Virgin Trains’ smartphone revolution sees millions of customers switch from paper tickets

Published on : Monday, July 3, 2017

virgin trainsA fifth of Virgin Trains customers have switched to mobile-friendly digital tickets after their launch on the west coast route last summer.


More than 1.5 million digital tickets have been sold in the last three months alone, as customers respond positively to their simplicity and ease of use.


Unlike traditional paper magstripe tickets, which have been an industry standard for 30 years, digital tickets can be easily downloaded to smartphone devices or printed at home and then scanned at automated ticket barriers.


Between March and May, 18% of Virgin’s ticket sales were for digital tickets, a dramatic increase on a year earlier when this represented only one in 20 sales.


Their rapid take-up is a positive boost to Government and industry ambitions to roll out digital ticketing across the rail network and has been praised by independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus.


David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, said: “Passengers tell us that they want more choice when it comes to buying tickets. More than 1.5 million passengers choosing to use smart ticketing reflects the ease and growing confidence they have in going paperless. It offers a faster and convenient service that avoids queuing.”


John Sullivan, Virgin Trains’ Chief Information Officer on the west coast route, said digital tickets carried a number of advantages over paper tickets.


Customers can save time by avoiding the need to go into ticket offices, either to purchase or print tickets. And buying tickets digitally, either through the websites or mobile phone apps, can simplify what can be a confusing choice of ticket types for customers since these platforms automatically select the best option, he added.


“Digital ticketing is the technology of the future and we’ve seen how quickly customers switch when given the choice. We’re confident that we’ve established the right platform for the industry and are working with Rail Delivery Group and Government to help roll this out to other parts of the rail network,” John said.


Virgin Trains became the first operator to sell digital across all its routes in August. These utilise an industry-standard barcode which can be downloaded onto smartphones, Apple Wallets, the Virgin Trains app or printed at home.


The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) estimated in March that Virgin Trains accounts for 80% of sales of the most popular form of digital ticket, the eTicket.


Virgin Trains is now working with the RDG part of its Barcode Enablement Programme to ensure that other parts of the network are upgraded to allow seamless travel across the country with digital tickets.


Virgin Trains’ east coast business is aiming to emulate this success as part of a comprehensive digital refresh strategy being rolled out this year. Last week it launched mTickets which can be downloaded straight to mobile devices.


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