Does the digital revolution really mean progress for the industry?

Derek Way, Managing Director of mini printer specialist Able Systems, talks about whether mobile and e-ticketing is really beneficial to journeys, customer, and coach and bus services

The appeal of e-ticketing and mobile payment systems to coach and bus operators is easy to understand. One of the reasons includes how it can be more convenient for customers, removing the need to find the correct change for their fare.

With smartphone use rising 32% in the past five years, 85% of UK adults now routinely carry a device onto which an app can be downloaded, enabling a ticket to be purchased in a matter of clicks.

E-ticket benefits

As we progress towards a cashless society, there is a rising expectation of online payment options, forcing service providers to call on these digital systems. They can be invaluable in supporting on-time service delivery, as customers fumbling in their pockets for cash can slow down passenger processing times and increase delays.

E-tickets can reduce the burden on drivers too, allowing them to focus on navigating the roads safely, providing excellent customer service and other elements that are invaluable to delivering an outstanding passenger experience and building trust in your brand.

Not failsafe

As with any new systems, however, careful thought needs to be given to the roll-out of a fully digital ticketing operation. The physical transaction of handing over money in exchange for printed confirmation of the journey paid for ensures transparency. The ticket also provides reassurance to the passenger that they have paid the correct fair, and that they can provide evidence of this if required.

Smartphones are not failsafe; if the device is lost or the battery runs flat, the passenger would soon find themselves without a record of the ticket purchased, and therefore ineligible to travel. This may be a minor inconvenience in the case of a short bus journey but could be costly for longer coach journeys if replacement tickets need to be bought.

Additionally, while connectivity is improving each year, there are still many “dead zones”. If a bus depot has no wi-fi, or if a customer has run out of mobile data, customers would not be able to access their e-ticket. Failed transactions at point of purchase, or in the event of buses not running to schedule and time-limited tickets lapsing before arrival can also cause frustration for passengers.

Furthermore, first time users would need to enter card details into a portal, and if this is performed in a public area, the passenger’s card details could be compromised, such as being witnessed by someone willing to use them fraudulently. Many people may also be concerned about the dangers of data hacking, especially after the highly publicised data breaches within the NHS and Uber in recent years.

Passengers’ needs

With a heightened interest in data protection, many customers are unwilling to set up yet another online account, divulging personal details, with another password to remember. Others may simply be uncomfortable using a smartphone to carry out financial transactions. Not forgetting the 15% or so of the population who do not have or do not regularly carry a smartphone, most notably the older generation.

While most systems have safeguards in place against fraud, hackers are continually finding new ways to corrupt systems; digital ticketing is open to this kind of threat in a way that printed systems are not. This could result in loss of revenue, should fraudsters develop methods of reusing the same ticket more than once, for example.

Some individuals just prefer the simplicity of paying by cash. Those with financial pressures may prefer to pay with physical money to help manage their finances, as others may have a preference for ‘old-fashioned’ cash and paper-based systems.

Ideal solution

Able Systems provides a range of compact thermal printers, including the Ap1310DC, which has been designed specifically for use in vehicles. It can be hard wired directly into the vehicle, so is an ideal solution for ticket printing in buses.

Madeira-based bus operator Horários do Funchal, for example, identified a need for a traditional printed ticket system for the large number of tourists that took single bus journeys in the region during their visit.

The company had already installed a contactless smart card system, but it was not suitable for single-use passengers. Since installing an Able Systems Ap1310DC mini printer on its fleet of buses, it has experienced an improvement in customer satisfaction levels and the company is impressed with the model’s minimal downtime.

Key to success

There is no doubt that the popularity of mobile and e-ticketing will continue to grow in the years to come, offering time saving and convenience as it does. Ignoring the drawbacks, however, could risk excluding some customers or exposing the company to other less welcome outcomes, impacting on satisfactory service delivery.

Perhaps the solution lies in incorporating a paper-based element within the e-ticketing system – providing customers with a physical confirmation of their journey, if requested.

One thing is for certain – not everyone is ready for the full leap into the digital era. In order to appeal to the widest possible marketplace, the careful integration of technology with traditional methods is key to success.