September 29, 2016

Innovation holds the key to high-quality services

Written by  Jeremy Long
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Operators must continue to innovate in order to deliver first class services if they are to keep up with continually rising passenger expectations. Jeremy Long, the chief executive officer of MTR’s European business, argues that development and progress is the only way for operators to succeed in an ever-changing market.

RUNNING a successful railway is an increasingly complex task. To deliver a first-class service to passengers, operators must exercise a high level of expertise and capability across their operations – be that customer service, use of sophisticated IT systems, efficiency of engineering approaches and complex project delivery. In an environment where passenger demands and expectations are higher than ever before, it is essential that operators continue to improve and add value to their franchises by seeking to innovate.

Within the European businesses of MTR Corporation, we have overseen a number of innovations that have led to improvements to our services. In particular, digital and technological solutions are increasingly re-shaping the operation of railways and are bringing considerable benefits for passengers and infrastructure operators. Two examples of this can be highlighted from MTR’s operations in Britain and Sweden.

Since taking over the TFL Rail concession for the London Liverpool Street – Shenfield line at the end of May last year, MTR Crossrail has transformed the way information is delivered to employees through the innovative development and deployment of beacon technology.

In an industry-first, MTR Crossrail installed a host of low powered, small and long-life beacons across the network. There are currently 500 in place across 12 TfL Rail outdoor stations, with a further 2500 set to be rolled out to all 40 stations by the end of 2018. The beacons help ensure the best possible service for customers by improving real-time information available to staff. Beacons only direct information to staff depending on their location - who are able to view it on company-issued iPads.

The beacons have also been central in the development of the Spotlight app. In a move away from the paper-based auditing processes, MTR Crossrail transformed the way auditing is carried out across the network by introducing the first interactive auditing process of its kind. The Spotlight app has improved audit efficiency by 54% and is an innovation that has the potential to transform the way auditing is carried out across the railway industry.

Both the beacon technology and Spotlight app have done much to make the lives of employees easier, and to ensure that the information available to them and, in turn, the customers is as up-to-date and relevant as possible. It has played a key role in the service’s success so far. MTR Crossrail was named the ‘Most-improved Train Operating Company’ in Britain in autumn 2015’s National Rail Passenger Survey. Customer satisfaction increased by 9% compared with the previous year, cancellations were reduced by 18%, while the company was recognised as most improved train operating company for both right-time and passengers-per-month in the first year of operation.

Digital ticketing

Launched in March 2015, MTR Express (MTRX) is a premium open-access train service on the 455km route connecting Sweden’s two largest cities, Stockholm on the east coast and Gothenburg in the west.

MTR Express became one of the first train operators in Scandinavia to introduce 100% digital ticketing. Bringing an unprecedented degree of simplicity to ticketing, when passengers book their travel they can choose their seats through the MTRX website or travel agents, and receive a basic confirmation email. All the passenger needs to bring on to the train is identification. The onboard attendant can quickly identify passengers through data relayed to a smartphone, meaning that customers are disturbed less from relaxing or working on their journey.

Customer service - including any complaints - is also conducted digitally through email and Facebook. This has proved highly effective in providing passengers with a more accessible and quick service. MTR’s average response time is typically below two hours.

Digital ticketing and customer service on MTRX has been recognised as a real success. MTRX was awarded the 2016 ‘Swedish User Friendly Award’ out of a competition pool of over 100 other Swedish companies, and the website also received the 2016 award for ‘Sweden’s Best Website’.

This ticketing innovation has played a key role in contributing to MTRX’s overall success since its launch last year. MTRX was named Sweden’s best rail operator in the Swedish Quality Index’s broad survey published in July. It was the first year that the operator had been included in the survey, which generates a customer satisfaction index based on brand image, customer loyalty, service quality, product quality, value for money and handling of complaints.

Digital and technological innovations are opening up new avenues for railways, which when considered carefully and implemented appropriately can add genuine value to passenger services. In light of ever-increasing passenger numbers and expectations, it’s crucial for operators to continue to be proactive in seeking out new solutions and initiatives to meet the challenge of delivering top quality services.

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