© Tim Pannell/Getty Images

International pricing

Crossing the continent with a single booking

01/2017 - From Hamburg to Warsaw, from Copenhagen to Vienna: thanks to PIA, it is becoming increasingly easy to travel across Europe by rail. This future-proof sales solution links different rail networks and makes the booking of international tickets more flexible and convenient.

Until now, the sale of tickets in Germany for journeys in the rest of Europe was only possible for selected connections, each of which was updated manually. But thanks to the PIA project (Pricing and International Offers) it is now possible to book tickets for many routes across Europe without any great effort. In principle, it is as if you were booking a journey within Germany: passengers specify the start location and the destination station – and the best possible connection is then displayed and can be booked. It does not matter whether this entire route is outside Germany, whether you want to travel abroad from Germany, for example from Munich to Zurich – or whether you are passing through Germany, as on the route from Brussels to Vienna. PIA calculates the connection automatically and shows all available routes in Europe.

For years there has been an international exchange of data, which takes place every September ready for the timetable change in December. For this purpose, all rail companies provide their basic tariff data such as distances, departure and arrival stations, as well as prices. This basic data is downloaded and imported into the respective sales system. From this data, staff at DB Fernverkehr logically combine route and pricing data of the various countries with one another. Yet overall in Europe there are about 100,000 possible combinations of national routes. Before the introduction of the new pricing, these created a further 8,000 international routes, that travel centre employees at the local ticket office had to assign manually for the appropriate connection. In self-service sales, for example on the bahn.de website, only 3,000 predefined international routes could previously be offered. This has now changed with the launch of this project.

Complexity in every detail

The topic is extremely complex, not just in terms of the subject, but also technically, as the individual systems of the sales back-end system have been repeatedly expanded and revised over the years. The complexity of the PIA project was further increased, since the sales channels and the upstream and downstream procedures were likewise affected. DB Systel offers a wide range of support here: from project management, through the creation of the specialist and technical concept, its implementation and system testing, to the go-live. And even in service, because the sales back end is managed at DB Systel. A large number of advisers and developers have already been occupied with tariff topics for many years.

The booking system has grown historically. For Marko Kelsch from DB Fernverkehr, therefore, the key reason for the successful collaboration on this project is clear.

© Deutsche Bahn AG

The experienced personnel, in particular at DB Systel, but also at DB Vertrieb and DB Fernverkehr, have been dealing with this topic for a long time and have helped to structure it. All those involved have mastered the specialist and technical complexity and know immediately, whenever we receive a request, at which location this request must be implemented.

Marko Kelsch, DB Fernverkehr

Project with a past

The first internationalisation concept was started back in 2011. For reasons of capacity, attention at that time was focused on transport without subsidies, such as the ICE to Brussels or the high-speed train to France. “We started to fill the IT logic with content and data”, recalls Marko Kelsch. The development of PIA got under way in 2014. In future, not only the company’s own products and service, but also those of other rail companies are to be represented. Up to 95% of the sales were made with the 3,000 predefined routes. The question was: what would it mean if not only these routes were mapped, but also all 100,000 routes, and if absolutely any combinations could be created between them? “By means of economic calculations we established that there was enormous potential, since the system can automatically connect routes and make sales without any effort”, explains Kelsch.

The great volume of possible connections was not the only obstacle. Due to the liberalisation of rail transport there is no longer just one national rail company per country, but often several privately owned railway companies. It was therefore necessary to represent different transport companies within one country. And although the different rail companies have already been working together for many years, there are differences in their philosophies. The customers of one rail operator may use a route-related ticket to travel on any train on that route. Other companies issue what are called Integrated Reservation Tickets. These do not sell any journey on the route, but only a specific seat on the train.

Implementation in several stages

It is therefore quite clear that it was not at all simple to map the entire European route network in one go. The implementation had to take place step by step. “A key question was: which countries do I have and where do I make the most sales?”, says Kelsch. Primarily these countries are the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, in other words, countries with high traffic volumes. In addition to their own international tickets, the national rail operators of these countries also sell via the Deutsche Bahn system. And they are structurally very broad and have also implemented many internationally agreed requirements already.

Tickets for routes across Europe can now be booked online for the first countries in the project

© Deutsche Bank AG

Since June 2016 the PIA future-proof sales solution has ensured greater flexibility when combining travel chains by linking rail transport networks and an integrated ticketing system on many routes. The various rail operators in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland have been involved since the start and were joined in October by rail companies in the Czech Republic, Austria and Denmark. By the end of 2017, at the conclusion of the project, these will be followed by France, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia. With these 16 countries, the lion’s share of the key market is covered by PIA – resulting in a considerable improvement of ticket-selling process, both in person and self-service.

The long-term objective is that at some time in the future every possible country in Europe will be covered by this scheme. “Then we will be able in theory to sell a journey from Paris to Moscow – on one ticket”, says Kelsch.