Within the past week, Northern Rail has launched its Get a Ticket campaign to stop folk travelling without paying. However, it is at times like this that holes in the ticketing system not only emerge but are trotted out by passengers who do not take kindly to being suspected of criminality. Also, it is easy to roll out a campaign without considering what needs to be in place for such a thing to work.
In fact, it is pretty telling that Northern Rail are admitting that buying a ticket at a destination station has to be a fallback for passengers. It would be better for credibility that a few things had happened before the campaign begun. There also will be doubts in the minds of the travelling public as to how seriously to take these things, no matter how hard hitting a YouTube video campaign accompanied by a Twitter one can be.
The first is to install ticket machines at every station on their network, both staffed and unstaffed. If money is an issue, and it is bound to be one, then move machines from stations already staffed by other train operating companies such as Virgin to where they really are needed. Here’s an example: there is one Northern ticket machine in Stockport so that could be removed from there and installed in a place like Poynton where there are limited opportunities for buying tickets prior to travel.
Another development would have been to introduced ticketing via mobile phone apps. A recent update to Arriva’s bus ticketing app (they have made it very, very clunky and it sounds as if they are not keen to hear that either) shows that this needs careful execution if it is to work well. After all, if there is too little time for getting a ticket before boarding a train, that can be addressed while the train is moving because you should have time then to get things sorted.
Next up is ensuring that conductors do offer passengers opportunities to buy tickets from them and some can be lacklustre when it comes to this. On late night services, I have seen the conductor staying in his cab all the time and no one has the chance that they may need. This can cause cynicism with some thinking that a conductor is hiding away reading a newspaper instead of doing their job. The “hiding” word was mentioned in a tweet and Northern Rail didn’t take so kindly to its mention either. Nevertheless, when someone accused train staff of being lazy and used somewhat coarse language in so doing, they got asked to give an example. If I find one while out and about, I will be flagging this up to Northern. To be fair, there were opportunities to buy tickets on Northern services that I have used over the last two days (which is more than be said for an East Midlands one that I used between Stockport and Sheffield when no conductor was to be seen).
After motivating staff to do their job, there’s the matter of overcrowding and having too few folk to process ticket transactions on a busy train. The first one is the more difficult at the moment because that shortage of trains. Hopefully, electrification will allow the cascading of trains from the southeast to the north when new rolling stock down there replaces them. With Pacers (classes 142, 143 and 144) becoming obsolete from 2020, any extra trains really will be needed if a crunch is to be avoided. Getting in more staff to check tickets is another matter and those doing so at stations could be ideal for such a change in duties.
Senior management may think that there are plenty of ways of buying train tickets and there is a good list: via the web, at a train station and on a train. However, all of these can be improved by a mixture of mobile phone ticketing, greater availability of ticket machines, better motivated staff with more of them on busy trains and more train capacity. all of that takes investment so it is easy to see the attractions of an inexpensive online campaign over the web. What that does need though is credibility with a travelling perhaps weary from fare increases and there needs to be balance if there is not to be resentment at perceived heavyhandedness. Passenger patronage may be increasing now but that is never to say that things will stay that way indefinitely so goodwill always needs to be retained.