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Investing in the ‘whole journey’ experience

Exterion Media - Wimbledon event advertising campaign

The coming years are going to be big for the UK rail sector, as train operators continue to work towards making the passenger experience a better one. However, the recent 3.6% increase to regulated fares is a blow for customers and a drop in the ocean considering the investment that will be needed. TOCs will be working with, and pushing, partners to open up new incremental sustainable revenue streams and innovate across the network.

Travel – by any form of transport – has the ability to make or break our day. A poor journey has a measurable impact on our lives, moods and productivity. Research from our award-winning national consumer panel work.shop.play. found that transport links are the second most important factor when people think about moving, ranked above other aspects such as good schools and job prospects. Creating a travel experience that makes people feel that their journey is easy, pleasant and rewarding, is about more than physical transport infrastructure. 

Place making

Trains and rail stations are no longer just a means of getting from A to B. The rail industry offers much more than a place to board a train; stations have the potential to become a hub for not only passengers and the journeys themselves but also local communities. Stations act as a source of entertainment and content, as well as the necessary sustenance of the ‘highbrow’ caffeine shot and cuisine on the hoof. Take London Kings Cross St. Pancras for example, which is home to the world’s longest champagne bar, or Birmingham New Street, which adds John Lewis to its string of shopping destinations.  By understanding the different ways in which passengers use their stations – and why - rail companies will better understand the passengers themselves. Working with media and technology partners will open up new commercial opportunities, enabling rail companies to transform the travel experience for their customers and adapt station offerings based on their customers’ preferences and behaviours.

Get smart with data

Millions of people pass through rail stations and travel on transport networks each day, using devices that can offer a window into their behaviours, their likes and their dislikes, and their needs. Data can be hugely beneficial and powerful to rail companies and transport operators, offering them a detailed view of the commuting audience. 

Transport for Greater Manchester’s (TfGM) ‘Get Me There’ smart card system, launched last month, is the latest development in this space, moving one step closer to delivering a fully integrated smart system across the city region. The scheme allows passengers to use a single card for journeys on any Greater Manchester tram and bus, making their travel experience easier, and gives TfGM access to invaluable customer insight.

Trains increasingly deliver a greater level of information for passengers and we are already seeing the introduction of superfast Wi-Fi to some railway stations, something we know is essential for the modern ‘always on’ UK traveller; research from work.shop.play. revealed 79 per cent think it’s important to have Wi-Fi at stations. By harnessing this kind of data to create insights, rail stations can become engaging spaces tailored to commuters, whilst also offering an attractive environment for companies to advertise in.  

The role of the station

Stations as places are critical and retail and amenities play a part, as does the ease and openness to invite people in. As the expectations of today’s consumer is changing, so must the role of the stations. 

It seems that UK rail stations are not just perceived as travel hubs, with retail being an important reason why people choose to visit certain stations. Our research found that nearly one in three say they use the shops at their local stations – even when they’re not travelling

People respond well to engaging environments; increasingly, efficient design and a sense of purpose beyond travel is important for realising the true potential of stations as destinations. TOCs need to think about routing and information, visibility of shops, the right media assets, and customer spaces like waiting spaces. 

This is something we are addressing as we embark on our new media partnership with FirstGroup, for the new South Western Rail (SWR) franchise. Following FirstGroup and MTR’s pledge to deliver £1.2bn of investment across the SWR network, we are committed to working with them on improving the experience for customers and helping them to connect the ‘whole journey’. The partnership enables us to offer increasingly connected solutions to improve passenger journeys and deliver media experiences that go beyond the poster. 

We recognise it’s not enough to invest in data and insight to create new amenities to the travel environment; we need to apply smart and engaging solutions to deliver the best passenger experience across the ‘whole journey’.

Article first published in Passenger Transport on 8th September 2017.