‘Passengers prefer people to machines when buying tickets’
rail professional 9: november 2008
by Paul Clifton
Most rail passengers prefer to queue at ticket offices rather than buying their fare from a machine.
Research by Passenger Focus and South West Trains shows that nine out of 10 passengers waiting in line at stations were aware that ticket machines were available but chose not to use them. And eight out of 10 passengers in the queue had used machines in the past.
Train operators are investing heavily in ticket machines and the Passenger Focus research attempts to find out why they remain unpopular with many users.
Sixteen per cent of passengers said they ‘needed to speak to somebody’ and 9 per cent ‘just preferred a ticket office’. Only seven per cent said they were unsure about, or had difficulty using, a vending machine.
Passenger Focus concludes that older passengers are less inclined to use machines, and that the conscious decision to wait for a face-to-face transaction instead is driven by a lack of confidence in using the machine to select the right ticket at the best price.
The research comes as SWT expands a facility to pay for fares in advance and collect tickets on arrival at the station – a system familiar to cinema-goers. Customers put their credit card into any machine, along with a reference number, to collect their ticket.
‘For the first time more people are buying tickets from machines than at a ticket office,’ says Ian Johnston, SWT’s customer services director. ‘Forty-seven per cent of tickets are now sold from vending machines, compared with 44 per cent at ticket offices. Six per cent are sold on trains and the remaining three per cent are bought online or over the phone.’
SWT is trying to drive more passengers towards ticket machines after announcing plans to close more than half its station ticket offices for all or part of the weekend.
‘Eighteen months ago, 18 per cent of our tickets were sold onboard the train,’ says Johnston. ‘That has now fallen to six per cent.’
The technology is already used by other operators, including sister Stagecoach company East Midlands Trains, National Express East Coast and Virgin. It’s SWT’s scale as a commuter railway with more than 1,700 services a day that makes the shift significant.
Passenger Focus argues strongly that there remains a need for manned ticket offices. People clearly prefer talking to other people rather than tapping computer screens. And they’re prepared to queue to do so.