A smarter approach to bus travel

Posted: 16 October 2016 | | No comments yet

It seems that all aspects of life in the modern world are becoming ‘smarter’ and public transport is no different. Today’s consumer wants their plans to be researched, decided upon, paid for and confirmed at the touch of a button – usually on a smartphone or tablet and often while they are on the move – and this includes their travel plans. In this article Alistair Smith, Stagecoach Group Director of Commercial and IT, explains how the UK bus industry is attempting to tackle the ever-increasing demands of passengers and even surpass their expectations.

Our challenge in the public transport industry is to deliver the technology and simplicity of travel that our customers increasingly anticipate and to keep up with their ever-changing requirements as much as possible. 

Joining forces with experts

Stagecoach, and the wider UK Bus industry, is working hard to achieve this, by joining forces with experts in the development of digital tools for consumers. We believe the right approach is to offer customers a choice of payment options, giving them ownership of that decision and making bus travel more convenient for all.

At Stagecoach we were the first bus operator in the country to equip our entire fleet of vehicles with smart ticket readers and to accept concessionary smart transactions across the board. Since then we have also launched our own commercial ticketing system – ‘StagecoachSmart’ – at all of our regional bus companies across the UK.

There are now more than 350 million smart transactions made on our bus services across the UK outside London every year – representing the largest smartcard scheme outside the capital.

The introduction of StagecoachSmart also allowed us to offer customers the ability to pay for their bus travel through automatic monthly payments, which has proved popular. In fact, all of our Megarider tickets are now only available via our smartcard and are no longer fulfilled on paper tickets.

Given that our own ticketing scheme involves government-standard ITSO technology, we are able to join forces with other operators and other modes of transport to deliver an even more integrated public transport network for customers.

Benefiting approximately 15 million people

In the past 18 months Stagecoach has helped deliver multi-operator smart ticketing in all of England’s city regions, benefiting approximately 15 million people, as part of an industry-led project, involving all of the country’s major bus operators and many smaller companies too.

The project – which involved closer collaboration between bus operators as well as liaising with local authorities – means that customers now benefit from seamless, good-value travel via any operator, using one smartcard in all of the country’s city regions outside London.

Schemes underway in Scotland

Work is also underway on a similar scheme in Scotland, with multi-operator ticketing recently introduced in Aberdeen and Dundee, with further projects underway. As well as these city schemes, Scotland’s major bus operators are also supporting the introduction of a single standard e-purse; a Scotland-wide ‘Saltire Card’ scheme that is being developed and delivered by Transport Scotland and which will enable customers to top-up their smartcards with funds – similar to the way an Oyster card works in London. The major Scottish bus operators will cooperate to enable these smartcards to be accepted on all their buses. In the future this will allow end-to-end journeys across Scotland to be completed on the various transport modes.

The country’s major bus operators are also working on an ambitious scheme that could see contactless travel introduced on every one of the UK’s +32,000 buses outside London by 2022. Work is on-going to investigate the business case around this project and to formulate next steps.

A number of years ago we were the first bus operator to trial contactless technology on our vehicles in Merseyside. While the idea of contactless payments was still very new at that time – and had not been widely adopted – the two-year trial proved that the technology could work for bus operators and customers. We are now working to roll-out contactless technology across our UK Bus fleet.  

All of our buses in London also accept contactless payments and it is fast becoming one of the most popular payment methods with consumers across the country. Research shows that UK shoppers made more than one billion contactless purchases on credit and debit cards in 2015, and used the technology for almost one in eight of all card transactions in December.

Developing our online platform

Another area where technology has developed quickly is our online platform – we recently introduced an entirely new version of our website, which has been designed from the bottom up with input from passengers and built entirely around the key features they have told us they want.

As a result, we have delivered a fully mobilised site, simple journey planning information, live running times and an easy-to-use e-shop that allows people to compare prices and purchase a range of tickets to be stored on their smartcards.

Earlier this year our Oxford Tube product, which is Europe’s most frequent express coach service, introduced a mobile phone app that lets customers buy tickets for travel direct from their smartphone.

Stagecoach was the first bus operator in the UK to equip its entire fleet with smart ticket readers

Oxford Tube Mobile Tickets

The ‘Oxford Tube Mobile Tickets’ app represented the first delivery of mobile ticketing within our UK Bus division. Passengers can purchase their travel securely through Apple Pay, PayPal and credit or debit card. They can then activate their ticket prior to travel and simply show it on their mobile phone to the driver.

A range of Oxford Tube tickets are available through the new app including single;same day return; period return; seven day period pass; 12-trip ticket and Nightrider ticket.

Following on from that, Stagecoach has now launched a new UK Bus app, which is available free-of-charge for Apple and Android mobile phones and offers a range of additional customer benefits to make travelling by bus even easier.

Through the app, for example, we are offering mobile ticketing on our local bus services for the first time, allowing customers to pay for their travel using their smartphone. The move provides an additional payment option for customers alongside existing smart ticketing and cash payments.

Mobile ticketing, offering Dayrider tickets, is now live across our Manchester and Wigan business and will be rolled-out across all of Stagecoach’s regional companies in the coming months. Payments via the app can be made by PayPal, or via debit or credit card.

The app is not all about being smart on ticketing, though – it has a range of other smart features

It offers a simple journey planning tool that helps customers identify their nearest bus stop and the most suitable bus service for their journey requirements, including information on journey length and available fare options.

Passengers can also access live running times via their smartphone to check the status of their journey before catching the bus.

In addition, the app enables customers to pinpoint their location during their journey, helping them determine which stop is most appropriate for them; where they are on the route at any one time; and how far they are from their destination. This will be of particular benefit to people who are not regular bus users, or those who may be visiting a new location and are unsure of the route the bus will take.

It is now possible for passengers to research and plan their journey, buy tickets and get journey information all by using their phone. When you think back to as little as five years ago, that was simply not possible. The bus industry – while admittedly still behind other industries in terms of technology – has come a long way in utilising the new tools that are available, to help make life easier for customers.

In Cambridge we are also continuing to trial Near-Field Communication (NFC) mobile phone technology with a view to potentially providing yet another payment option for passengers.

There is no doubt that the future holds further developments in this area

At Stagecoach we are already looking ahead towards prospective plans even while our current projects are being finalised. In 2015 we set up Stagecoach Digital, which brings in new skills and expertise from other industries to support our ever-growing digital agenda and drive further innovation to our customers.

Like many others, the bus industry is modernising. In addition to smart ticketing it is delivering a range of new benefits for customers, including on-board Wi-Fi, leather seats, charging points and the use of social media to engage with customers and provide service information.

Being smart across all areas of our business – including ticketing – will be key to our success going forward.

Prior to joining Stagecoach, Alistair Smith was Head of IT for United Distillers, UK (a division of Guinness) focused on retail and marketing. He is also a former Head of IT for East of Scotland Water. Alistair joined Stagecoach in 1999, becoming Group IT Director in May 2000. He built a cost-effective IT function to support the Group as it operated in the UK and overseas markets in Hong Kong, Sweden, New Zealand and North America. In 2012 he was appointed to the role of Stagecoach Group Director of Commercial and IT and has led many technology developments including the roll-out of Stagecoach’s commercial smart ticketing scheme; the delivery of multi-operator smart ticketing in England and parts of Scotland; the launch of a transformational new Stagecoach UK Bus website and app; and the delivery of real-time information for Stagecoach customers across the UK.