The Post-Pandemic Connected Commuter Challenge

When commuters become flexible workers

Simon Vaughan, chief commercial officer, GlobalReach Technology

Last week I was talking to a colleague about her first commute into the office since the pandemic.  We reflected on how different our perspective is on our rail journeys through the lens of the pandemic, and the shared experience of working from home for months on end.

She bemoaned that by the time she’d made the door-to-door trip to her desk she’d lost almost an hour’s worth of productivity.  Moreover, after months of saving the cost of her return ticket, the privilege of going into the office was costing her both financially and in terms of her time. The result was that she resented her trip.

As rail networks prepare to welcome higher volumes of commuters back in 2021, providing value for money – and safety measures – to satisfy these ‘reborn commuters’ is a concern. The stations and train operating companies that I’ve spoken to are well aware of the challenge of getting passengers who have become accustomed to remote working, back onto their networks, and delivering services that make them happy to travel.  Alongside carriage space for social distancing and flexible season tickets, high-performance, secure connectivity that supports working while travelling is close to the top of the list.

What’s new?

Post-pandemic passenger experience

Demand for a reliable internet connection at the station and on-board trains topped passenger wish lists before the pandemic. Now, with fewer trains and potentially longer wait times on the platform, passengers like my colleague are more aware of the frustration of being offline. 

If the station or train becomes our new place of work, travellers need platform, concourse and onboard connectivity with the bandwidth to support a video conference or streaming.  And this is also an opportunity to make other customer experience improvements.  

Train and station operators can design and control the guest Wi-Fi user experience, including quality of service, for different user groups (e.g. season or first class ticket holders), higher bandwidths or the opportunity to confirm user policies.

Moreover, once passengers are securely authenticated to Wi-Fi using a captive portal, single sign-on or Passpoint profile, operating companies can communicate with them through the train company mobile app or portal about delays, service changes, overcrowding, etc., strengthening the customer relationship and offering the potential to generate additional revenue. These also allow passengers to accept terms and conditions before accessing free internet services.

Privacy

Because working from the platform or train is public, the connection needs to be both robust and private. While this won’t stop anyone from looking over shoulders, this traffic must not be intercepted.

To provide extra security, companies are asking employees to install a VPN onto their mobile devices, but a better, more secure alternative would be to add a secure enterprise Passpoint Wi-Fi profile, which will provide the surety of secure, instant network authentication. 

Train companies can make the passengers’ experience of connecting to Wi-Fi a “great experience” by making it possible to onboard the Passpoint profile through API integration with the passenger services mobile application on a user’s phone.  This Passpoint profile reliably identifies and automatically connects the device forever, at all trains and stations on the network, without the need to log in again. 

Connected customer journey

For frustrated commuters that may need to change trains and train companies several times on their journey – and have to sign into multiple, different Wi-Fi services as they change – installing the Passpoint profile through a mobile application is the doorway to a connected journey.

It provides the ability for passengers to seamlessly and securely roam between trains, platforms and operators through a secure profile. If operating companies have roaming agreements, any passenger with any ticket can connect automatically without the irritation of repeated log-ins to separate Wi-Fi services. 

Connecting the passenger to any Wi-Fi hotspot on the network, regardless of station, train, route or TOC certainly is a way for train operating companies to improve brand loyalty and business results and provide an answer to demand for better Wi-Fi.

Safety protocols

Post-pandemic travellers will be more germ-conscious. We’ve been drilled for over a year to be socially-distant, to avoid unnecessary touching, and avoid travelling at busy times.  Instant connectivity using Passpoint or single sign-on is the key to welcoming back passengers and supporting them with a safe, secure journey.

Once passengers are connected, operating companies can understand who is on their network, at which station, on which train or concourse, when, and where. This enriches understanding of footfall, movement, and location to identify pinch points, manage social distancing, and gauge train and station capacity.

Improved communication

The pandemic sweep towards e-tickets has increased emphasis on the mobile phone as the central way to communicate with passengers. An automatic internet connection, coupled with the passenger movement and location data, means that TOCs can be more relevant, and more targeted in their communications and marketing.  

Journey frustration and boredom can be reduced with more specific updates about the traveller’s route, and passengers can stay productive or entertained despite delays.

Revenue related to coverage

Pre-COVID figures from the UK’s Rail Delivery Group showed that only half of all 2019 journeys now used paper tickets. The pandemic has accelerated e-ticket use along with increased online bookings, mobile wallets, new contactless station ticket barriers at stations and smart ticket promotions to passengers.

In turn, smart ticketing applications have become more valuable to TOCs as a way of understanding their passengers, making delay-repay refunds and routing information easier. 

Yep without connectivity, there can be no smart tickets, no onboard e-payments, no monetisation opportunities. The end-to-end e-ticket process, from mobile payment, to recalling the ticket, to using the contactless ticket all needs the passenger to be constantly connected.  Additionally, Non-SIM devices like train managers’ ticketing terminals, or food and drink handheld payment devices will be best served using Wi-Fi.

Working alongside 5G in a blended network model, Wi-Fi will provide trains and stations, with the best connectivity for each environment. For example, trains might combine trackside cellular technology with Wi-Fi to reach passengers in the carriage, and using Wi-Fi will also support passengers without 5G devices. 

Passpoint guarantees that users are online seamlessly as soon as they set foot in the network and because Wi-Fi is a neutral access technology, it provides TOCs with the opportunity to own the relationship with the passenger, rather than the cellular operator.

No going back

Passpoint is a pre-COVID technology. It’s a mature, industry-wide standard that has been available since 2014. Today’s mobile devices and the majority of Wi-Fi hardware are already Passpoint-certified, making this an inexpensive way to upgrade your passenger experience.

So, while Passpoint provides a better, more secure Wi-Fi experience capability, it is also an opportunity to support post-pandemic operations and post-pandemic revenue recovery.

About GlobalReach for Rail

GlobalReach Technology provides access to Wi-Fi services for 66% of all UK passenger rail journeys, supporting around three billion passengers per year. Our Wi-Fi services support millions of daily commuters, across multiple UK train operators and 274 stations on the TFL London Underground.

Our Wi-Fi authentication services are enabling train operators and authorities to deliver an improved connected passenger experience, drive branded services and generate additional revenue opportunities.

Alongside our partner Telent we are in the early stages of deploying frictionless Passpoint Wi-Fi on-boarding for passengers along with traditional Wi-Fi services at the 19 busiest Network Rail stations in the UK.