The article is on page 44 of it’s November 20 issue or see below for the full article by routeone.
routeone learns from Trentbarton and ACT how the new Mango app is helping to renew confidence in public transport and improve social inclusion for passengers
What is the key to breaking down barriers to bus travel in the digital age?
In an era where research published by Statista shows a 93% ownership rate of smartphones and tablets among eight to 15-year olds, it is ensuring a digital solution exists to make transport easy to use for young people – the next generation of bus users. As contactless becomes the norm, it is ensuring a move towards cashless payments does not discriminate against those who choose not to use, or who do not possess, bank cards. It is providing safety in an age where public transport exists under the spectre of coronavirus COVID-19. And it is in adapting to a ‘new normal’ where patterns of bus use are constantly changing.
These were all thoughts in the minds of East Midlands-based operator Trentbarton, and its IT supplier ACT, A Fujitsu Company, when together they set out to build a leading passenger app. With the account-based ticketing (ABT) in the Mango app, which is set to replace the existing Mango card, flexibility in travel, best-value fares, and social inclusion for the gamut of UK bus users have been enshrined.
Mango: Using the power of data
Commercial Director Tom Morgan says the operator has long been conscious about the power of commercial data. It is the reason why it became ‘obsessive’ about applying touch-on, touch-off across its network, and the introduction of its original Mango cards in 2008, which work off that principle. The card uses an electronic purse (ePurse) with a maximum of £250 funds held, which act as a running balance. To ensure fast transactions, fares are calculated at the point of entry and debit the full price of that bus journey, with funds credited as the customer ‘touches off’ and alights.
According to the operator, customers adapted to this way of working quickly, and Trentbarton became accustomed to high-quality and accurate commercial data as a result. “It allows us to know our customers really well and therefore tailor our products to suit them better,” Tom says. “This has been hugely important, and the app follows on from that – but we did not want to lose the quality of data we had.”
Recognising that plastic card technology had had its day, owing to limitations on the memory of each card, the operator looked to offer something more tailored to customer needs. “We didn’t want to lose the data or the simplicity from the customer’s point of view,” adds Tom. “We did a lot of research as a business, and Transport Focus research into young people revealed one of the biggest barriers to bus travel was confusion over ticket types – fear of not knowing which product to ask for and potentially making the wrong decision.”
Recognising that simplicity offers customers confidence, a digital solution would continue the simplicity of scanning on and off while guaranteeing the correct fare and caps. The technology was the step forward, and Trentbarton delayed the introduction of a passenger app until the technology could deliver what it wanted. “We wanted more than an app that delivered singles and day tickets,” Tom says. “We had a lot of work to do with ACT, which supported us from a technology point of view. ACT had the groundwork for an ABT solution, but needed an operator’s input to roll it out – that’s where our expertise came in.”
Trentbarton Group Projects Director Mark Greasley points out that the operator was unusual in the sense that customers were wedded to a prepaid ePurse when travelling. “People have talked about ABT for what seems like years now,” he says, “and there were frustrations with the memory on the card relating to zonal caps and graduated fares, which was an obvious for us. Caps reward travel, and the Mango card’s limited memory meant its one-day, seven-day and 28-day caps could only be across one area, the Trentbarton bus network – we cover Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire and had zonal fares which couldn’t be replicated.”
The new app records customers interactions on the bus using a QR code, then calculates fares overnight in a back-office. Where the card was limited in its number of caps to three, and caps would reset on a certain day, the Mango app offers ‘true rolling caps’ which review the last day, seven days and 28 days of a customer’s journeys to apply caps and offer the customer a discount depending on what zones the operator implements. “Moving from the card has given us this huge flexibility in introducing more zones, more caps, more discounts, and the huge benefit of only one single charge for that day’s worth of travel,” Tom adds. “Our rolling caps mean any seven-day period, not just Monday to Sunday. And because it all happens in the back-office, the data is placed on servers, which means the computing power is huge, and unlocks future potential such as free reward journeys. This is all possible because of the technology platform.”
ACT’s heritage has long been in ITSO, offering national and local schemes such as the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme. It recognised over the last two years that passengers are looking to a mobile solution.
“We recognise the world is changing,” says Head of ACT and Sales Director Mark Fagan. “People want to be mobile. They don’t want to carry things unnecessarily; they want ease of use – and this is part of the move to mobility as a service (MaaS) and making it easy for people to travel.”
In the first week of its introduction, over 5,000 people downloaded the Mango app, and up to date almost 16,000 downloads had been recorded in its first month. Of that, 10,000 people had migrated from the Mango card. Since the card is still in use, it is a logical guess to assume the app is more popular among users. “The numbers tell you people are happy to switch,” Tom Morgan says.
One of the most crucial angles to the scheme is social inclusion. Since Trentbarton offers both the cards and app on a prepay basis, with money placed on accounts in advance, it offers social inclusion to passengers who are not banked (conversely, post pay accounts rely on bank card details in order to withdraw funds).
Users of the Mango app are given the opportunity to pay money onto the mobile app through a bank account, but equally there is the option to visit retail outlets such as Trentbarton travel shops to top up in advance. “This is a massive thing,” Tom says. “Under a certain age you cannot be banked, but equally there are lots of people who could be banked but choose not to, and that is the way they live their life.”
A minimum top-up of £10 is required, and automatic top-up can be specified. Minimum required credit to travel is 1p. Customers are unable to generate the barcode when in negative funds, but single payment back-office calculations at the end of each day mean no passenger will be stranded and unable to make a return journey should they run into negative funds within a single day.
Concessions are built into the app too. Students, under 25s or elderly passengers can register their details and are offered different prices based on individual concessions, something contactless cards are unable to offer.
Eyes on the future
Both Trentbarton and ACT shared a vision that flexible tickets were coming, but the global pandemic has introduced a much stronger requirement and sooner. Shifting work patterns are eroding the traditional need for monthly or weekly tickets, driving demand for flexible travel and best value, without the need to commit to a journey five days a week. Another by-product is the removal of touch points on the user journey, to build confidence back in public transport use.
Social inclusion for the unbanked, flexible capping and concession management flows into a vision that the operator and supplier share; and that is to do what is right for society while holding customers’ hands through every step. “We all know we need to encourage people out of cars and making public transport as flexible, easy to use and convenient for the customer is unlocking those benefits,” Mark Fagan says.
And while the move towards a digital solution is built with the new generation of passengers in mind, Trentbarton says it is not looking to drive passengers down a specific route and won’t turn its back on cash. “Cash and contactless bank cards remain an option,” adds Tom. “As much as I think society is moving towards cashless I don’t think it is for us to drive it.”
But capturing the data through the Mango app allows Trentbarton massive scope to improve its network. It can track movements and assess the viability of new routes and even tailor partnerships with retailers and hospitality venues to make offers to frequent travellers. “We can give something extra to members of the Mango club, to keep them coming back. We made sure we built it on a platform which caters to MaaS, and already have multi-operator capping across Trentbarton and Kinchbus. We’re really keen to explore those discussions once we are through the full migration process.”
Being smart phone based allows a lot of collaboration, and further development of the app will make much more possible.
Yet, while Trentbarton is focused on improving customer experience through the technology, it says it will never embrace technology unless it knows it can serve a purpose. “We never jump on something just because it’s new,” Tom says. “We’re measured in our approach. We strongly embrace the benefits of technology, but not for technology’s sake. It always has to add value.”