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Interview on digital ticket inspection

Just the ticket for enhanced on-board service

06/2018 – The RiSpE pilot project demonstrates that intelligently using passengers' travel data in the seat occupancy system in real time not only improves on-board service, but also opens up untapped revenue streams.

In future, an ingenious idea for digitisation will support train attendants in their work. By accessing travel data in the seat occupancy system in real time, RiSpE avoids repeated ticket inspections and increases the range of services by recording passengers’ tickets in conjunction with their seat numbers. Christian Dünkel, system designer responsible for RiSpE at DB Systel and Tatjana Söder, special traffic consultant at DB Region, explain the thinking behind RiSpE, its objectives and the results of initial testing of the prototype.

What exactly is the idea behind RiSpE?

Christian Dünkel: With RiSpE, we want to make travelling more convenient for passengers while facilitating train attendants’ work. Up till now, train attendants have been able to see passengers’ destinations from their tickets, but this information has gone unused. With RiSpE, we can digitally record all key data for other potential uses during ticket inspection. The individual travel data is linked to the relevant seat. This allows the train attendant to call up a passenger’s destination at any time via RiSpE.  And that enables us to proactively address the passenger’s specific service needs and wishes, as required.

The user interface of RiSpE. It is planned to later run the system on the MTx devices.

© Deutsche Bahn AG

What kind of service could that be?

Tatjana Söder: On an ICE or IC with on-board service, for example, orders can be linked directly to the system in the restaurant car from the passenger’s seat. At a later stage, passengers could then order food and drinks directly via their smartphone. If, by using the highly specific data, the system realises, for example, that the passenger will leave the train at a particular station, it immediately tells them whether it is even worth placing an order.

How is the available data evaluated for the RiSpE service?

Christian Dünkel: RiSpE currently gets by with a simple logic. During a journey, there are various events, such as delays or even train cancellations. All of these events are structured according to Deutsche Bahn’s classification system. In RiSpE, the data relevant for the travel chain is merged. Based on the available data, the implemented logic determines which of these events relate to the passenger’s particular journey. If, for example, the system detects that the connecting train has been cancelled or will not be reached, it automatically calculates and proposes a new itinerary. This option has already been implemented and can now be called up simply by clicking on the seat for which the passenger is checked in. For enhancements involving complex links between events, artificial intelligence could play a role for RiSpE in the future.

Meet RiSpE

The innovative RiSpE prototype records seat-specific data on passenger transport customers – such as ticket inspections, transfer requests or orders for coffee. This information is visualised on a tablet by means of a “seat overview” for each coach and coach sequence. RiSpE is used by train attendants and can also be deployed by the railway company for additional analyses. This avoids repeated ticket inspections for passengers and train attendants while improving the service provided at the passenger’s seat.

How does it differ from Komfort Check-in (KCi)?

Christian Dünkel: The two systems can be interconnected. Komfort Check-in focuses on passengers in ICEs, who can check themselves in using their smartphones at the beginning of their journey. With RiSpE, the train attendants record all passengers who are not checked in. Komfort Check-in eliminates all inspections; with RiSpE, follow-up inspections are no longer required. As a result, the complete travel chains for all passengers are available in the trains and can be managed actively.

Is new hardware required for this?

Christian Dünkel: No, the system can be integrated into train attendants’ existing mobile terminals (MT). In addition, the RiSpE front end could be used on any standard tablet or smartphone. At present, we’re using iPads for tests with the prototype. The back end, i.e. the background IT system for further data processing, runs in the DB Cloud.

How did the test runs go?

Tatjana Söder: We tested the prototype in the Berlin–Hamburg Interregio-Express (IRE). This is a commuter train operated by DB Regio Nordost at its own commercial risk, which links Berlin and Hamburg with the cities of Rathenow, Stendal, Salzwedel, Uelzen and Lüneburg. There are numbered seats in the coaches. Between the stations there are long sections, like on long-distance routes, on which ticket inspections are carried out. So the IRE provided the ideal opportunity for the test. Before starting the journey, the customer advisors received a brief introduction to RiSpE. Thanks to the system’s intuitive operation, everyone was enthusiastic right from the start. Because we are now accustomed to mobile devices, first-time users can familiarise themselves with the system very quickly. On the train, we recorded the tickets using RiSpE and with the passengers’ consent. Online tickets were scanned with RiSpE on a standard tablet. For tickets without a QR code, the destination station was read or requested and then entered manually.

All information can be called up by recording the ticket once.

© Deutsche Bahn AG

What challenges were there?

Tatjana Söder: For example, groups or families had to be checked in. During the first test run, each person had to be recorded individually. That’s very time consuming. Even though each of these cases can be handled quickly, they naturally add up. The developers then improved this process. During the second test run, pressing the seat location on the tablet for longer allowed the attendant to select additional seats, enabling several people to be recorded in one ticket check-in operation.

Did everything work smoothly?

Christian Dünkel: No, and that’s a good thing, because otherwise you miss out on important insights. For example, the poor radio link made it difficult for the first test run to send the recorded data to and receive updates from the backend. This was corrected for the second test run by making changes to the data exchange process. During the second test run, we realised a problem with the second inspection after the stop in Stendal: three check-ins had disappeared from RiSpE. The passengers were still on the train, but RiSpE showed their seats were available. We were also subsequently able to rapidly resolve this error in the connection to the Trip Planner.

How does RiSpE make work easier on trains?

Tatjana Söder: Unlike in regional transport, passengers are not automatically recorded on the Berlin–Hamburg IRE. Passenger numbers are recorded manually by the customer support agents. RiSpE would eliminate manual passenger surveys, leaving more time for the passenger. I see the greatest added value in the fact that the itinerary can be recorded in a way that is geared to customers. This is very useful if a train is delayed, for example. With RiSpE, there would be information on how many passengers are on board who still have to reach a connection. The connecting train would be informed accordingly and could wait, if possible. In addition, the seat-specific inspection results are handed over to the new train team when there is a change of personnel. This eliminates a second inspection, which doesn’t make much sense to passengers anyway.

Does using RiSpE also bring financial benefits?

Christian Dünkel: Definitely. We have compiled a business case for this. With conventional ticket inspections, fare dodgers are often overlooked. These passengers know the inspection routines and the train loads on the routes they travel and deliberately avoid inspections. At a conservative estimate, the resulting loss is in the area of more than four million euros annually. With RiSpE, the seat is automatically and visually displayed as “to be inspected”. So fare dodgers have little hops of avoiding inspection. This could significantly reduce the loss for DB. While our focus is on customer service, rail transport is the source of our revenue, and RiSpE enables us to collect some of that revenue.

What are the next steps with RiSpE?

Christian Dünkel: We’re currently presenting the service at a number of events. Through the team’s participation in the hackathon “Drei-Länder-Hack DB – ÖBB – SBB” in Vienna, we not only developed new ideas and gained experience, but with RiSpE we also attracted the interest of many participants and made important contacts. The SBB and ÖBB participants immediately recognised the economic aspects of RiSpE and offered to collaborate with us. Initial adjustments to RiSpE were developed by the team in cooperation with a colleague from SBB. We want to gain further experience with test runs in SBB and ÖBB trains and to share it with colleagues.

Thank you for the interview.