Rail Forum Europe urges the need for customer-friendly IT solutions for rail travelers

Posted: 28 November 2013 | | No comments yet

EU decision makers and rail stakeholders agree that IT systems in the rail sector should…

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EU decision makers and rail stakeholders agree that Information Technology (IT) systems in the rail sector should be developed in such a way that they make life easier for passengers. Innovative and proactive solutions coming from the sector and adequate legislation are the main tools to achieve this objective. The issue of customer-friendly technology for rail users was discussed at a Rail Forum Europe dinner event on “Seamless end to end travel experience: how rail travelers can benefit from IT systems” held on 26 November in Brussels, sponsored by Thales.

Jean-Pierre Forestier, Executive Vice-President of Thales, analysed the “European journey scenario 2018” and stated that passengers will need a unique interface to book intermodal journeys. This interface should also give them access to their travel rights as well as live information on their trip. Thales is looking into these solutions for the rail through strong involvement in European projects, such as SHIFT2RAIL, ERTMS, Instant Mobility and Secur-ed. In particular, the main objective of SHIFT2RAIL’s dedicated Innovation Programme for IT solutions is to increase the attractiveness of rail travels focussing on end user’s travel experience. “Seamless means digital, multimodal and interoperable. In order to get the different services working together for the end-customer, the architecture of the framework must be based on the Internet” he said.

Jacques Dirand, Head of passenger and freight services of CER, pointed out that some of the ideas currently on the table are about integrating all systems, opening timetable data by law and creating a unique format for all data. There are, however, competition and liability issues related to these solutions. Therefore alternatives should be considered such as an open IT framework, like the Internet, with open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). “We should focus on the goal of a seamless experience for passengers, without forgetting to analyse the risks and benefits of all solutions” he concluded.

Matthew Hudson, Head of Business Development for Transport for London, highlighted that the key issue of a seamless and user-friendly system is convenience. Thus three core elements are to be taken into account: a “pay with your card in the pocket” system, a compelling “pay as you go” (PAYG) proposition and a quick and easy solution to missing data. He insisted on the use of PAYG: “Customers get value from PAYG because they get the right price. 86% of Londoners use it, which means that this system is a great success” he stated.

Olivier Onidi, Director for European Mobility Network of the European Commission’s DG MOVE, explained that the approach of the European Commission is to separate the issue of the travel planner from the one of integrated ticketing. Travel planning can be improved through legislation on access to data, with an obvious need for safeguards. For integrated ticketing, he suggested that the industry should use devices and data used by a vast majority of travellers. He encouraged rail stakeholders to have a pragmatic and proactive approach: “As integrated ticketing is expected to be completed in the rail sector by 2018, the priority is not to set more rules but to encourage joint initiatives, such as SHIFT2RAIL and cooperation platforms”.

Michael Cramer, Member of the European Parliament’s TRAN Committee and RFE Vice-Chairman expressed his concern about data protection. “I do not want my movements to be known by everybody, especially commercial bodies” he declared.

Zita Gurmai, Member of the European Parliament, observed that travellers are now more eager to take public transport and trains because of the crisis. This is why multimodal ticketing packages are highly important. “Let’s keep the feeling in the society that rail is a good transport mode through a customer-friendly attitude” she concluded.

Brian Simpson, Chairman of the European Parliament’s TRAN Committee and of Rail Forum Europe, closed the debate reminding the participants that this topic is key in order to increase the attractiveness of the sector and should therefore be addressed in a pragmatic way: “Passengers should be able to use one single ticket to cover their entire journey regardless of which train or trains they are travelling on” he said.

Rail Forum Europe will hold its next dinner event on 11 February 2014 in Brussels. On this occasion, the MEPs will address the issue of possible synergies between GALILEO and ERTMS.