GUEST COLUMN - Sarah Robinson, Head of Operations at ITAL Group

Revenue protection is a vital part of ensuring a robust and resilient rail network. However, while paperless ticketing offers advantages, it also presents challenges for revenue protection. 

Combined with a shift in travel patterns resulting from the pandemic, what can the UK rail network do to better protect revenues and combat the issues relating to fraudulent ticketing and non-payment?

The few customers who look for ways to avoid payment take money directly from the bottom line and create rising costs for the honest customers using the rail network. If revenue protection could be improved, the revenue saved could be used for greater investment to improve revenue protection tools, or for enhancing facilities or apps to enrich the customer experience. 

The biggest problems are that investment in revenue protection has not matched the advances made in ticketing, nor the changes seen in travel patterns. For instance, hybrid working has reduced traditional commuter peak times and resulted in strong growth in leisure travel. 

Five steps to deliver better revenue protection performance are:

  • Understand current travel patterns from historical data, to know where staff should be concentrated.
  • Empower frontline staff with information to know when and where to check tickets.
  • Place more staff in areas where there are a high number of offenders.
  • Adjust shift patterns to account for changes in travel patterns.
  • Feedback data and information to further enhance revenue protection performance.

All these steps rely on access to current and historical data. But this is very difficult to achieve with current paper-based systems. 

By providing a system that arms inspectors with up-to-date and real-time information about aspects such as when a ticket was purchased, if ticket machines are out of order, and even where someone boarded a train, they can know if someone is trying to cheat the system. Management can also understand how to better deploy inspectors to achieve better results.

The data to provide such powerful information is there, and it could be accessed using a mobile app that integrates information from other systems across the network and ticketing apps. 

Using analytical tools, inspectors could gain an up-to-date view of where offences are more likely and where passenger concentrations are. 

An online, data-based support tool would further increase the likelihood of successful prosecutions, as well as increasing the efficiency with which they are processed. It would also provide instantaneous information about whether someone is a repeat offender, enabling the inspector to make a better judgement on the action to be taken. 

In summary, modern online ticketing solutions offer huge benefits to customers and the rail network, but they also leave the system open to new ways of payment avoidance. 

Combined with changes in travel patterns, revenue protection inspectors are often left out of step with current travel practices, making their job and the results of revenue protection activities much harder. 

Mobile, data-based tools could offer a solution to shift this balance. 

The benefits? A fairer system for all, protected profits, a better understanding of the challenges of revenue protection, and the potential for the improvement of other critical part of rail operations.

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