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Passengers ticket purchasing and journey experiences

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Passengers ticket purchasing and journey experiences July 2013 London TravelWatch is the official body set up by Parliament to provide a voice for London s travelling public, including the users of all
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Passengers ticket purchasing and journey experiences July 2013 London TravelWatch is the official body set up by Parliament to provide a voice for London s travelling public, including the users of all forms of public transport. Our role is to: Speak up for transport users in discussions with policy-makers and the media; Consult with the transport industry, its regulators and funders on matters affecting users; Investigate complaints users have been unable to resolve with service providers, and; Monitor trends in service quality. Our aim is to press in all that we do for a better travel experience for all those living, working or visiting London and its surrounding region. Published by: London TravelWatch Dexter House 2 Royal Mint Court London EC3N 4QN Phone: Fax: ISBN: Contents Executive summary Key insights Key recommendations Introduction Research background Research objectives Methodology and sample Purchase channels Ticket offices Newsagents Online Ticket vending machines Self-scan Staff and information needs Staff Information Mode specifics Oyster Pay As You Go Journey cost Interchanges Incomplete journeys Statements Ticket vending machine journey history Ticketing technology Contactless payment Mobile payment Conclusions Appendix A Focus group discussion guide Appendix B Focus group composition Executive summary In recent years there have been significant changes to the way in which passengers purchase their tickets and use products such as Oyster. This, combined with increases in fares and proposals to change or reduce the hours of ticket offices at stations, has formed a significant proportion of London TravelWatch s casework in this period. There has also been public concern that fares and ticketing is not as transparent a process as it could be, and, as a result, passengers feel that they are getting poor value for money. Further changes to fares and ticketing are being proposed as part of a Government review of policy and practice in this area. To inform this debate, London TravelWatch wanted to find evidence of passengers understanding of the current ticket purchasing channels available to them, and how they used them in practice, in addition to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system and potential improvements that could be made. We were also interested in finding out to what extent there were still knowledge and information gaps about how to use Oyster Pay As You Go (PAYG), two years on from our previous research into Incomplete Oyster PAYG journeys. We commissioned AECOM to conduct qualitative research, comprising focus groups and in depth interviews during accompanied journeys, among passengers with regular experience of purchasing tickets and Oyster products for journeys. These journeys included those made on a selection of different modes that accept Oyster PAYG (National Rail, London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, buses and London Tramlink services). 1.1 Key insights 1. There is a generally high level of awareness of the range of channels available for purchasing tickets and Oyster products for use across the London transport network. The main exception to this is that many Oyster PAYG users are unaware that they can top up their balance online. 2. In spite of broad awareness of ticket purchase channels, usage and experience of them tend to be extremely limited in most instances. The majority tend to associate specific channels with specific modes and journey purposes and therefore have limited exposure to channels that they use for infrequent journeys. 3. Staff numbers and their availability can be an emotional issue when raised as a subject for discussion in focus groups. Some of the passengers interviewed acknowledged that they had concerns about a 3 hidden agenda of potential cuts by transport operators, and the need for and importance of staff, and could therefore have become subject to rational over claim. However, although many people are reluctant to compromise on the issue of staff availability, they are willing to consider the possibility that on some occasions, deploying staff outside the ticket office may meet passenger needs more flexibly, and widen their functionality. 4. Oyster PAYG is positioned as being the easiest and cheapest way to travel around London, but usage experiences indicate that this is not always the case, especially when a lack of knowledge can cause an overcharge to be applied that may go undetected by the user. We identified this issue in our previous research and it is clearly still a problem for passengers. The research confirmed findings from our previous work, which indicated that most users tend to have high confidence levels about purchasing tickets only within a narrow comfort zone. For the majority, this is confined to a small number of journeys that are made most often but, beyond this, help and advice is often required across all purchasing channels. The research shows that passengers still believe that it is essential for ticket offices in all staffed stations to be open at times when services are running. However, when issues are discussed in more detail in group discussions, most believe that staff can also be a greater resource in some situations when they are combining ticket sales with other responsibilities, especially at smaller stations. A consistent and positive finding of this research is that passengers recognise that the quantity and quality of information available across all modes has improved over recent years. However, where they perceived shortcomings in this respect, these are most likely to be at times of greatest need, such as during periods of unplanned service disruption. In these situations, there is growing evidence to suggest that other information sources such as social media are likely to be regarded as being more reliable amongst those passengers with access to this. In spite of broad satisfaction with Oyster, there is some concern that Pay As You Go usage is not always as simple and user-friendly as the system which has become the default payment method for travel in London should be. The research highlighted that communication is required to fill the knowledge gaps that exist, especially in terms of the correct procedure for touching in and out at modal interchanges and how to avoid incomplete journeys or resolve them when they do occur. 4 The common consensus among passengers is that ticketing does not need to be more sophisticated than just an Oyster card or similar smartcard. There is still resistance to other technologies, except among a small minority of early adopters. 1.2 Key recommendations The research recommends the following: 1. Broaden the role and utility of ticket office staff for passengers. Having highly visible staff who are able to answer passengers queries and resolve problems Roaming staff to offer help with Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) and sell tickets from portable devices as well as from behind the counter 2. Address current usage barriers and functionality concerns with TVMs. Promote consistency of design and interface where possible All machines to allow Oyster PAYG top-up and provide journey history information 3. Improved access to Oyster PAYG usage details and journey costs is required. Clearer information relating to peak and off-peak fares Explanation of how the daily cap works Reassurance that Oyster PAYG is the cheapest way to travel in London (and the explanation of the exceptions and caveats) Information about extensions and what to do beyond Zone 6 4. Further communication to fill knowledge gaps in relation to Oyster PAYG incomplete journeys is needed. What these are and why they occur Clearer instructions about when to touch in and out, especially at interchanges When to use route validators rather than yellow readers Promotion of the facility to obtain card balances, including at TVMs Clearer indication that an incomplete journey has occurred 5 Promotion of the facilities available to resolve incomplete journeys, including online Allow incomplete journeys to be resolved at all stations where Oyster cards can be used 5. Further research and development of ticketing technologies with more obvious and compelling passenger benefits to replace Oyster cards will be required, Contactless and mobile payment technology is too recent and untested to be appealing to consumers Satisfaction with Oyster is generally high so passengers are reluctant to consider an alternative that raises overt practical and security concerns 6. Continue to make improvements to the quality and quantity of information available to passengers, especially at times of unplanned disruption. Information that is reliable, transparent, accurate and real time is required Challenges still remain at an intermodal level in this respect and across the rail network Cater more fully for passengers using apps and social media for information purposes in addition to retaining communication methods for those without access to social media 6 2 Introduction 2.1 Research background In 2011, London TravelWatch commissioned research to discover why substantial numbers of journeys that were made using Oyster PAYG were left incomplete by passengers, and the reasons why such incomplete journeys were often left unresolved. Our research found that there were knowledge gaps with Oyster PAYG, which led to large numbers of incomplete journeys. There were also poor perceptions or experiences of the resolution process. Publicity surrounding our report led to a 10% increase in people claiming the compensation that was due to them. We secured changes to station infrastructure to make the system clearer for passengers as well as significant progress with the Oyster PAYG auto complete facility. We also called for a programme of public education to remind people how best to use their Oyster cards. We decided to revisit our research two years on, to see what progress has been made, and to widen it to give a broader picture of passengers purchasing and journey experiences 2.2 Research objectives The intention of this project was to find out whether passengers understanding and use of Oyster PAYG had changed in the period since the publication of the research in 2011, and to provide additional layers of understanding through a more detailed examination of passengers experiences of purchasing tickets and Oyster products. The research investigated in detail all aspects of the ticket purchasing process from a customer perspective. It covered a range of different types of purchasing and journey experiences via the inclusion of a range of modes, journey type / purpose and demographics within the sample. The research objectives of the project were: To evaluate passengers experiences of the various options to purchase tickets and Oyster products across the network. To determine the extent to which the various purchasing channels are known and used. To assess levels of passengers understanding of the current system. To understand the extent to which the existing system meets passengers expectations. 7 To identify potential improvements and how passengers would like or expect their experience to differ in the future. 2.3 Methodology and sample A qualitative approach was adopted and the project was conducted in two stages: Stage one comprised four focus groups, and was intended to identify broad attitudes towards purchasing channels and journey experiences across all modes of public transport in London. Stage two consisted of eight in depth interviews conducted in the form of accompanied purchasing and journey experiences, which were designed to investigate any problems that had been identified from stage one in more detail and in real time with passengers. The sample was constructed to represent the views of passengers with regular experience of purchasing tickets and Oyster PAYG products and using National Rail, London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, buses and London Tramlink. Group discussions were conducted in Southwark and Croydon, and the in depth interviews were conducted in Central and South London. Full details of the sample structure are outlined in appendix B: 8 3 Purchase channels There are a number of different methods of ticket purchase that passengers can use to buy different travel products. These are:- Ticket offices Newsagents Online Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) Directly from a bus driver or train conductor The focus groups looked at each of these methods with the exception of the tickets purchased directly from bus drivers and train conductors. These were not included as they are usually a very simple transaction in the case of buses, and train issued tickets are very rarely available in the London area, such that it would have been difficult to get hold of passengers with experience of this. The focus groups were also asked to compare their experience of self-scan tills in shops with ticket vending machines at stations. 3.1 Ticket offices All of the focus group discussions around the subject of ticket office staff tended to elicit highly strong feelings among passengers. The difficulty in researching this issue is that respondents tended to assume that the objective was to understand how often they required staff assistance, in order that this could be used to justify future reductions in staffing levels. Consequently, even those who made limited usage of this purchasing channel stated that ticket office staff were indispensible, and were not prepared to accept a reduction on their numbers or availability. 9 If the station is open there should be someone there. We pay so much to travel that there should be someone to consult. [Business user, London] One of the reasons I get a Travelcard is so I don t have to deal with the queues but I still think there should be someone available all the time, even though I don t really need it. [Business user, London] I prefer to get a ticket from the office because the machines often don t take coins, I can ask for a receipt and can get help with planning my journey and other information if I need it. [Accompanied journey, Croydon] It is possible to ascertain how best to serve passengers needs by understanding how passengers currently use ticket offices, and what they want from staff at stations. The majority are unlikely to use ticket office staff on a regular basis. In fact they are more likely to try to avoid using this channel whenever possible since it tended to be associated with queues and lengthy delays, especially at busy times. The queues demonstrate the level of demand which still exists for staff selling tickets behind the counter at busy times. Respondents often prefer to use newsagents for topping-up their Oystercard or have learnt how to top-up their Oystercard or buy a regular ticket from a TVM. If I know where I m going and I know what ticket I want then I go to the machine but if I m not sure then I would rather go to a person. [Business user, London] However, the majority felt that for infrequent or unusual journeys, and the need for ticket office staff to provide additional support for others, were crucial elements of station staff s duties. Many talked in terms of staff being needed in the event of making an unfamiliar journey or when TVMs were broken, or spoke on behalf of tourists who would be more likely to use ticket offices as their default purchasing channel. People also visited the ticket office to ensure that they got the best deal for a specific journey. I feel that people tend to go to a ticket office when you re not sure what you need to buy and you need help, like to ask what s the cheapest way to get somewhere. [Business user, London] For leisure, I always need to ask someone about the best way to do the journey and how to get the cheapest ticket. I have to show my Railcard to get the discount so I couldn t do that at a machine. [Business user, Croydon] Many recognised they were more likely to need staff to provide help and advice or resolve problems rather than to sell them a ticket, except for occasional or complex purchases. This was reinforced by the overall view 10 that having a human presence at certain stations was required to provide reassurance and security to passengers in a way that is not possible to achieve with CCTV. The overall conclusion on the subject of ticket offices as a purchasing channel, and the staff that work in them, is that passengers value this method more than other means of ticket purchase as part of their overall travel experience and place considerable extra value in their presence. It is likely that in some circumstances a floor walker could be more useful than a member of staff solely confined to a ticket office. While there will always be a need for staff working behind ticket office windows, especially during peak and busy periods, at other times staff may be more usefully employed carrying a mobile device and helping passengers to use TVMs, so long as they were able to sell tickets over the counter if this was necessary. If the person is selling tickets only then it doesn t matter if they are there all the time because they could split their time between selling tickets and giving travel advice. [Business user, London] 3.2 Newsagents Many respondents welcomed the convenience of having more informal and alternative purchasing channels available to them. A number of advantages were cited over conventional transport specific channels: Some preferred to separate the purchasing transaction from the journey experience. Topping-up an Oyster PAYG card when visiting the shop for another purpose was considered to be less stressful than having to do this immediately prior to the daily commute, especially when this was against the clock; Some integrated the transaction with others, such as buying a newspaper on the way to the station. This provided the opportunity to top-up at a time when there were few other customers around, which was unlikely to ever occur at a station at busy times when ticket office staff are very busy; and Some were regular visitors to their local newsagent and therefore preferred to check their Oyster PAYG balance in this way, rather than use a TVM or ticket office staff for this and would then top-up if required. I prefer to top up at the newsagent rather than the station because they tell you how much is on the card, put how much you want on it and give you a receipt so it s easier than having to use a machine. [Leisure user, London] 11 My newsagent is open from 6am and I live next to it so I may only have to wait for two customers as opposed to waiting 30 minutes for a machine or to get served at the station on a Monday morning. [Leisure user, London] Certain disadvantages with this channel were also acknowledged but passengers still chose to use it. Specifically, newsagent staff are unable to provide help and advice with journey planning in the same way station staff could. Indeed, a couple of respondents claimed to have been given inaccurate information about fares and the amount of credit to put on their Oyster card, which had resulted in considerable inconvenience and a penalty fare in one instance. 3.3 Online In the context of making journeys by public transport, use of this channel was almost exclusively restricted to booking National Rail tickets, with little use of the Oyster PAYG online top up facility. One of the main advantages of making purchases in this way was a high level of confidence in the ability to use this channel. This was derived from a widespread familiarity, which came from experience of purchasing a range of other items online. This was also felt to be made easier, because the customer was in full control of the decision making process, which would usually be taking place at home in an unpressured environment, rather than at a rail station immediately prior to departure. This purchasing situation was also recognised as offering the additional benefit
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