Modernising Rail Retailing in a Post-Covid World: TRANSPORT Smart Class, London & South East England 2023 Retrospective


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Trains overcrowded, trains delayed, trains empty, covid, strikes and a passenger behavioural shift? Managing passenger trains is a tough job!

Part of Siemens Mobility since 2021, Sqills is a public transport software technology company with more than two decades of experience in the bus and rail industry. Daniel Callaway is a Business Consultant and Integration Architect specialising in the technology transformation of large rail and bus companies using Sqills’ flagship S3 Passenger suite, which handles millions of transactions every day on behalf of 40 leading operators across 10 countries. In the UK this includes the likes of Avanti West Coast, Caledonian Sleeper, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Trains, Eurostar, Greater Anglia, GWR, Heathrow Express, Hull Trains, LNER, Northern Trains, ScotRail, Southeastern, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express, Transport for Wales Rail, West Midlands Railway, and more.

Last month, Dan joined us at TRANSPORT Smart Class, London & South East England 2023 to share some of the different worldwide strategies used by railways who have modernised their Rail Retailing. What is reaccommodation and why is it so important? Open Ticket, Counted Place, Seat Reservation, Advance Ticket, which mix is right for your network? How far ahead should you plan and what impact could that have? What were the positive passenger lock-down impacts? What are operators doing with live data?

Dan’s presentation provided fascinating insights into how Sqills are answering many of these questions with their train operators. We were also delighted to welcome Phil Puddefoot, Sqills’ UK and Ireland Portfolio Director, who accompanied Dan during the subsequent roundtable discussions.

Amongst the takeaways: “The train is a dynamic multi-dimensional data monster!”, Covid restrictions forced customers to learn to buy and think in advance, leisure usage has increased and commuting become less daily…faced with this new behaviour, dynamic pricing, innovative inventory management and a flexible reservation system can significantly optimise the passenger experience and play a key role in helping address industry and operator challenges.

Summary of presentation highlights:

  • What the Customer Wants;
  • What the Customer is Offered – “Offer Bundles” and instant “reprice”;
  • Ticket Modelling – Train Operators sell lots of different types of “Ticket to Seat” combinations. Which is right for you? What do trains look like today? “Different operators in different countries all have very different needs”;
  • How your Ticket Relates to your Seat – Traditional seat reservations; Hidden seat reservations; Counted places; Train bound tariff conditions; Rule based conditions (restricting us by train or time); Anytime fares;
  • Advantages of 100% Reserved – Predictability and high yield;
  • Advantages of 100% Open – Spontaneity and capacity;

  • Dynamic Pricing – Peak trains full, off peak empty? How to stop moving air around:
  • Why is my train empty at departure? My train is “full” between two stations Why is no-one on my long route?
  • 10 Stops, 45 Origin & Destination Pairs – Considering every possible combination a customer could take, modelling every possible journey (“Thinking about the customer experience, not the train”);
  • Buckets – Tracking a waiting system on every single one of those journeys (“Every single possible route and O&D overlap and every single person sat on every single seat we also model”);
  • Critical Factors/Considerations for Building and Calculating a Dynamically Calculated Price within your Fare Scheme – Train occupancy; Time of day; Day of week; B2B agreement (e.g. are you buying for a council? Are you going to give a discount of buying for Trainline?); Desired price level (some trains run for profit, some are being subsidised); Currency; Origin and destination (different districts and stations can be worth more than others e.g. some mainline stations are more expensive to depart from because they cost more to operate); Class of service (and up-sells to use more of the train); Discounts/discount models; Special events (e.g. concerts) etc;

  • Covid – “There was more than just bad stuff”:
  • 40% vs 10% occupancy achieved by Sqills’ seating algorithm with social distancing enabled and support bubbles facilitated;
  • Where’s the Money gone? 70% of revenue compared to 4 years ago (Pre-Pandemic); A recent (3 October 2023) Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT) stakeholder news round-up reveals shift from commuting and business travel to leisure travel – Rail passenger revenue by journey purpose. 1 Jan-31 Mar 2023: Business £177m, Commute £851m, Leisure £1.175m;
  • Advance Tickets increased by 25%* over the same period – * different around the world, but generally the same pattern of lower overall usage, but higher Advance Purchase;
  • Horizon Days and Actual Demand for Advanced Tickets “Now” – Average Advance Purchase usage UK/Advance Purchase usage Aggressive TOC comparison (and following rollout of S3): “Today, 20% of people buy their train ticket locking into a specific train today” but in the case of one particular train company, 50% at the point of the day or even after departure. Covid had taught people to install apps, book in advance and plan with hybrid working in mind (e.g. for 3 days travel per week rather than season tickets);
  • Why else did customer behaviour change and how should we take advantage of this new behaviour?

If you meet our regular delegate qualification criteria but were unable to join us at Greencoat Place Conference Centre, London, for the live in-person event on October 17th, CLICK HERE and complete the short “Download form” (located at the bottom of the post) to receive a unique link enabling free access to the presentation video recordings and slides (including the film footage and slides from Dan’s initial presentation).

Those qualifying to receive the rich presentation content from this event include commissioning, procurement, trialling, partnering and policy leads, senior influencers, strategic decision makers and planners from local authorities (e.g. city, borough, metropolitan, district and county councils); public transport operators; regional transport partnerships, sub-regional transport bodies, combined authorities, integrated transport authorities and passenger transport executives; highways authorities and road operators; government and supporting national transport agencies; fleet operators, parking operators, prime contractors etc.

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TRANSPORT Smart Class, London & South East England 2023

On October 17th we will be casting a spotlight over London and South East England, hosting our speakers discussions on how the latest digital innovations can help overcome the transport and mobility challenges faced by the capital, its hinterland, burgeoning smart city-regions of the South East and East Anglia, and beyond.


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