Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Technology Improvements

The Avantix is dead! Long live the Avantix.

The mobile ticketing system of choice for my company is called Envoy now; other TOCs have chosen something called Star. Sadly, operators have been able to choose their own bespoke product to replace Avantix, which means passengers receive inconsistency with the type of ticket they receive.

Two types of ticket can be printed on: the standard orange 'ticket stock' and a special orange and white thermal paper. I understand the latter is cheaper to procure though it does offer significant limitations when passengers wish to pass through ticket barriers and thermal paper tickets cannot be used for cross-London journeys as the Underground system doesn't employ QR codes on the ticket gates.

One major advance with all new systems is when payment is made by credit or debit card. A direct link is established between the user (train guard) and the passenger's bank when the card offered for payment is inserted into a specific card reader. Mobile data is used to request payment for the fare in question and the response is generally fast in coming.

That's when there's decent mobile data coverage, of course!

With Avantix, some passengers' card issuers were cautious about authorising the sale of a train ticket if that card had not been used 'online' for some time. As Avantix wasn't able to make a connection to any card issuer there were many occasions when a response would come back "Card Declined" and for the majority of passengers, this caused undue worry and stress as they knew there were sufficient funds on the card for the purchase; in reality they simply hadn't purchased anything using the card online for long enough for the card issuer to be sure there were sufficient funds in the account.

Guards had the option to 'force through' the transaction and the card would be charged when the Avantix and its equipment were docked that evening.

Except sometimes there genuinely were insufficient funds in passengers' accounts and for their troubles TOCs were not only denied the fare to which they were entitled, but were still accountable for the cash as a ticket had been issued and moneys collected (or not) under the Settlement Plan were required to be handed over so that they could be distributed according to how frequent an operator ran over the route that the passenger had taken.

With an establishment between card and card issuer, however, the days of the above are now almost gone.

Very little mobile data is needed to receive authorisation from a card issuer. I'm fast learning where the 'dead spots' are along my routes, though. Between Fiskerton and Lowdham is one. Sleaford and Heckington is another. The Hope Valley generally is poor - forget attempting to issue a ticket to someone paying by card in Totley, Cowburn and Disley Tunnels!

Though slowly and surely certain passengers who expect their card payment to be 'forced through' are discovering that this can no longer be done.

As 100% of fare paying passengers expect, those whose card payments are declined now (in an area where there's at least some mobile data coverage) still need to be charged for their fare and so I'm starting to write out Unpaid Fare Notices for the cost of the ticket the passenger wishes to purchase. The actual issuing of the UFN takes less than 3 minutes - inclusive of informing the passenger they are required by law to make payment within 21 days (and showing ways how this can be done on the reverse) - but the book itself is a little too large to fit in my trouser pockets so a special trip to the back cab is needed.

Sadly, however, every single UFN I've issued to date has not been paid and a number of months later I've been informed of this and have to sign a witness statement to show I've informed the passenger that they must pay within 21 days and that if they do not they can be taken to court. What happens after this I do not know, though I hope a letter threatening court action would at least make some pay up.