Putting passengers at the core of public transport businesses

Back at Transport Ticketing Global 2020, Intelligent Transport’s Luke Antoniou caught up with Enrique Fernandez-Pino, Group CIO at Go-Ahead, to discover how the organisation is progressing by keeping the customer at the very centre of its business, not by hyping new technologies.

Putting passengers at the core of public transport businesses

Could you tell us what Go-Ahead is working on at the moment and how it affects your passengers and business?

We’re obsessed with the customer. Of course, everyone says this, but in our case, we can demonstrate this by the projects that we are delivering or have delivered.

What our customers want at the moment is contactless technology. At some point Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) may well become the mainstream, but today our passengers are most familiar with the simplicity of contactless. We offer contactless payment across all our bus services but we’re now going further with capped pay as you go, such as we see in London. For example, Brighton has a very young population who often travel to London and are used to a tap-on, tap-off system.

Often solutions are thought up by technologists, but it’s when we combine ideas from the customer and technologists together that innovation truly occurs

We’ve implemented a tap-on, tap-off contactless solution on our Brighton buses, for all around Brighton to Crawley, to Eastbourne and across the South Downs. Another 3,000 buses to roll out capped contactless on! It’s proving incredibly popular; in our first week we had 20-30 per cent adoption and I’m sure this is because our customers appreciate the simplicity. It goes to show that listening to your customers is as big a part of a public transport company’s progression as anything else.

We are also promoting our mobile app because QR codes are another incredibly simple way to approach contactless ticketing, and once again, we’ve seen good adoption levels. Passengers buy the ticket on their smartphone, present it to the machine and it reads it – it couldn’t be much simpler.

Do you think we’ll ultimately see the removal of physical media altogether from ticketing and fare collection?

I’m sure that we will. At the moment, however, the problem is that although technically it can be done, there is a tendency to forget the human side. Take autonomous vehicles, for instance. The technology is there, yet the legislation, the culture, the implementation, the resistance, the unions – we have all of these things which still need considering. There will always be a need for humans to be involved in helping and assisting customers, even if the nature of colleagues’ roles changes over time. Typically, these are the challenges that take the longest for us to solve rather than the development of the relevant technology.

What are your thoughts on payments and their role in MaaS? To what extent do you believe integration across transport modes and networks is possible?

I am not against MaaS, but I am against being completely distracted by the concept of it as transport’s holy grail. Although the service may work in some places, there will be others where circumstances mean it simply can’t. I’m sure that in the middle of a city such as Manchester, for instance, it’s possible to run programmes that include taxis, buses, trains and scooters. Elsewhere, in places where there are no shared bikes and the taxi drivers are more likely to be single operators instead of Uber drivers, that kind of integration is very unlikely.

We need to be truly aware of what the customer wants, and then do what the customer wants, as opposed to pretending that MaaS is the solution to all ills, because it may not be.
One of the goals of MaaS is to bring all services together, but, so far, it has only been able to do that within a specific region or within a certain city. MaaS works on an individual basis, place by place

At some point Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) may well become the mainstream, but today our passengers are most familiar with the simplicity of contactless

I can imagine passengers wanting to have an easy way to make an end-to-end kind trip, but that already exists – it’s called a season ticket! To travel to the office, I need to take a train and I need to take the Tube – I don’t need to add any more complexity. It’s great to have an app that tells me when trains are due and whether they’re on time, but we already have that. When I travel between cities, I tend to plan it using local services – that’s as much as I need.

Admittedly, there are cities whose circumstances would welcome a MaaS type solution. I believe that it works in Helsinki, for instance, but Helsinki has a very special geography because of the shape of the city and other specific factors as to why it works. The industry has to remember that every city, every region, while facing similar challenges, each has its own intricacies. There will never be one solution that works for all.

I live in Norfolk and I work in London. The needs between those two areas could not be more different. It’s a completely different way of travelling. In London, I’m sure that TfL could make it work with individual taxi operators, but are they really going to negotiate 15,000 plus deals with taxi drivers and then apportion income?

From a public transport perspective, how does Go-Ahead deal with the complexity of the marketplace and find its place within it?

Very simply by always doing what the customer wants. If our customers want contactless then that’s what we’re going to do.

There is a danger of operators being distracted away from collaborative schemes, more interoperable schemes, more point-to-point places. Often solutions are thought up by technologists, but it’s when we combine ideas from the customer and technologists together that innovation truly occurs.

One example of this type of collaboration is in Brighton, where we not only do tap on, tap off, but we also manage a service for two small operators who could not afford a smartcard system. It’s not a commercial thing for us, it is something we do because it is right for our customers.

How do you balance passenger needs with commercial benefits?

I think we all have the aspiration to do the right thing for our customers, we just need to find ways to do it. For instance, we have several cities with interoperable schemes with other operators for smartcards.

If our customers want contactless then that’s what we’re going to do

We now have a technical pilot up and running. This is being run in the lab, not on buses, but works to make contactless interoperable between Go-Ahead, First Group, Arriva, and another small operator, with the potential to implement it into real operation. As Go-Ahead, we are leading the project because we believe that it is the right thing to do. At some point we’ll need to trial it for real, but we’ve proven that you can tap on and tap off, and the back office can re-charge based on the necessary requirements.

Let’s not forget that only five per cent of the transactions in the UK are interoperable. The other 95 per cent are single operator. We need to find ways to deal with the five per cent of the population without compromising the 95 per cent that use it daily on a single operator mode. A solution covering all scenarios for all companies in all places, may simply be too big to work.
In the short term, we need to invest in contactless; that is an increasingly universal protocol. Why would you use a complicated protocol that only works in the UK and only under certain circumstances? Now we have universal protocols, like EMV, and we need to make the most of them. We need to come up with more interoperable schemes and look at areas where we can make customer travel easier.


Enrique Fernandez-Pino is a highly motivated Transformation and Technology Director with a focus on innovation, development of strategy, digital re-design, and large-scale programme delivery. Although he started his career as a lawyer, he discovered that business change and transformation suited his skills better. He has been Group CIO at The Go-Ahead Group since 2014. Before that he worked for both Tesco and Marks & Spencer as a change agent, delivering high profile projects in Retail. Enrique is also Chairman of On Track Retail Ltd, the second largest eCommerce ticketing company in Rail UK by volume.

One response to “Putting passengers at the core of public transport businesses”

  1. Kris Beuret says:

    Contactless payment clearly essential but needs to be allied to other ‘offers’ – such as discounts, rewards, etc. The bus system in Brighton and Hove is such a good example of how to motivate people. I was on the bus last month and heard an announcement congratulating me on making a good environmental choice. This is great use of behavioural science and ‘nudging’ insights.

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