A Microsoft Windows Powered solution was deployed to manage the delivery of both tickets and timetable information to train passengers.
Published: September 25, 2002
Company National Express
Customer Profile National Express Group operates bus, train, coach and tram services around the world which carry over one billion passengers a year. In the UK, it runs coach services to 1200 destinations and has nine of the 26 rail franchises. In 2001, its global turnover was £2.5 bn. Its UK business in the rail sector made an operating profit of £40.6m.
Business Situation National Express needed to replace a 15-year-old ticketing system which had become entirely unsuited to modern requirements such as wide acceptance of credit cards and the introduction of automatic barriers requiring magnetic stripes on tickets. In addition, National Express wanted to find ways to deliver up to date travel planning information to customers on trains without recourse to printed timetables.
Solution Description A Microsoft Windows Powered mobile solution was deployed to manage the delivery of both tickets and timetable information to train passengers. The data on the handheld device is updated overnight, and a portable printer/credit card reader allows for the easy management of ticket issue and payment processing. 1500 units will be deployed to on- train staff across all of National Express Group’s nine UK train operations.
Small, light and extremely portable solution
More than 100 million ticket types and combinations can be stored on the device
Ticket issuing is fast and efficient and the new solution makes it easier for staff to serve customers
Reduces fraud through use of stolen or otherwise unacceptable credit
Software and Services Microsoft Pocket PC Microsoft Windows 2000 Server
Hardware Casio EG-800 x 1500 Sandisk 512Mb Sandisk Compact Flash card x 1500 portable printer/credit card readers manufactured by Blazepoint to a SchlumbergerSema owned design
Vertical Industries Transportation
Country/Region United Kingdom
The UK rail network was privatised in the mid 1990s, and divided into 26 separate and independent franchises. Post- privatisation the range and number of fares and ticket types available has grown exponentially. Taking into account discounted and limited lifespan fares National Express estimates there are around 100 million fare combinations across the rail network.
National Express Group inherited a ticketing system called SPORTIS (Super PORtable Ticket Issuing System) with its franchises, and has found the system difficult to use and uneconomic to change. ‘SPORTIS is a heavy and ungainly system, large for staff to carry and difficult to use,’ explains Mark Powles, National Express Trains Retail Director. ‘The technology is 15 years old, and was not designed to cope with today’s complex ticketing structures. It has 26 keys whose functions vary depending on the ticket type being issued. Operators often need to refer to printed manuals in order to issue tickets.
“In addition, SPORTIS does not cope well with credit card transactions, and it cannot print tickets with magnetically encoded strips – the kind you need to get through many automatic ticket barriers. Using SPORTIS, the quality of customer services was not as high as we wanted it to be, and we did not sell as many tickets on trains as we would have liked. Our staff were not always confident in their dealings with the public using SPORTIS. The ‘turn up and go’ business, where passengers purchase tickets immediately prior to their journey, is very important to us, and we clearly needed to improve our performance.”
The revolutionary solution was delivered by experts from leading global IT services company, SchlumbergerSema. The company’s Transport division had already developed a Microsoft Windows Powered mobile solution for ATOC (the Association of Train Operating Companies). The solution that the company developed for National Express was based around Microsoft’s Pocket PC software and Casio’s EG-800 ruggedised Pocket PC hardware. Graham Bodman, Ticketing and Distribution Product Manager at SchlumbergerSema, explains the selection of hardware and software, and how the solution was implemented.
“We chose the EG-800 both because of its hard-wearing design and its long battery life. We needed hardware that could recharge overnight and then be guaranteed to operate continuously throughout a working day. A Windows Powered mobile solution was the obvious choice for us. We already had a software solution in the form of AVANTIX™, which included modules for ticketing, fare enquiries, timetable enquiries, accountancy and ticket formatting. Windows NT is our chosen platform for running a range of solutions including counter services, automated vending machines, call centres and web-based ticketing services. We were able to port the appropriate software modules to Pocket PC relatively easily thanks to the extensibility of the Microsoft Mobile Platform.”
Bodman continues: “We also needed to devise a strong user interface with non-technical end users in mind. Pocket PCs, with their touch sensitive display are ideal for providing these users with easy-to-grasp access to a wide range of options. Finally we needed devices with plenty of memory capacity. We were able to use 512Mb Compact Flash cards to store all the ticketing and timetable data required. Ticket printing is achieved using a combination credit card swiper/printer which docks to the mobile device and this is light and portable in itself.”
More than 1,500 devices running AVANTIX Mobile will be rolled out across the nine National Express train operating companies to be completed by the end of September 2002.
“The new ticketing system is a far more reliable and competent solution than SPORTIS,” says Mark Powles, “and our staff are more confident using it. Ticketing and timetable data is up to date, and staff do not need to resort to printed manuals for guidance on issuing the many hundreds of types of ticket they can sell. Its accountancy systems prevent us issuing tickets at the wrong price, and can check credit cards against a list of those we should not accept. These features have helped us save money immediately after deployment. We anticipate further savings in the future as it should be relatively easy and cost-effective to update the system as required. We can, for example, download new ticket types and pricing structures to devices overnight, every night.
“Furthermore, the hardware provides timetable information to enquiring passengers, so they can explore future journeys or confirm connecting train details. This is an important aspect of our on-train service that was missing before,” he concludes.
The data is updated on a 24 hour cycle, as part of a docking procedure. This procedure also uploads information about ticket sales, downloads timetable amendments and charges the device battery. The back office support, including specially developed synchronisation software using components from Microsoft ActiveSync and Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) makes managing data exchange easy to implement. SPORTIS also had a docking element, but in its case the single docking station was larger than a desktop PC. Four Pocket PC devices can be docked in the space of a small shoebox. Data is secured by a combination of encryption, checksums and holding multiple copies of the data on the device and the back office at various stages in the sales and data transfer process.
Powles has a range of plans for extending the functionality of the new Windows Powered mobile solution. “Short to medium term goals include adding reader support for the chipped credit cards which will be introduced in the UK over the next few years, and using wireless communications to gather data in real time about connecting trains in order to keep passengers informed about delays or platform changes. We could also use wireless communications to provide real time seat booking services. There are several potential developments for revenue protection including capturing penalty fare data on a device rather on paper: this would make the process of following up penalty fares more efficient and reliable.”
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