Posted on Tuesday 8 November 2016 by Ulster Business
Translink’s Chief Financial Officer Paddy Anderson explains how its new ticketing system will help commuters, tourists and businesses thrive in the years ahead
A modern, efficient public transport system is an essential cog in the economic wheel, helping ferry workers on the daily commute, taking party goers home after a night out, shoppers into town on a Saturday morning and freeing up roads for lorries and vans to be able to make their deliveries.
It’s for this reason Translink has such an important role to play in any future plans for Northern Ireland’s economy, and also why the organisation has just begun one of the most exciting overhauls of its ticketing system in years.
The nattily-titled Translink Future Ticketing System, or TFTS for short, will put the process of travelling by train and bus in Northern Ireland on a par with major cities such as London, Paris and New York, according to Paddy Anderson, the chief financial officer of Translink.
He has been intimately involved in the planning and introduction of the scheme which centres around the use of smart technology to simplify and speed up the payment process for passengers.
Initially that will mean being able to buy tickets at new ticket vending machines positioned at station and halts, then being able to make contactless credit and debit card payments on board, followed by the introduction of ePurse smartcards (similar to Transport for London’s Oyster cards), and finally by being able to top-up smartcards online.
By doing that, travellers get the best fare, transactions take seconds rather than minutes, boarding and therefore journey times are reduced and the whole process is made much smoother.
It replaces a system which currently handles 56m transactions every year and, while ahead of its time when introduced – Translink was the first operator in the UK to use smartcards – needs replacing.
That will involve the mammoth task of replacing 1,700 ticketing machines and 275 hand-held machines, but it will set up Northern Ireland’s public transport system for the future, according to Paddy Anderson.
“It’s a great opportunity to modernise and simplify our offering,” he told Ulster Business. “We’re trying to attract as many people as possible to use our services and although our current system is fantastic, it needs to be easily accessible.”
The system is designed to be integrated with Belfast Rapid Transport which will initially run high capacity buses linking the east and west of the city, due for introduction in 2018, and will see passengers buy tickets prior to boarding.
The transformational work would be difficult enough to achieve from a fresh start but is doubly difficult because the buses and trains need to keep running while its being introduced.
“The big challenge is to do all of this while we’re in live service,” Paddy Anderson said.
“We’ve got to keep everything moving while kitting out our buses and trains with new machines, training our drivers and fitting ticketing machines to halts.
“We’ve performed a lot of planning and consultation to make sure it goes without a hitch. We’ve benchmarked and researched by talking to the likes of Transport for London and Transport for Edinburgh and we truly believe the system we’re getting will provide a transformational change to public transport in Northern Ireland.”
After a competitive tendering process, Translink chose Parkeon, a global leader in transport technology, as a partner for the project.
“Attracting more people onto public transport is their (Parkeon’s) bread and butter. They’re a worldwide player and bring a lot to the table.”
Meanwhile, Translink is also working very closely with Irish Rail to improve cross-border services and connections.
The new technology will make it possible to, for instance, buy a ticket in Ballymena for a connecting service through to Dublin.
“As well as making it easier for people who live and work here, we want to make the services more attractive and accessible for tourists.”
That has already been taken a step further with a recent partnership with Ryanair where flyers can book tickets on the Belfast International Airport to Belfast bus service when booking their flight.
“It’s an initiative which we feel very strongly about. Belfast and Northern Ireland are becoming more and more popular as tourist destinations and we want to make sure our services are simple for tourists to use and represent good value so we can tempt them to return.”
That’s also good for the wider economy, of which tourism is a big part.
“If we can make the transport system more accessible it has to have a positive impact on business.”
That’s borne out by recent research which shows that every pound invested in public transport here, generates four pounds for the total economy.
On a more local basis, independent research shows that over 50% of shoppers using the Metro service spend £35 each per visit, a big boost to the retailers of Belfast.
It’s evidence such as this that means the TFTS has the potential to help transform the Northern Ireland economy.
“We believe Translink can be a key enabler to business in Northern Ireland and it’s proven that public transport has a very positive impact on the economy.”
Planned TFTS ‘Go Live’ timescale