Sig­nals

Mixed

The Business Travel Magazine - - The Review -

Bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity on the move and wider de­ploy­ment of mo­bile tick­et­ing are top of many busi­ness trav­ellers’ lists of the im­prove­ments needed when trav­el­ling by rail.

But of course they also want to see train op­er­a­tors get the ba­sics right – punc­tu­al­ity, and be­ing able to get a seat which­ever class they are trav­el­ling in. Here there is of­ten a sharp di­ver­gence be­tween in­ter-city op­er­a­tors, which gen­er­ally pro­vide a good ser­vice, and com­muter op­er­a­tors whose over-con­gested trains are a daily grind at an ever in­creas­ing cost.

The huge amount of in­vest­ment go­ing into the rail net­work should en­able more op­er­a­tors to get the ba­sics right, with new fran­chise agree­ments usu­ally build­ing in com­mit­ments to new or re­vamped trains, bet­ter and free wifi, and more cus­tomer care.

But the huge cor­po­ra­tions run­ning Bri­tain’s rail­ways – many of them owned by for­eign rail op­er­a­tors – can bid too much to run a fran­chise and get caught out. Vir­gin Trains East Coast (VTEC) (90% owned by Stage­coach) may have ceased to ex­ist by the time you read this, amid po­lit­i­cal up­roar that it has been al­lowed to walk away from its fran­chise early af­ter sus­tain­ing heavy losses.

But it is the Depart­ment for Trans­port (DFT), via in­fra­struc­ture op­er­a­tor Net­work Rail, which is in charge of ma­jor projects to im­prove our rail­ways, and some­times it also funds new trains as for Great Western and VTEC. The gov­ern­ment is also in­vest­ing in rail’s wifi con­nec­tiv­ity, promis­ing speeds of up to one gi­ga­bit per se­cond by 2025.

The roll-out of mo­bile tick­et­ing is hap­pen­ing slowly, with rail lag­ging far be­hind the air­line in­dus­try. Vir­gin Trains West Coast, Greater Anglia, Cross­coun­try, Ar­riva Trains Wales, Transpen­nine Ex­press and Chiltern Trains of­fer the best mo­bile tick­et­ing cov­er­ing both ad­vance and flex­i­ble 'Any­time' tick­ets, with op­er­a­tors such as Great Western and East Mid­lands Trains lag­ging be­hind.

But Adrian Parkes, CEO of the GTMC, calls for pa­tience. He says: “It is encouraging to see rail tick­et­ing and book­ing ser­vice providers take proac­tive steps to de­liver new func­tion­al­ity and of­fer TMCS wider op­tions, such as en­abling TMCS to process re­funds on both e-tick­ets and mo­bile tick­ets. This is a sig­nif­i­cant step for­wards and the trend to­wards greater flex­i­bil­ity of mo­bile and e-tick­ets is ex­pected to con­tinue.”

Train­line for Busi­ness is work­ing to en­sure mo­bile tick­et­ing is rolled out across the coun­try as quickly as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing a full range of ticket op­tions. Cur­rently mo­bile tick­ets are avail­able on over 50% of routes but not for all ticket types, and it ex­pects this to in­crease rapidly over the next 12 months.

Ken Cameron, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Evolvi Rail Sys­tems, says: “We know from talk­ing to TMCS that fric­tion­less travel is in­creas­ingly

Rail op­er­a­tors are in­vest­ing in their prod­uct and im­prov­ing the busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence but the in­dus­try’s progress is far from full steam ahead, writes Dave Richard­son

an as­pi­ra­tion. The move to et­ick­et­ing,  stored au­to­mat­i­cally within a travel wal­let and avail­able with­out ac­ti­va­tion, moves us closer to the rail in­dus­try vi­sion of in­dus­try­wide mo­bile so­lu­tions by 2020.”

Gary Mcleod, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Trav­e­leads, feels that mo­bile tick­et­ing stan­dards are best agreed by in­ter­me­di­aries such as Evolvi and Train­line, rather than train op­er­a­tors with dif­fer­ent agen­das.

“With over 20 train op­er­a­tors, it’s not sur­pris­ing that the like­li­hood of get­ting them all around a ta­ble to agree op­er­a­tional stan­dards and the re­quire­ments for in­vest­ment is a tall or­der,” he says. “It’s been pos­i­tive to see Evolvi com­ing for­ward with third-party mo­bile and e-ticket so­lu­tions, which can then be adopted by op­er­a­tors. This is prob­a­bly the best way for­ward as long-term in­vest­ment from in­dus­try tech­nol­ogy part­ners makes more sense.”

A new in­de­pen­dent tech­nol­ogy com­pany called Rail­guard is au­tomat­ing the process of claim­ing com­pen­sa­tion for de­layed jour­neys. It says a com­pany can re­coup up to 3% of their rail spend sim­ply by claim­ing the com­pen­sa­tion they are en­ti­tled to. Work­ing through TMCS, it trawls through the jour­neys booked and cal­cu­lates com­pen­sa­tion due, tak­ing a 15% cut which it shares with TMCS.

All train op­er­a­tors pay back 50% of jour­ney costs for de­lays of one hour, while those op­er­at­ing the De­lay Re­pay scheme pay out af­ter a 30-minute hold-up, and some for as lit­tle as 15-minute de­lays.

Matt Freck­el­ton, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Rail­guard, says: “Two of the top 10 TMCS are al­ready work­ing with us and we are talk­ing to many oth­ers. Some busi­nesses don’t claim any money back or leave it to the in­di­vid­ual trav­eller, but as De­lay Re­pay is ex­tended, they could get back nearly 7% of their spend.”

Paul Dear, HRG’S Di­rec­tor of Sup­plier and In­dus­try Af­fairs, says an­other im­prove­ment that busi­nesses need is live data and the abil­ity to check their trav­ellers’ move­ments. But this will only work when avail­able across the whole net­work.

“All trav­ellers want more in­for­ma­tion about their jour­neys, and air­lines com­mu­ni­cate about de­layed or can­celled flights,” he adds.

“Train op­er­a­tors should get to know the trav­eller as air­lines do, but we are only at the begin­ning of this kind of de­vel­op­ment.”

This is one of the as­pi­ra­tions of new con­sul­tancy Black Box Part­ner­ships, set up by Raj Sach­dave who spent ten years with Capita Travel and Events and be­fore that worked for Train­line.

“The crux of my busi­ness is to look at what­ever sup­plier, and ask how they can be smarter in work­ing with TMCS and the cor­po­rate mar­ket,” he says.

“Train op­er­a­tors see them­selves purely as train op­er­a­tors and don’t con­sider they are part of a wider itin­er­ary that may in­clude park­ing at one end and ground trans­port at the other. They need to fol­low through on their fran­chise bids by in­ter­act­ing more deeply with the trav­eller.”

While most pas­sen­gers want op­er­a­tors to get the ba­sics right first, there is grow­ing con­cern about the fran­chis­ing sys­tem in the wake of VTEC’S fail­ure on the East Coast route. Con­sul­tant Nick Hur­rell says the prob­lem is that few trav­ellers have any choice in the train op­er­a­tor they use.

“The cur­rent fran­chise sys­tem is, in many peo­ple’s view, bro­ken,” he says. “We are see­ing fewer com­pa­nies bid­ding for fran­chises and of­ten the win­ning bid­der is pre­dom­i­nantly over­seas owned. It seems that Bri­tish com­pa­nies sim­ply can’t af­ford to pay the enor­mous re­bates de­manded by the Depart­ment for Trans­port.

“Stage­coach and Vir­gin sim­ply couldn’t make a profit on East Coast and I won­der who will be next,” he says.

Many com­pa­nies now man­date use of rail travel over air if fea­si­ble, an ex­am­ple be­ing the Well­come Trust char­ity whose peo­ple travel to and from many uni­ver­si­ties from its Lon­don base.

Its Travel Man­ager, Rod Richard­son, says: “Long dis­tance ser­vices are much bet­ter and good Ad­vance fares are avail­able, but tick­ets bought on the day can be eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive com­pared to air­lines.

“The well­be­ing of our peo­ple is a very im­por­tant part of our travel pol­icy, and on a jour­ney from Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh by air there is so much wasted time. Long-dis­tance op­er­a­tors are gen­er­ally good, but com­muter op­er­a­tors such as South­ern are ap­palling. Train op­er­a­tors are only as good as your last jour­ney with them.”

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