How to build a successful multi-operator smart ticketing scheme

November 4, 2020
Chloe Johns

Earlier in the month we rolled-out our smart-mobility platform Ticketless™ in partnership with the Welsh Government. This multi-operator offering from UrbanThings is now live on the TrawsCymru network across Wales. In this article, we explore what it takes to build a multi-operator smart mobility scheme, and how we overcame the challenges that were presented.

In the wake of COVID-19, encouraging passengers back on to public transport is an essential goal for all operators. As a result, we are seeing an increasing demand for multi-operator and MaaS solutions across our transport networks. Getting the public to leave their vehicles behind means that city authorities and transport networks need to provide well-connected, multi-stage journeys, and accessible first-last mile solutions. Passengers need the confidence to travel again. This means providing them with real-time travel information, frictionless ticketing, the ability to reserve seats and live occupancy data so they know their journey won’t be overcrowded.

Compared to single operator solutions, multi-operator smart mobility solutions present their own unique challenges. Fortunately, we’ve built Ticketless to be agile and adaptable, so these requirements could be easily met.

The UrbanThings project with TrawsCymru

Transport for WalesThe TrawsCymru network in Wales comprises 6 separate operators running 13 interurban routes under the same brand. The network previously had limited RTI, and mobile ticketing was only available on some routes. TrawsCymru were looking for a fully integrated multi-operator solution that would provide comprehensive RTI, mobile ticketing and a web-based solution across the whole network. TrawsCymru is a well known and respected brand so it was critical to them that the solution was branded with their corporate identity. We offer all this as part of our existing white-labelled solution, so our product was a great fit. Compared to a single operator solution, multi-operator ticketing is a more complex prospect. Numerous stakeholders, various ETMs, and multiple data feeds all needed to be aggregated together – and fully localised into Welsh. So how did we go about it?

 

The logistics

We discovered early in the project that the key to a successful multi-operator scheme is to have support from all the stakeholders. We were fortunate that the TrawsCymru bus operators we’ve worked with were all very keen on embracing an innovative approach and saw the value in modernising the current system to provide less friction for passengers.

Transport for Wales, Welsh Government, Transport app

As TrawsCymru services are run by several separate operators, this meant we had more than one type of ticket machine to integrate with. In phase 1 of the release, the platform was deployed on routes that happened to all have machines from the same manufacturer, but for future phases, tickets would need to be validated on a variety of machines. For this scenario, the flexibility of a mobile-based solution really begins to shine: we will be able to offer an “intelligent mobile ticket” which serves the passenger the correct ticket type depending on the service they are boarding. This also includes our Hex Tag technology, which can provide ticket validation for vehicles without hardware.

mobile ticketing

To support all demographics, TrawsCymru also needed a solution that served passengers without access to a smartphone. UrbanThings deployed our web-based solution which is available as part of our white-labelled product offering. Passengers without smartphones can purchase tickets on desktop, print them out before travelling and validate them on board. This gives operators access to much of the same rich passenger data as with mobile validation.

Varying ETM providers and multiple data streams meant that we would be able to gather vehicle tracking from some operators, but not from others. For ETMs that didn’t have AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location), we can deploy one of our latest products, Ticketless On Board. This operator-focused app sits on a compact piece of rugged hardware within the vehicle and provides AVL and RTI for vehicles without the need to use feeds from existing onboard hardware. The solution can be rolled out in a matter of weeks making it perfect for operators that need to move fast. Through the Ticketless backend portal, we can combine data feeds from every source, including our own, to provide a fully integrated, live-tracking solution across the entire network.

AVL Driver app

Seat Reservations

Following the global pandemic, bus capacities were reduced, and passengers were concerned that without a guaranteed seat, they may not be able to travel. To help encourage passengers back, UrbanThings has developed a seat-reservation feature that allows them to reserve a seat on a particular service when they purchase their tickets. This, however, threw up another challenge – what about walk-on passengers? A world-class bookings system needs to support the ability to allow passengers to make reservations at the point of boarding, subject to available capacity. Without this vital feature, fare-paying passengers may need to be turned away rather than risk overbooking the vehicle.

Seat reservations

Fortunately, our ticketing solution puts all of this information in the palm of a drivers’ hands via the driver app. The cloud back office calculates vehicle occupancy in real-time depending on the number of current passengers, their destination, and where future passengers have booked to board the service. This data is fed back to the driver, who is able to understand how many unoccupied seats can be given to walk-on bookings of any type.

Seat reservations

Social distancing has been an important, but disruptive requirement on public transport during the Coronavirus pandemic. As part of the white-labelled solution, our government-backed social distancing technology is also live on the TrawsCymru network. The challenge here is not to tell passengers how busy an approaching vehicle is, but to tell them how busy it’s going to be when it’s leaving. At busy interchanges like bus depots, the bus might be full on arrival, but it’s also likely to shed those passengers. The UrbanThings solution uses a combination of live vehicle loading and historic occupancy data to produce a live occupancy predictions engine. This is then fed back to the passenger via the Ticketless app so they know how busy their journey is going to be.

The Commercials

How do you fairly apportion revenue when multiple operators are involved in more than one leg of a journey? When Ticketless is live across the whole TrawsCymru network, we will be implementing an apportionment system across all operators, which can be configured by the scheme operator (in this case, the Welsh government) to apportion revenue based upon pre-agreed levels.

We’re not going to stop there. Future iterations of our software will offer the ability to offer usage-based apportionment. This means revenue is distributed fairly depending on which operator’s service a passenger has used, based on pre-arranged tariffs. Using check-in data captured by the Ticketless software, we can calculate the apportionment owed to each operator based on the passenger’s journey.

The Takeaway

Vehicle capacity

The key to a successful multi-operator network is to get all the operators working together. The same is true of a multi-operator smart mobility system. We were fortunate that all the operators involved were keen to implement the new system and through them and the team at TrawsCymru we could launch the project successfully in a short space of time. We’re excited about phases 2 and 3 of the project as we continue to innovate Ticketless to bring next-generation travel to multi-operators and more.

To find out more, feel free to get in touch with the team.