Can SMART Based Shoulder Peak Tickets Switch Rail Trips out of the Morning Peak?

Can SMART Based Shoulder Peak Tickets Switch Rail Trips out of the Morning Peak?


Paul Murphy, AECOM, Dr Brian Vaughan, Transdatsolutions, Professor Mark Wardman, ITS Leed University


This paper outlines the results of a study for the PDFC. to explore the possible impact of SMART based shoulder peak tickets on rail peak demand and revenue in five British Cities. These results may be used to update industry guidance in the area.


Paul Murphy (AECOM)
Brian Vaughan (Transdat Solutions)
Professor Mark Wardman (ITS Leeds)
Anthony Magee (Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC))

There has long been interest in switching rail passengers out of the peak to reduce both overcrowding and the costs of providing peak capacity. Off-peak tickets have been available for many years, but are generally unattractive to most commuters who have peak-arrival time constraints. Hence their impact on commuter travel patterns has been limited.

There has been experimentation with so called ‘early-bird’ tickets aimed at attracting peak passengers into what might be regarded as the ‘shoulder-of-the-peak’. However a major shortcoming of these conventional shoulder-peak or off-peak season tickets is the requirement that all journeys have to be made in the relevant period to qualify for the discounted offer. These have given an ‘all or nothing’ choice; either get the discount and make all commuting trips outside the peak or pay the full fare and travel during the peak.

SMART ticketing is where an entitlement to travel (or ticket) is stored electronically, for example on a card, rather than being printed on a paper ticket. This can take many forms, for example it can be stored on an electronic card like Oyster, on a mobile device or bank card. In this study the exact format of the SMART ticket was left undefined intentionally.

The introduction of a SMART season ticket provides flexibilily - the ability to mix and match the time of travel by day of week rather than the travel time being fixed to a particular time period. For example a ticket that provides a financial benefit for making some trips in the shoulder-peak (or indeed off-peak) whilst retaining the option of travelling in the peak. This type of ticket may be better suited to contemporary commuting patterns. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of this type of mix and match ticket on peak switching behaviour and quantify them.

The key study objective was to provide a clear understanding of how SMART ticketing that enables flexible differential pricing between the peak, the shoulder-of-the-peak and the off-peak impacts on rail travel patterns.

The study was in three main parts:

Firstly, an exhaustive literature review and consultation process was carried out to find out about the similar work in this field and to inform the survey design. This examined UK and international evidence covering 24 studies. As part of this process 17 International practitioners including academics, consultants and five railway managers from different train companies were consulted to explore their experience with shoulder of peak pricing. The findings from this research phase provided guidance on design issues and evidence of possible impacts.

Secondly, a self complete post back survey with over 2,100 rail users at six stations was executed. This covered a broad range of geographies across Great Britain. It featured a stated preference exercise which presented trade-offs between arrival time, fare discount for travelling out of the peak and crowding/seat availability.

Lastly, developing a spreadsheet based Application Model to help measure and estimate the impact of SMART based ticketing initiatives across the different cities where the surveys were carried out.

The modelling approach was innovative in looking at behaviour over a week rather than a single day in order to capture the potential benefits of a SMART based shoulder of the peak ticket. This allowed passengers to imagine that they could mix and match their time of travel over the week rather than travelling at the same time each day.

Stated Preference (SP) models were developed to explain peak switching and ticket choice. These were used in the Application Model developed for each of the five cities and were based on actual fare and loading data from MOIRA. This model was used to assess the impact of shoulder and off peak smart ticketing on peak demand and total revenue.

This work is innovative and is likely to be of international interest. The results of the study may be used to update future guidance issued by the Passenger Demand Forecasting Council, covering all rail services in Great Britain.


Association for European Transport