Part of the frustration some passengers still experience comes from feeling stuck on one particular route or service, whether bus, train, tube or tram. Yet advances in smart, integrated ticketing and real-time travel information are making it increasingly simple to hop, hassle-free, from one mode of transport to another.
The concept of intelligent mobility means new technology and improved data-sharing are placing customers at the heart of a more efficient transport system.
The people running some of the UK’s biggest public transport bodies believe digital innovation can be harnessed to offer passengers greater control and flexibility, giving them the chance to make quicker and easier journeys.
In London, Oyster cards have played a central role in helping Transport for London (TfL) adjust to increased passenger numbers - Oyster has proved pivotal in integrating London Underground, London’s buses and national rail services within the capital. And contactless payments on touch-and-go readers has made moving around the megacity even more straightforward.
Shashi Verma, TfL’s chief technology officer and director of customer experience, can recall the pre-Oyster days when lengthy queues at tube and train stations were the norm, as customers waited to buy a ticket for the next leg of their journey.
“It’s been a runaway success,” Verma says. “We now have a multi-modal system in London. Some of that has been building the infrastructure and increasing the frequency of service, but Oyster has been a big part of it. The other is the availability of consistent, real-time information that cuts across all modes of transport.”
One of the big challenges for TfL is ensuring Crossrail, the ambitious new rail line set to run through the centre of London, is connected with Oyster and contactless. Verma says TfL is committed to making Crossrail part of “the seamless user experience people expect of us.”
In Manchester, the large number of independent transport operators in and around the city has made integrated ticketing a huge challenge. Yet Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is embracing the use of smart technologies.
A new “get me there” smartcard is being rolled out on the Metrolink tram system this summer. By making the system cooperate with the pre-existing bus smartcard, TfGM aims to make moving between trams and buses painlessly smooth. The get me there app also allows passengers to pay via their smartphone.
“We see intelligent mobility as a way of making the system as simple as possible, taking the hassle out of considering timetables and which ticket to buy,” explains Simon Warburton, transport strategy director at TfGM. “We want to be able to extend people’s travel horizons and opportunities.”
Warburton mentions the growing graduate populations in suburban areas such as Chorlton and Didsbury who use the Metrolink trams to travel into Manchester city centre before getting around on buses. “The new technology we’re adopting has made Metrolink feel very relevant to a new generation of commuters,” he says. “But a single ticketing system across the whole urban area would make things even more seamless. That’s where we want to get to.”
Like TfGM, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) has also been busy expanding its smart ticketing offer. The Swift smartcard can now be used on buses, Midland Metro trams, and various rail services in the region.
Laura Shoaf, managing director of TfWM, says smart ticketing and an upgraded interchange at Birmingham New Street station have encouraged more suburban train commuters coming into Birmingham to switch over to trams if they need to get around the city centre.
“If people don’t have to stop and get new tickets and bits of money out, then they no longer feel they’re restricted to one kind of transport,” Shoaf explains. The next step, she says, is trying to get private operators to agree to a daily cap on fares across the Swift system, like TfL has put in place for Oyster users.
TfWM is also part of a bold experiment to introduce mobility-as-a-service to the region. The idea is to treat transport as a subscription service, giving customers the chance to combine a bundle of options each month in the same way they might pick and choose on-demand TV services.
TfWM has partnered with MaaS Global to trial a new app with 500 passengers in the West Midlands, allowing them to select and pay for the amount of bus, tram, train, cycle, taxi journeys or car hires they require. “If we can connect public transport with taxi and car hire use, it might convince more people that they don’t necessarily need to own a car,” says Shoaf.