Payment technology firm Parkeon has created a fast, small footprint, ‘collect-only’ kiosk for rail tickets bought on the web.

The last decade has seen a significant shift in the way that rail tickets are sold with the introduction of new ticketing channels, such as web retailing and the mass introduction of self-service ticket vending machines (TVMs) at stations across the country.

The subject is obviously emotive as these changes have played their part in the decline in the use of traditional ticket offices, but the changes have also brought their own issues.
Research last summer by watchdog Passenger Focus highlighted some of the problems that rail users have with TVMs, indeed many found the machines too complex and confusing.

Meanwhile, the default option for the collection of tickets purchased over the internet has changed. A decade ago the majority of tickets purchased directly from operators’ websites or other web sales channels would be mailed directly to the customer’s home or office. Today, more often than not, it’s likely that the default option is to collect tickets from a railway station TVM, using Ticket on Departure (ToD) fulfillment technology and it’s an option that is growing in popularity.

Melvin Mayes, retail compliance and relationships manager with the Rail Settlement Plan, reveals that during one four week period over the summer, just under two million ticket transactions – with a value of £98m – were conducted by passengers buying tickets on the internet and collecting them from stations.

“The collection of tickets is an important issue,” adds Mayes. “All of the train operators want to make it as quick, simple and as seamless as possible. After all the machine is the route to the train.”

Transport group Stagecoach recognised that this growth in ToD tickets was leading to queuing issues at East Midlands Trains and South West Trains, its two wholly-owned rail franchises. Paul Chick, the group’s head of retail systems for rail, adds that this growth was causing congestion issues at its stations. “It’s something that was first identified at East Midlands Trains,” he says. “They have a lot of passengers prebooking and collecting tickets. That was particularly noticeable on the data that we were receiving from the ticket machines – it suggested that there were lots of ToD transactions.” Chick adds that at peak periods this use of conventional TVMs for the collection of tickets was leading to issues with queuing. “We began to examine ways of overcoming that problem,” he continues.

The result was that Stagecoach initiated discussions with ticket machine manufacturers to see if it would be possible to create a TVM dealing specifically with ToD fulfillment. “We really wanted a separate machine rather than just adding in more conventional TVMs,” says Chick. “We also had some specific requirements too. A key consideration was that the machine had to have a small footprint and be visibly different from other TVMs.”

The search led Chick and his colleagues to ticketing technology company Parkeon Transit. The firm is perhaps best known for its products in both the bus and parking industries, but more recently the firm has established itself in the UK rail market through success with Northern Rail. The company quickly demonstrated its ability to create a machine that would meet Stagecoach’s requirements.

“In regard to TVMs, Parkeon were something of an unknown for us,” explains Chick. “We asked suppliers to come up with a machine that would meet what is quite a demanding specification and Parkeon were chosen as a result.”

The result is ToDler, a compact and fast purpose-built machine designed for the fulfillment of ToD products. As already mentioned, Stagecoach was keen for the machine to maintain a small footprint within the station environment and to look noticeably different. However, the clean sheet approach to design by Parkeon also led to other benefits.

As Paul Moirano, Parkeon’s head of sales – UK rail, notes, the company decided that speed of use was just as important as Stagecoach’s initial specification for the machine. “Transaction times are important,” he says. “Many people are picking up their tickets just before catching their train and so from our point of view it was important that ToDler could undertake the transaction as quickly and as smoothly as possible.”

Parkeon therefore incorporated an extremely fast and efficient printer within the ToDler package, meaning that fulfilling ToD tickets is a process that is particularly quick. Indeed, Moirano claims that the machine can be up to three times as fast as conventional TVMs.

ToDler has also been developed in such a way that it can be enhanced in the future.

“It has been developed primarily as a ToD machine, but there’s a capability there for it to vend other products should we want to go down that route in the future,” notes Chick. “Speed wasn’t an initial consideration for us to begin with, but it’s something that is nice to have.”

He reveals that at Sheffield’s station, East Midlands Trains had an issue with queues building up at TVMs on Fridays, due to significant volumes of students from the city’s universities going home for the weekend.

Chick continues: “Many of them are using the ToDler machines and it’s something that’s now instinctive for them.”

At East Midlands Trains, ToDlers have been installed at major stations on the ‘main line’ into London’s St Pancras station, plus Lincoln station. “We’re putting in 30 machines at East Midlands Trains at key stations like Sheffield, Nottingham and Chesterfield,” explains Chick. “Around 25 are installed so far. At South West Trains we have machines in place at Bournemouth and Southampton, with two at each station. We’re really happy with ToDler and we’re actually examining adding additional machines on the network as the take-up with passengers has been so high.”

However, ToDler also has another advantage. Thanks to its small footprint it can easily be sited away from the traditional railway environment in locations that are convenient to the railway user. Parkeon is leading discussions with universities and airports about placing ToDler machines on their properties. “At the airport there’s a really positive aspect as machines can be placed in arrival halls. That’s really convenient if you’re just getting off a plane and transferring to the train,” says Moirano.

Paul Moirano bubbles with enthusiasm at the possibility of taking Stagecoach’s plans further and placing ToDler machines in locations that are convenient to rail users. He suggests that busy locations like military bases, shopping centres, large corporate headquarters and other university campuses could be suitable locations for ToDler machines in the future. In other words, anywhere where it may be more convenient for rail users to collect their tickets beforehand rather than making a dedicated trip to a station. “It would encourage passengers to pick up tickets well in advance of their day of travel,” he adds.

The suggestion is cautiously welcomed by Melvin Mayes who believes that it would be certainly possible to install a machine away from the traditional railway environment, subject to it meeting RSP’s Standards and Licencing.

Chick adds: “It’s something we’re investigating, subject to the logistics of installing the machine and meeting all the requirements.”

Overall Stagecoach is extremely happy with the performance of the machines and Parkeon in rising to its ToD challenge. “We’ve dealt with them from the start and asked them to
come up with a machine that would meet what was quite a demanding specification,” says Chick. “All through the process there has been a flow of information and ideas and where we’ve seen a problem they’ve gone away and tweaked it.”

He says the close working relationship is best demonstrated by some changes made to the initial welcome screen that greets passengers when they walk up to the ToDler machines. “We thought that it could be changed to make life easier for the customer,” Chick continues. “They took that on board, went away and tweaked the machine and it works brilliantly. We’re impressed by the ease and professionalism of working with Parkeon.”

And it would seem that with a high number of transactions at Sheffield station rail users understand the simplicity of the machine. “That’s a tremendous customer service benefit,” Chick concludes.

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