The National Rail Trends Yearbook was published this week, and the usage data for the National Rail Enquiry service is startling. As may have been expected, use of the telephone service continued to fall – the number of calls has fallen 65% in the last 5 years and last year only 6.5% of all enquiries to NRES were by phone. However two things stand out from the current figures:
First, the availability of new media has had a huge generative impact on enquiries, as well as causing a switch away from telephone: Whilst phone enquiries have halfed over the past four years, the total number of enquiries to NRES has almost doubled from 98million in 2005/6 to 191m in 2009/10.
Second, and more surprising, is the importance of the PDA in accessing rail information. Between January and March 2010, more enquiries were made via PDA services – principally NRES’s iphone app – than calls made to the NRES telephone service.
The success of Apple’s app store, and similar services on Android and Blackberry devices, has been well documented, but there can be few instances where this new medium has become so integral so quickly. Publication of this data, coming only a week after BA started letting customers check in for flights using their iphone, clearly illustrates how important it is that transport operators factor the “app” into their customer contact strategy.
What, even a year ago, may have appeared to be a piece of “novelty” marketing, may in fact be the future of the industry. There has been talk about m-ticketing as the future for public transport ticketing for some time – National Express have launched such a service on their coach network and there are limited trials on the National rail network, but perhaps that moment has passed. Maybe the time has come for the i-ticket.?