touché completes Feasibility Study of smartphone/beacon ticketing in Bristol – Behavioural

By Trevor Crotch-Harvey

6th March 2018

People at a bus stop using mobiles
People at a bus stop using mobiles

This is the second part of our series of four blogs about the Feasibility Study touché conducted in Bristol, testing the use of smartphones in combination with Bluetooth Smart beacons and the touché locate back office.  This post focuses on the Behavioural Study, managed by UWE and funded by ITSO. The project was carried out by UWE’s Centre for Transport and Society – a body that acts to provide expert advice on how transport needs to adapt to reflect life in the 21st century.


The intention was to ensure the project was not just a technical test, but would also examine how regular travellers would react to the solution.  We wanted to ensure it would be appealing to use as well as technologically robust.  UWE recruited fifteen volunteers, who were users of Android smartphones; they were a mix of students, day travellers and other categories, with age ranges from twenties to fifties.  The plan was to monitor the behaviour of passengers as they used the Riposte app, and gauge their reactions, through a combination of focus groups, video and before/after questionnaires.


UWE also conducted research on the international application of smartphones in transport.  Academic studies support the benefits of smartphone based systems – creating efficiencies, image and reputational benefit, passenger growth, financial benefits, speeding services, and flexible fare management.  The research also found:

  • Passengers are more likely to keep Bluetooth activated if they perceive services offered have value
  • Users are increasingly likely to engage with a mobile device if they wait for longer periods at bus stop (more than ten minutes)
  • Younger passengers are more likely to use mobile phones at bus stops
  • Devices must be durable, and must be seen as more secure than cash
  • Device journey preplanning should be minimised; automatic calculation of best price journeys is acceptable

So how did users find the touché solution in Bristol?  Most of it was very positive – not particularly surprising, considering how many passengers access their smartphones while waiting for a bus:

  • Oyster was well known to the cohort of volunteers and is the yardstick for ease of use
  • With limited instruction, users were able to operate the solution, and people adapted their travel behaviours relatively easily to incorporate a different approach to ticketing; different users did this in a variety of ways, depending on their travel circumstances
  • Most users liked the idea of automatic journey detection; they perceived use of the app would lead to faster boarding for all
  • Existing m-Ticketing users are likely to be early adopters
  • The solution could resolve the perceived issues of using a bus with cash, worry about having cash to begin with, or fear of having the wrong money
  • Irregular users felt in the future they could “bus hop” and make additional trips
  • There was enthusiasm for multi modal and multi-location services (perhaps leading the way to “Mobility as a Service”, or “MaaS”)
  • Car users said they would also like to see Bluetooth used for parking


However, there were a few issues:

  • It turns out Bluetooth has a poor reputation among some users – especially (incorrectly in the case of Bluetooth Smart) that it drains the battery; awareness of Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth Low Energy) was low
  • There is an understandable lack of awareness of the detail of beacon technology and consequent misunderstandings, e.g. the perceived need to “pair”
  • Despite having been instructed otherwise, several users turned off Bluetooth or data after using the app
  • Older users were concerned about privacy


We felt these issues could all be addressed in a solution roll out, through better education of users at the outset.  This discovery, while not surprising, shows the value of conducting test like this, to inform the way forward.


Once again, we gratefully acknowledge the support of UWE, ITSO, First, DfT and Bristol City Council in conducting this project.  Check out the blog on the technical/operational results, and future blogs for more about commercial opportunities, and implications for policy development.  For any further information on this blog, the Bristol project, or the use of smartphones in transport, get in touch with touché using the contact page.


touché offers a range of interactive mobile solutions, including: