Skip to main content

The Time to Embrace Account-Based Ticketing is Now

For consumers, operators and local authorities, ABT is essential for integrated, frictionless and efficient public transport

Last month's Transport Ticketing Global attendees didn't have to look too far afield to appreciate why their presence at Olympia London was so important — they needed only to head 100 miles north west to the UK’s second city. A study published last year concluded that Birmingham’s congestion had become sufficiently chronic to adversely affect the performance of bus operations which effectively shrunk the operational size of the city, harming economic productivity as a result. Little surprise the local authority is looking for radical solutions including a proposal to ban private cars from taking “through trips” across the city centre.

The case for integrated transport is clear and the need urgent: a multi-modal, multiple operator account-based ticketing (ABT) system has a key role to play.

ABT is not without its challenges — as we will explore in due course — but implementation is well worth the effort for consumers, transport operators, local authorities and the wider economy. Here’s why.

For the consumer, ABT promises ease of use, convenience and trust. It delivers frictionless travel using a preferred mode of payment — pre-paid or post-paid, mobile or card-based. It ensures travellers pay the most competitive fares, capped as appropriate across a day, week or month regardless of operator or mode of transport.

There are other benefits, too. Passengers are likely to be rewarded for their loyalty, as operators can present different propositions based on travel history and usage, while selected third parties could make special offers at points of origin and destination. All passengers will have access to their travel history allowing them to manage their account, their budget and even identify any over payment and claim refunds.

For transport operators, ABT promises reduced back office and front office operating costs; a reduction in ticket sales points, ticket vending machines and third-party commissions. Meanwhile, data-driven decision making will allow operators to evaluate routes, re-evaluate first and last mile access and, more generally, better understand customer behaviour. The result? Increased occupancy rates, patronage and yield. The built-in intelligence that comes with ABT will help operators identify unauthorised travel, revenue loss and other fraudulent activities. It will also allow operators to deliver targeted loyalty programmes, to upsell and to cross-sell; and introduce more sophisticated, tailored fare policies.

Meanwhile, lower driver interaction in ticket validation will not only reduce dwell times for passengers — it will increase service efficiency, reputation and revenues.

For the local authorities, the promise is no less powerful. Frictionless, co-ordinated travel leads to reduced congestion, better event management, less pollution, and increased economic development and productivity. Highly flexible and accessible travel enhances connectivity in and between conurbations. This in turn increases workers’ and job seekers’ access to employment centres and provides employers with a greater pool of talent from which to choose.

If there is little doubt about the opportunities ABT presents, we must acknowledge, too, the barriers in the way of implementation. The decision Transport for the North made earlier this month to scale back its Integrated and Smart Travel Programme is indicative of the difficulties involved.

There are three broad challenges.

First, there is the complexity involved in integrating multiple platforms. This includes the interoperability of ticketing equipment as well as middle and back office systems. Technologies from multiple suppliers — some legacy, many bespoke — present a test for those looking to build seamless, end-to-end solutions.

Second, there is a reluctance among some operators to share the data that underpins the smooth running of multi-modal ABT. Data is a competitive advantage. It is an organisation’s intellectual property. And, pragmatically, it remains difficult to determine its monetary value which in turn makes the terms of partnerships needed to implement ABT difficult to establish. Without a robust set of commercial agreements in place at the outset, which focus on the desired outcomes, confidence in the programme is quickly eroded.

Third, local authorities need to provide a service that works for all. It’s not enough to create a state-of-the-art ABT solution if it excludes the digitally disenfranchised or those without bank accounts. In short, one size does not fit all. As my colleague Jean-Marie Vial noted recently, those who ignore the anomalies of local need will end up building mobility solutions by numbers that will please no one and change little. As he wrote: “Location matters. Infrastructure matters. Legacy matters.”

None of these challenges are insurmountable, however. At Conduent Transportation, we’ve spent 50 years delivering transit solutions. Our Integrated Fare Collection and Revenue Distribution System, ATLAS® Ops, is based on open API architecture. As such it offers a single platform for multiple operators across multiple modes. It is flexible, scalable, easy to configure and manage, and payments and other sensitive environments can be ring-fenced to ensure adherence to prescribed security and financial standards.

We’ve applied our solutions, knowledge and experience to meet real-life challenges — bringing together, for example, 14 separate local transportation authorities covering a population in excess of three million people across northern France; while doing something similar to bring 28 organising authorities together in the Rhône-Alps. Much like Birmingham and the surrounding region, the intention for more accessible and attractive multi-operator and multi-modal travel requires the integration and automated management strengths of ABT.