Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Train travel with mobile tickets

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Yesterday Lizzie and I went to Manchester by train, and I travelled on a mobile ticket for the first time. Christine sadly had to work the bank holiday, and when I weighed up the cost of driving and parking, the train seemed like a good option.

Having watched a recent bonus All The Stations video sponsored by Trainline, I decided to give mobile ticketing a try. This is where you store the ticket on your mobile phone, and show your handset instead of having a paper ticket. I already use the Trainline app for checking the times of my train to work on a morning, and so it only took a few extra taps to buy a mobile ticket.

Once purchased, you need to download the ticket to your phone, and activate it. By downloading the ticket, you are saving it to your device, which means that you can still view the ticket even if you don’t have phone reception. This is handy considering that there’s no phone reception at some more remote railway stations, or in tunnels. Activation has to be done on the day of travel.

Once activated, the app shows your origin, destination and any required routing information. For example, your ticket may require you to travel via a certain station. It will also show a barcode; train guards may scan this to verify your ticket’s validity, and you’ll need it to go through ticket barriers. Most barriers do now support barcode scanning – I had no problems at Manchester Victoria.

In a previous guide to buying tickets, I’ve recommended avoiding Trainline as it charges a booking fee. At the time of writing (August 2017), Trainline does not charge booking fees for mobile tickets, meaning that you’ll pay the same as you would do if you bought your ticket from any other web site, or a ticket office. The only exception is a 20p charge for using a credit card, but debit cards are free.

Availability of mobile tickets

Mobile tickets are not yet available with all operators. I travelled with Northern, who (I think) have rolled out mobile tickets for all of their routes. Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Great Western Railway (GWR), Greater Anglia, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains offer mobile tickets for some or all of their services.

Other train companies will probably be rolling out mobile ticketing, as there’s a government commitment to offer an alternative to all paper tickets by the end of 2018. However, this may not apply to franchises such as ScotRail, London Overground, TfL Rail, Arriva Trains Wales and Merseyrail where the specifications are set by devolved governments/public bodies.

Advantages

For me, the key advantage was being able to purchase a ticket on my phone, and not have to then pick up a paper ticket from a machine on arrival at the station. Sowerby Bridge station does have a ticket machine, but it’s on the Leeds-bound platform. This saved me a bit of time; I wasn’t in a rush but it would’ve helped had I been.

It’s also harder to lose a ticket that’s on your phone. I’ve lost paper tickets before, including a pair of return tickets to London that went missing when we moved house most recently. Thankfully we found them, but I also lost the return portion of a ticket whilst out in Leeds once. That resulted in me deciding to walk to Kirkstall Forge station where my MCard was valid from. At least I got an extra blog post out of it, I suppose.

Disadvantages

Mobile tickets cost the same as regular paper tickets, so there’s no financial incentive to use them (barring the potential cost of replacing lost tickets). This is a shame; one reason why London’s Oyster smartcard has been so successful is that it’s also cheaper.

You also need to ensure that your phone has enough charge to last a complete journey. An increasing number of trains offer charging points but not all of them do, and not everyone carries a power bank around (although I do). If your phone runs out of power, resulting in you not being able to show a valid ticket, then you may be liable for a penalty fare.

Most ticket gates have been upgraded to read barcodes, but some may not. In which case, you’ll need to find a gateline supervisor to let you through.

Conclusion

My first mobile ticketing experience went well. I had no issues with the ticket barriers at Manchester Victoria, and I didn’t get any confused looks from the staff who inspected my mobile ticket.

The Trainline app is good, but could be better. It’s a little slow to start, and you can’t add the tickets to your Wallet app (formerly Passbook). I couldn’t test whether Apple Pay works as I don’t have a compatible handset.

One Comment

  1. This is a really interesting post, mobile tickets are slowly being rolled out around the country and something we’ll see within the next year becoming so popular. They certainly save from losing your ticket and facing big fines and with so many people owning smart phones it seems like a great idea. It just pays to remember to bring your charger or to invest in a potable one!

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