- Client:Schlumberger Sema
- Design Agency:Oasis
- Project:A collection of 1,000 word articles targeted at the transport industry, as part of Schlumberger Sema’s ongoing contribution to transport integration.
Why isn’t integration happening?
Integration is key to attracting more people onto public transport. But in the UK there are several barriers to be overcome before operators can offer seamless travel to their passengers.
In theory it’s simple: integration brings business and technology together so that both sides can benefit. That means, passengers’ journey experiences are improved and operators derive commercial advantage.
But, in practice, just how far along the integration route are we? In some places in the UK , there are some excellent attempts at making integration happen. Take Paddington Station in London , for example. The station is no longer just a rail terminus, it also joins rail to air, to bus, to taxi and to Underground.
And in Manchester , there’s a programme where bus and local rail passengers use a single s mart card whenever they travel. There’s no need to worry about buying tickets or having to purchase a new ticket when they change from bus to train. The next stage to this plan will be to enable anyone in the Greater Manchester area to travel on rail, metro, bus, and even taxi with the same smart card.
This is certainly a good start but integration needs to be much more effective than it currently is. For example, why are there no customer information screens at Paddington at station level telling you about local bus services or how many minutes to the next Tube?
Information needs to be useful
We’re overwhelmed at the moment by technology. Some operators provide timetable information via mobile phones, as well as the Internet and information screens. But how well is this really working? It’s no use employing the latest technology if it doesn’t give the travelling public accurate information. Everyone enthused about electronic information boards when they were first introduced, but in m any cases they are ineffective. That’s because the boards either don’t work or the information they relay is inaccurate. What’s the point of having a beautifully-integrated, hi-tech system if the information is wrong? What customers want is real time information they can rely on. It’s little use saying that the train is only 500 metres from the station if it’s stuck there for 10 minutes. Too often, operators use technology for technology’s sake rather than think what would actively benefit the passenger.
What the travelling public wants is consistent and reliable technology. So, operators need to set expectations and build confidence in their new systems. Similarly, they need to assess the most effective way to disseminate information: is it via an information kiosk at the station or bus stop; is it via the Internet, digital TV or a wireless device; or is it inside the vehicle itself?
All operators understand the need for integrated transport, so why aren’t we more integrated in the UK? The truth is, some operators are against it because they see no business benefits within the time frame they’re working within. But it’s hardly surprising. If you have a seven year rail franchise, what’s the point in investing hard in integration if it will only pay off in Year 5 or for the next franchisee? And UK bus operators are on even shorter franchises, which means the incentive for them to invest is still more limited. Regulation actively discourages operators working together to provide the integrated services passengers want.
So it’s not really a question of technology – it’s about the whole way we approach integration. Companies have to see a return on investment for their shareholders and it’s the rate at which they can write off that investment which will dictate whether they buy into a new technology, new mode of transport or even a whole integration scheme. And, to be fair, where transport operators see a business advantage in becoming integrated and capturing the loyalty of their passengers, they are doing something about it.
Training is key
But beware. Without integration, a company will suffer flat or declining ridership – and will leave itself wide open to competitive pressure. It depends on the vision, willingness and ability of the management whether an operator will make that vital jump into integration. That needs investment in the development of people across the UK transport industry to equip them not only for the commercial realities of today but to create the integrated transport systems for tomorrow. Training and education should be the key elements in taking integration forward. Rather than spending another billion pounds on building new tracks, the Government could spend money on helping managers set their minds free from the old-style thinking. But in this country, we don’t invest in that sort of training. They do in the United States and France.
In France, the political will is there to make it happen and, consequently, they spend considerably more on integration than we do. Our problem is, no-one is lobbying the UK Government strongly enough. Future progress towards integration in this country will be slow and will largely depend on the state of the economy. But one thing is certain: if we won’t invest in helping people to understand that integration is important – and to show them how to do it, nothing will change at all. And we will continue to lag way behind Continental Europe.
The way forward
I see four things that will help drive integration forward:
- We need to use groups, such as ITS UK and the Interchange Advisory Board, to lobby the Government much more proactively.
- Integration should be stipulated as a franchise requirement.
- Integration needs to be developed as part of an operator’s overall business strategy, so which means starting to take a medium-to-long term view .
- There needs to be a good role model – showcase programmes that have achieved the things that operators aspire to. That way, operators will see for themselves that integration can work both for the passenger and give them a business return.
Maybe it’s a tall order to imagine these four things will happen. The point is, they need to. Without an integrated UK transport system that makes journeys seamless for passengers, everyone will prefer to keep using their cars. And just think what that will do to the industry – not to mention to road congestion and pollution levels.