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Virgin Trains’ smartphone revolution sees millions of customers switch from paper tickets

Press Release   •   Jul 03, 2017 09:32 BST

  • A fifth of Virgin Trains customers have chosen digital tickets on its west coast route
  • Sales of digital tickets have more than trebled in a year
  • Virgin Trains leads the industry, selling 80% of most popular form of digital ticket on UK rail network
  • Rapid conversion follows drive to develop better alternatives to traditional orange ticket

A fifth of Virgin Trains customers have switched to mobile-friendly digital tickets after their launch on the west coast route last summer.

More than 1.5 million digital tickets have been sold in the last three months alone, as customers respond positively to their simplicity and ease of use.

Unlike traditional paper magstripe tickets, which have been an industry standard for 30 years, digital tickets can be easily downloaded to smartphone devices or printed at home and then scanned at automated ticket barriers.

Between March and May, 18% of Virgin’s ticket sales were for digital tickets, a dramatic increase on a year earlier when this represented only one in 20 sales.

Their rapid take-up is a positive boost to Government and industry ambitions to roll out digital ticketing across the rail network and has been praised by independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus.

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, said: “Passengers tell us that they want more choice when it comes to buying tickets. More than 1.5 million passengers choosing to use smart ticketing reflects the ease and growing confidence they have in going paperless. It offers a faster and convenient service that avoids queuing.”

John Sullivan, Virgin Trains’ Chief Information Officer on the west coast route, said digital tickets carried a number of advantages over paper tickets.

Customers can save time by avoiding the need to go into ticket offices, either to purchase or print tickets. And buying tickets digitally, either through the websites or mobile phone apps, can simplify what can be a confusing choice of ticket types for customers since these platforms automatically select the best option, he added.

“Digital ticketing is the technology of the future and we’ve seen how quickly customers switch when given the choice. We’re confident that we’ve established the right platform for the industry and are working with Rail Delivery Group and Government to help roll this out to other parts of the rail network,” John said.

Virgin Trains became the first operator to sell digital across all its routes in August. These utilise an industry-standard barcode which can be downloaded onto smartphones, Apple Wallets, the Virgin Trains app or printed at home.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) estimated in March that Virgin Trains accounts for 80% of sales of the most popular form of digital ticket, the eTicket.

Virgin Trains is now working with the RDG part of its Barcode Enablement Programme to ensure that other parts of the network are upgraded to allow seamless travel across the country with digital tickets.

Virgin Trains’ east coast business is aiming to emulate this success as part of a comprehensive digital refresh strategy being rolled out this year. Last week it launched mTickets which can be downloaded straight to mobile devices.

Notes to editors

Virgin Trains sells three types of digital tickets:

mTickets: Available for walk-up journeys when purchasing tickets on the day. Can be purchased through the Virgin Trains app.

eTickets: Launched last August, the eTicket has rapidly become Virgin Trains’ most popular form of digital ticket and is available for Advance journeys. eTickets have an industry-standard barcode which can either be printed at home, opened on any smart device, downloaded into an Apple Wallet or accessed through the VT app.

Web-to-mobile: Launched last June, these allow customers to purchase tickets online and then access them with the VT app.

About Virgin Trains:

Stagecoach and Virgin are working in partnership to operate the East Coast and West Coast inter-city routes under the Virgin Trains brand. Together, they are on track to revolutionise rail travel across the UK.

The combined network connects some of the nation’s most iconic destinations including Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, York and London.

Virgin Trains is committed to delivering a high speed, high frequency service, offering shorter journey times, more comfortable travel and excellent customer service. Customers consistently rate Virgin Trains as one of the top long-distance rail franchise operators in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) commissioned by industry watchdog, Transport Focus.

On the East Coast route, £140m is being invested to create a more personalised travel experience. We have already invested £21m to completely revamp our existing fleet and customers can now benefit from 42 additional services (22,000 extra seats) per week between Edinburgh and London. 2018 will see the introduction of completely new Azuma trains being built in the UK by Hitachi.

The West Coast route has a proud record of challenging the status quo - from introducing tilting Pendolino trains, to a pioneering automated delay repay scheme and becoming the first franchised rail operator to offer m-Tickets for all ticket types.

Visit the Virgin Trains Media Room - virgintrains.co.uk/about/media-room - for the latest news, images and videos. Subscribe here for regular news from Virgin Trains.

Press Office: 0845 000 3333.

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