Developments in technology are changing the way schools travel. In 2018, paper tickets are being replaced by electronic ones, and cash and chip and pin payments are making way for smart cards, contactless cards and even smartphone payments. These advancements are making life easier for both schools and transport suppliers and, in places, making travel less expensive.
We have to go back a long way to see the origins of these changes. The primary mover was Transport for London who, way back in 2003, introduced the capital to its Oyster Card – an initiative that has been so successful that, today, more than 80 percent of all journeys on the city’s public transport are made using it. By making it simpler for people and organisations to pay and quicker for them to get on board, Oyster has reduced queues, sped up journey times and taken a lot of frustration out of travelling often experience on school trips for example.
Technology on the rail networks
Despite Oyster’s success, it took another thirteen years before someone in government had the initiative to roll out a similar program, countrywide. It wasn’t until 2016 that transport secretary, Chris Grayling, took the decision to provide a smart card system for the entire rail network by the end of 2018, saying that the UK needed, “smart ticketing, and particularly pay as you go smart cards on commuter routes all around the country.”
To get the ball rolling, the secretary of state even managed to find £80m to pump into the initiative. “This significant investment,” Grayling said,” will ensure that passengers across the network can use mobile phones, bar codes and smart cards across almost all of the network.”
Grayling’s program signals the death knell for paper ticketing and cash payments. Gone with them will be the queues at ticket counters and, probably, a good many of the staff whose job it is to sell them. Instead, the Department of Transport, along with the Rail Delivery Group, is now planning the next generation of ticketing systems: hi-tech solutions that will deliver increased flexibility in how schools can arrange for pupils school trip tickets and a reduction in how much it costs to provide them. The hope is that these savings can be passed on to the pupils or invested into the rail infrastructure to improve services. At present, three network operators are already implementing systems which allow smartphone and smart card payments. The remainder are still at the planning stage.
Another initiative being rolled out is the Key-Go travel card. This contactless, pay-as-you-go card allows commuters using the Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern networks to swipe or tap at stations, platforms and on handheld devices. There are plans to expand this service across the whole country by the end of 2018. The big advantage for Key-Go users is that they are charged the most appropriate price for their ticket, helping them save money without having to navigate the various pricing pathways many schools would have to grapple with.
Smart ticket technology is not just improving travel on trains. Contactless cards, supplied by companies like Universal Smart Cards, are now making it much easier for other transport networks to make the transition. Smart cards, for example, can now be used on all Manchester’s public transport. It doesn’t matter if travellers are using buses or trams or who the operator is, the one card works seamlessly across all providers. Similar cards are also provided by Stagecoach and Network Midlands.
Facilities for contactless debit cards, which are now widely used by consumers, are also beginning to find their way on to public transport. They are already in use by Transport for London and are set to be introduced nationwide throughout 2018. The ability to pay for a ticket just by tapping a card or smartphone on a reader speeds up the buying process considerably when compared to using cash and is much more convenient for users. The faster onboarding of passengers leads to better-kept schedules, fewer complaints and reduced route times.
Another development we are likely to see in 2018 is the rise of the transport app. Stagecoach East has already launched an app which lets passengers track where their bus is on its route. It’s the ideal solution for those who don’t want to spend ages queueing in the rain: they can now grab a coffee whilst they are waiting and join the queue when they know the bus is approaching.
Apps like these can also be used for a range of other purposes, such as getting customer feedback, reporting vandalism or abuse, providing customer services and offering deals. By tracking customer locations before and after they leave, bus operators can also use data analysis to work out better routes and stops for their customers.
2018 will see smart travel become commonplace on public transport. Schools will be able to use their smart cards, contactless bank cards and mobiles to pay for their tickets, book their seats, and find out when the next bus is due. As a result, payments will be easier, journeys will be quicker and prices will become more reasonable, which is very good news for schools planning trips out of the classroom.