Guest Blogger

Mike Tuckett is Head of Transformation Delivery at TfL, and was speaking at The BIO Agency’s ‘Service Revolution’ event in London last month.

Prior to the introduction of Oyster pay as you go in 2004, mass transit ticketing had remained remarkably unchanged for over 100 years. Although season tickets were developed as a response to ever growing demand, the essential customer experience was one of having to exchange money for a ticket that allowed you to make a specific journey.

Such a proposition would surely never have been designed today with our customer-centric perspective. Tickets require you to waste your time buying one each time you travel, and in the case of buses often wasting the time of many other people while the bus waits for you to pay. Tickets require you to understand enough about the fares structure to know which one to buy, even though this will no doubt be intricate and unique to the mode of transport you propose to use, and to the city you are travelling in. Just when you thought you had it sorted, you then find your ticket doesn’t allow you to complete your journey as it’s only valid on the train….

Oyster pay as you go was a revolution in ticketing customer experience, tackling these pain points by reducing the number of purchase transactions needed, taking away the need for customers to understand fares complexities (or even to have to say for sure where you are travelling to in advance), and by working on all transport modes in a similar way allowing seamless journeys.

However, the customer experience of using Oyster – while significantly better – is still not perfect. You still have to obtain a card, keep it topped up to avoid being denied access to the service you want to use, and return it if you wish to receive a balance refund. All these steps tend to be particularly onerous and confusing for occasional users, or non-users that we would like to attract to public transport. To put into a historical context, Oyster has chipped away at the notion of a “ticket” and all the Customer Experience problems that entails, but not fully broken free from forcing customers to overcome special hurdles to exchange their money into something that they can use to access transport.

That is where contactless payments comes in. At last, customers can travel on our services without having to take any special steps, or understand anything about our system or our fares. A customer just needs to know to touch their contactless payment card on the yellow readers as they travel, and the cheapest available set of adult fares for their day’s travel will be charged to their card account.

Picture a typical scene at a busy rail station such as Euston. A visitor arrives and joins a queue in a quite crowded ticket hall, feeling a bit bewildered by what they need to do next. A member of staff approaches them and asks them if they have a contactless payment card. Yes? Then why don’t you leave this queue and just go and travel to wherever you are going. Customer delight”

The response to the contactless proposition has been incredible. On a typical day, we see up to 30,000 contactless payment cards used for the first time, and 1 in 3 Oyster pay as you go customers have already switched to contactless in under two years of operation.

Using a contactless payment card to travel is beautifully simple, but it’s easy to underestimate the work that was necessary to achieve that. A brand new transaction model had to be negotiated with the payments industry to permit fast enough payments, and a number of unique customer experience issues had to be solved.

A particularly interesting case is the increasing use of mobiles and wearables, which now make up about five per cent of our contactless usage. The customer experience issues with using mobiles on transport are quite challenging compared to use in retail – for example, what happens if my battery runs our during my journey, and why cant I touch in with my phone and touch out with the card that I loaded on it? Over time, mobile payment providers are becoming more and more aware of the importance of the transport use case, and implementing a customer experience which is starting to look like an attractive alternative to using a card.

So, to borrow from a famous transport saying, you wait a hundred years for a revolution in ticketing, then two come along at once. We are proud of what we have achieved by putting the customer first, and remembering that “every journey matters”.

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