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

By Trevor Crotch-Harvey

This is the third 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 commercial issues.


The first point about the use of smartphones in public transport is that previously anonymous “passengers” become known customers.  Our friend Sam Rudder at The Hub nailed it: “If passengers are no longer anonymous, that changes things.”  Touché’s Riposte solution used in Bristol allowed the creation of journey records, by date, time, boarding and alighting points, and user ID.  So for the first time we can see the travel patterns of individual users, as opposed to aggregated totals of tickets purchased.  Even if we don’t know who these customers are by name, analysis of their travel should help operators to plan services which more closely match their needs – the data now allows this.


And if the passenger allows us to, we can start to use the data in ways which benefit them and gives commercial value to the data owner, the operator.  Let’s use an example to illustrate this.  This picture shows the bottom of Gloucester Road in Bristol – a busy street of independent retailers.  At this Gloucester Road cafesplace there are three cafés in a row, with a number 72 bus stop outside.  Our theoretical user is called “Jane”.  Let’s say we discover that Jane gets off the 72 bus here every Tuesday at 09:30.  How much is this information worth to the three cafés?  They could get a message to Jane, promoting 20% off a flat white until 10:30, potentially creating a new habit for her.  Now that operators know where individual users are going and when they’re going to get there, they can use this data to give commercial enterprises access to them.  Of course, this requires commercial messages to be relevant and not a nuisance – that’s outside the scope of this blog.


Now look again at that bus stop.  Bus shelters are typically owned by city councils, sometimes in arrangements with Out Of Home (OOH) advertising companies.  If the operator allows, say, the city council to have access to travel data (for instance, under a commercial agreement), now the stop owner knows how many people get off at that stop.  If they want to break this down by demographic, this would be possible too.  Now, when the stop owner goes into its next negotiation with advertisers, it is much better armed to strike a good deal because they know what audience they’re delivering.  This should improve revenue for very cash strapped organisations.  But our open question is to what extent public authorities are open to these opportunities – from discussions we have had so far, the answer is they are, to a surprising degree.


We can go a step further.  (Obviously this has to comply with Data Protection regulations (GDPR).)  If the user gives the operator access to other personal information, this can be further used to tailor offers sent to their smartphones.  Now we can find out that Jane prefers cappuccino, not flat white, and she has a penchant for granola – how could she resist such an offer?


We’re only at the beginning of thinking about how we can use travel data to make life easier for passengers, and create commercial benefits for transport stakeholders.  Touché looks forward to engaging with interested parties to explore what will deliver benefits for all concerned.


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, the Behavioural Study and a future blog for more about the 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: