Commuters, Tourists and the Future of Mobility in UK Rail

When it comes to passenger rail transport, what passengers want more than anything is to have a good overall travel experience – getting to the station and arriving at the destination on time. But today’s commuters, visitors and tourists increasingly expect travel and transport operators to go beyond on-time service and proactively make the journey a more convenient and less stressful experience.

In recent years, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) has embarked on the biggest rail modernisation program in its history. Network Rail, owner and manager of the UK’s rail infrastructure, is also leading an ambitious initiative called Digital Railway to adapt the world’s oldest rail system to a digital environment. But the UK rail sector will need similar investments in mobile solutions on the passenger side to round out its vision for a digital railway, and to prepare for long-term trends such as ‘mobility as a service’ (MaaS) and cashless payments.

The Future of UK Rail Service

As mobile technology makes it easier for passengers to travel more frequently and dynamically plan journeys, UK rail operators are revisiting their mobile strategies to consider adding new capabilities for the evolving expectations of mobile users. The goal is not just to sell passes and tickets but to “sell” rail itself as being modern, affordable, efficient and responsive to customer wants, needs and technology preferences.

The public perception of rail travel has turned increasingly negative due to increasing fares, peak time overcrowding, constant delays and breakdowns, and overall frustration with quality of service or mismanagement. “Perceived value” remains a top priority in the UK where passengers endure the highest fares and longest commute times in Europe. According to the Trades Union Congress, workers traveling from Chelmsford to London in 2018 will pay 13% of their salary for a monthly season ticket, compared to 2% for a comparable commute in France, 3% in Italy, 4% in Germany and 5% in Spain and Belgium.

Today’s changing work patterns represent both an opportunity and a threat to the industry. A study on flexible working undertaken by Timewise last year revealed that almost nine in ten adult workers in the UK either currently work flexibly or aspire to do so, and Millennials in particular are increasingly deciding whether to travel at all for work rather than how to travel. Yet regulated fares such as season tickets have been increasing faster than wage inflation, indicating that the industry may not truly understand the price elasticity in the commuter sector.

With new technology on the passenger side, including support for mobility-as-a-service, operators can get passengers to travel outside of peak periods through real-time discounts, rewards and other incentives. This would help to ease congestion, optimise existing rail capacity and make UK rail a world-class example of passenger transport in an age of mobile devices.

Mobility as a Service and the UK Rail Sector

Most UK rail passengers are mobile users. They regularly consume travel products and services on-the-go, even if they are only in the research phase (checking train time tables, for example). They increasingly expect a mobile-first experience across all commercial relationships, including their relationships with travel and transport operators.

With the growth of mobile commerce for travel bookings, more UK rail operators are interested in purchasing or upgrading mobile solutions for booking, ticketing and payment systems. About a third of UK rail income comes from passenger ticket sales. In a related industry, consider how airlines have successfully demonstrated (through fare unbundling) that there is significant opportunity for ancillary revenue on every booking.

With the shift to mobile commerce, operators across the travel sector have been able to increase bookings, cut operating costs, streamline ticketing and boarding and introduce new revenue streams. Mobile commerce can achieve the same results for UK rail. CellPoint Mobile provides rail operators with flexible solutions for both ticketing and payment, can link our services to their existing services and use our added services as building blocks to a total solution – or even use our full portfolio of mobile solutions for ticketing and payments.

For more insight and analysis into the UK rail sector, download our report “UK Rail 2019: Mobile-First Revenue Generation for Passenger Transport and the Future of Mobility.”