience. We made things easier still by enabling Apple Express Transit technology across our whole fleet in 2020, allowing customers to pay for travel using their iPhone without even having to unlock the device.
Rolling out capped payments has been an important part of this digital growth, with a third of our operating businesses now having launched capping. The bus industry has committed to rolling out capped payments; we’re progressing at pace, and it’s really helping to accelerate digital growth through customer ease.
Our partnerships with Littlepay and Ticketer have been instrumental in achieving all of this, and we’re continuing to work together to bring capped payments to more of our networks and are developing exciting new enhancements to make the proposition even more tailored to the travel needs of our customers, which we recognise will continue to evolve.
Although the TOTO scheme is in its early days (the technology was rolled out in June 2021 in Leicester and in Potteries in July 2021), early signs are very encouraging, as customer use is increasing in both locations.
As I alluded to in my points about the benefits of the TOTO scheme, working closely with local authorities is pivotal in improving service for customers. It is only through true partnership that real improvements can be made.
Simplifying the bus ticketing process remains a key focus for many local authorities and, as we approach the Bus Service Improvement Plan deadline, we are exploring opportunities to roll out similar schemes in other areas. Making ticketing easier is central to our plan to welcome back existing customers and encourage others to start taking the bus more often; our focus will remain firmly on providing the best service that we can to encourage people to get back on the bus.
The Tap On/Tap Off proposition makes bus journeys simpler and gives customers peace of mind, as they know that they will be charged the best value fare – whether they have taken the bus for a single journey or multiple journeys throughout the day (or week).
It is a powerful tool for us to map passenger trends and behaviour across a network but, importantly, can help to build back confidence in customers that bus travel will work for them and their wallet.
Owen Hughes joined FirstGroup in 2010 on the Graduate Training Programme. He undertook various roles within Commercial across First Bus in the North of England, Scotland and then UK-wide, where he focussed on developing the ticketing proposition for customers. In 2018, Hughes took on the role of Head of Retail Development and, since then, he’s led the team responsible for developing the First Bus customer app and defining and delivering the company’s capped fares programme.