Expert insight

5 trends shaping business rail travel

8 November 2018 by Josh Collier

From mobile ticketing to connected journeys, Josh Collier outlines the key UK business rail trends...

1. The future of ticketing

The government has committed to phasing out the familiar orange, paper train tickets (known in the industry as CCSTs) by 2020 towards more digital-friendly channels such as mobile-channelled ticketing and smartcard ticketing. Some regional train operators into London already offer smartcard season tickets and the government would like to see more of this for longer-distance business travel.

The main channels, outside of the paper tickets, that the industry is discussing are mobile tickets and e-tickets. The latter are less restrictive because you can choose to print out the ticket with a barcode, or download it onto your pass wallet on your phone. Mobile tickets are more widely available today and are seen as more restrictive, with TOCs keen to progress more along the E-ticketing route (Read about the differences between mobile and e-ticketing in my previous feature).

The plan is for a standardised system that works across train operating companies (TOCs). Currently, a Leeds to Southampton ticket, for example, involves a combination of two train operators with a cross-London connection by tube. You can't have a cross-London connection on a mobile or e-ticket, as the technology hasn’t been developed yet. Secondly, mobile and e-tickets still aren't fully integrated between TOCs.

2. In-train connectivity

An increasing amount of train operators are rolling out free onboard WiFi, most recently First TransPennine Express, Great Western and South Western Railway. Virgin Trains has invested heavily in WiFi and is on schedule to include it across its fleet in 2019, having also announced it was rolling it out free of charge.

Rail operators are realising that free WiFi incentivises business people to leave their cars at home and replace the 'dead time' while driving with more productive working time on the train. Ultimately, the WiFi has got to be good for people to want to do that and there are occasions where it's still not strong enough. WiFi provision is now included in the specification of franchise renewals, often alongside new trains designed with the technology in mind rather than having to fit it to older rolling stock.

3. Connected journeys

The rail industry still lags behind the airline industry when it comes to connected journeys – in other words, it lacks a centralised place to bundle fares and other options such as car parking. It's something that every travel company and travel manager would like to see because it means everything is in one place and people don't have to think about multiple things. Other items in the package could include meal vouchers for food on the train or coffee at the station. Currently, there is something called Plus Bus which adds a day ticket bus fare into your ticket to provide a more seamless journey from the railway station where you alight to your destination.

4. Increased competition

There is a lot of talk about this at the moment as well as options for 'track and train' franchises. These would differ from the current setup where train operators run over lines controlled and maintained by Network Rail, which agrees timetabling of engineering works. A 'track and train' franchise would give operators the flexibility to choose when to timetable engineering works.

Competition is healthy and, generally speaking, there isn't currently a great deal of competition on the main routes, meaning it can be difficult to achieve the best costs. In recent years, open-access operators (OAOs), who bid to run services often to destinations irregularly served by regular TOCs, have sought to provide services separate to those provided by the larger companies operating under franchise agreements. OAOs Grand Central and First Hull Trains compete with LNER on some sections of the east coast mainline, and this is reflected in cheaper fares from some stations served by the rivals. The Office of Rail and Road has given permission for OAO FirstGroup-run East Coast Trains to operate five return services a day from London to Edinburgh from May 2021. GNWR (Great North Western Railway) has been given permission to run services from London to Blackpool from May 2019 along the west coast mainline.

5. Passenger compensation

Delay repay – which allows passengers to claim for delays over 30 minutes and in some cases 15 minutes – is a hot topic. Capita Travel and Events has partnered with Railguard, a start-up, which saw a gap in the marketplace for how compensation is paid out and to whom. There wasn't a solution for travel management companies to be able to offer compensation directly back to the customers. Think about the business traveller whose journey is delayed; they can currently choose to claim the repayment from the train operator even if they didn't pay for the ticket. If they are delayed and get home too late to put their children to bed, they could argue it's their time and they should be compensated. If they're delayed while travelling to a morning meeting, their company could say that it is due the compensation. With Railguard we are able to define those parameters with our customers.

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