10 years ago a small start-up had a vision to transform ticketing. Today Ticketer is the bus industry’s largest ETM supplier

John Clarfelt (right) and First West of England’s James Freeman volunteering at this year’s ImberBus event


10 years ago this weekend, a revolution began in UK transport ticketing when a group of entrepreneurs led by John Clarfelt registered a new company. Clarfelt was working in the mobile solutions area and that led him to have discussions with a number of bus operators. Talk always seemed to quickly turn to ticket machines and he learnt that many within the industry “weren’t exactly head over heels” with the solutions that were out there. A passionate believer in what cloud technology could do, Clarfelt set out to change things and fast.

That company was of course Ticketer it is now the largest electronic ticket machine supplier to the bus industry in the UK. Clarfelt remembers one of the first deployments of the Ticketer system with council-owned operator Reading Buses. “It’s funny as at that time I had the second highest number of Costa coffee loyalty points in Reading,” he laughs. “The woman behind the counter actually told me that. I was always in there. I used to sit with a coffee, watching all these buses passing by and, with some trepidation, thinking it would never work. On launch day I went in at 5am, assuming we’d have a load of issues, but you know what, there was nothing – it all just worked. It was a brilliant feeling and one I’ll never forget.”

Since that first deployment, the company has grown, winning over a host of operators to Ticketer’s technology. The customer base now spans from the smallest family-owned independent bus operators with just one or two buses to some of the largest transport groups. But it’s not only buses, Ticketer machines can now also be found on trams, trains, ferries, hovercraft and even the Isle of Man’s famous horse trams. Clarfelt believes that close working with his customers has been key to that growth.

We don’t think we know better – we actually listen to the customer to find out how we can improve the system and how we could help them to get more people travelling by bus

“In the early days we worked hard to make sure it all worked, which of course it did,” says Clarfelt. “There was a lot of luck too and, of course, we offer tremendous flexibility. We don’t think we know better – we actually listen to the customer to find out how we can improve the system and how we could help them to get more people travelling by bus.”

Key to that way of working was doing things “a little differently” and so the Ticketer business model was built around putting the customer’s needs at the centre. It means customers purchase a ticket machine and the deployment of the system is undertaken “over the air”. Every customer also has access to the very latest Ticketer features. “That’s a massive difference to the established way our competitors did things,” adds Clarfelt. “We want it to be so simple on the surface that anybody can use the system, but to do that it is immensely complex from our point of view. I don’t want customers to know about that complexity and the day that customers have to know about that complexity or how something works is the day we fail. Our job is to make it simple and allow our customers to get on with the really hard stuff.”

Clarfelt pays tribute to Ticketer’s product management team who he says really think outside the box to ensure that customer aspirations for their ticketing system are met. It means a robust ticketing system that maximises flexibility for the future. One example of that thinking was contactless payments. Clarfelt says the easy way would have been to have two readers – one for smartcards and another for contactless bank cards. However, he felt this just wouldn’t work and could confuse bus passengers. He continues: “There was the potential for passengers to feel awkward if they put their card on the wrong reader, so we wanted a single reader to make things simple. It can mean the difference between people choosing to travel by bus or not.”

Clarfelt adds that the sum of these parts is that Ticketer offers a powerful solution. “Customer requirements are always evolving,” he says. “I don’t just want to do the same thing as everyone else, I want to build something better. I say to our customers, ‘Look – where do you want to get to?’ and we then find a way of doing it. We can give a guy with one bus the same power as Transport for London, better in fact as we do QR code ticketing. We’re enabling people to do that. It’s phenomenal.”

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport and is brought to you in partnership with Ticketer.

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