Cubic’s new virtual ticketing office NextAgent enables face-to-face interaction, via a machine

One major ticketing technology supplier has conceded that, despite all of its efforts to make ticket vending machines easy to use, there are still occasions when transport users prefer face-to-face contact with a knowledgeable ticketing agent. But Cubic Transportation Systems has responding by developing a radical new concept which combines the cost effectiveness of a ticket machine with the personal touch of a ticket office – NextAgent.

Launched at last week’s UITP gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, NextAgent is a ticket vending machine that uses a high-speed video link to let passengers interact with ticketing staff in real time – exactly as they would at a traditional ticket window.

Speaking at the launch, Steve Shewmaker, Cubic’s worldwide president, said NextAgent was “a potential game-changer” for transport operators.

“NextAgent is that rare thing – a true ‘win-win’, in that it allows operators to at once offer the highest and most consistent levels of service while managing costs through increased efficiency,” he said. “It means that at the touch of a button, any passenger at any station equipped with NextAgent can speak with a customer service agent exactly as they would at a standard ticket office window.

He continued: “As a society, we tend to be suspicious of technology introduced in the name of progress and efficiency: I’m sure we can all recall examples of ‘one size fits all’ systems that are great for straightforward requirements but which fall at the first hurdle when presented with anything that doesn’t match the standard algorithm. NextAgent contradicts that theory, offering a uniquely personalised ticketing service for every passenger who wants or needs it, every time. No matter how remote the station or how complex the requirement, NextAgent allows unparalleled responsiveness, while simultaneously managing demand across the network.”

The concept is bound to attract interest from UK train operating companies, who must offer cost savings and enhanced standards of service quality in the next round of franchising. NextAgent may allow ticket office opening hours to be reduced without a negative impact on customer service. Some ticket office staff may be reallocated to other roles outside of peak times, while their colleagues in a centralised ticketing “hub” deal with enquiries from passengers from across the network via video link. It could advance customer service by ‘pooling’ specialist expertise – foreign languages, for example – and ensuring a uniform level of service across the network

Cubic claims that NextAgent delivers all the functionality of a staffed ticket office, including integrated camera and document scanning facilities to enable photos and other personal documents to be verified.

Cubic claims that the response from those that visited its stand at the Geneva public transport show was “overwhelmingly positive”.

Among those who are impressed by the concept is UK passenger representative Passenger Focus, which Cubic consulted on its plans. “I think it’s a good thing. I like it,” Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith told Passenger Transport.

However, Smith does not see the concept as a “substitute” for staff at lightly used stations. Instead he sees it as an opportunity to liberate them from the ticket office and get them out and about helping passengers.

 

A personalised experience

Cubic also used the UITP show to demonstrate its vision for a more personalised ticket purchasing and information experience. It showed how by tapping a smartcard on a screen, transport users would receive a personalised greeting. The journey options most prominently displayed would be those most commonly made by the user. The system would know whether or not the smartcard holder has a railcard, and would tailor the prices of the tickets accordingly. Travel information would be based on the users’ preferred transport modes (eg. walking, cycling, taxi). The system could also use social media preferences to identify places of interest.

 

Further reports from UITP can be found inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport:


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