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Improving Rail ticketing system by Andrew Sharp

February 10, 2015
Author: Andrew Sharp

At my local station, there are three different touchscreen ticket machines. Mr Murphy will tell you that, under these circumstances, at least one will be out of order – rejecting credit cards or coins when you’ve completed your purchase, failing to work because the touch-screen technology is sensitive to the cold weather. Is there a need to improve when it comes to rail ticketing software? 


The rail ticketing software and hardware issues

There are two trivial design issues (apart from the sensitivity to the cold). One relates to the rail ticket software, one to the hardware.

When I have to move from one type of machine to another because of the above-mentioned credit card defect. If your station is not in the top 10 destinations in the UK, you have to go to an A – Z stations list and start typing in your destination's name: 

  • With one machine type, you type in W and the first station listed is W Hampstead – West Hampstead, a major interchange with the London Underground and London Overground, and increasingly popular as an easy route to the Canary Wharf financial area.
  • With the other machine, you type in W and the first station on the list is Waddon, a suburban station near Croydon. To get to West Hampstead, you have to type in WEST and then find the space key – because there are too many station names starting with West for West Hampstead to hit the first screen.

The first type is obviously more convenient – except for the three people wanting to go to Waddon! Why are they different? Why did no-one think?


The ticketing hardware defect

The hardware defect is on the small LCD screen where instructions like “Enter your PIN number” and “Withdraw your card” appear. The screen is recessed into the vertical body of the machine. Hence if you are more than about 1.8 metres tall, you can only read the screen if you take a step back from the normal position for operating. Indeed, unless you really look you might not notice that there is a screen there at all. And, of course, there is likely to be a small queue behind you onto whose toes you are likely to tread when you step back!

There was a time when senior railway staff got unlimited free rail travel. While I benefited from this (and, as a retired railway employee, still do for leisure trips), I did see the downside. Because senior railway staff never bought tickets, and never went through the hassle ordinary individuals do when doing so. So there was no incentive to change. So it’s back to treading on toes and typing WEST and finding the space key on the keypad. This will happen if  a correct rail technology strategy is applied, in order to improve the ticketing capabilities of the rail network

Andrew Sharp IARO Amadeus guest writer
If you like this blog post, stay tuned for the upcoming ones. 
Andrew Sharp, Policy Adviser, International Air Rail Organisation


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