Issue 14 - December 2016


By David Hytch, Technology Lead - Transition Team, Calmac

CalMac’s winning the bid to operate the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry services contract was built around a commitment to not just deliver smart ticketing for our passengers but to improve community relations and support freight operators and other commercial vehicle users to drive the economic and accessibility agenda for Scottish Ministers.

CalMac is committed to implementing a new Booking and Reservation system together with smart ticketing that will fit in with the Scottish Government strategy to simplify and enable ticketing across all public transport operators making it easy for travellers to move around different transport operators without multiple tickets.

The current system has been doing a good job for 20 years but despite many enhancements over the years it is time for it to be replaced by a system more able to handle the digital world in which we live. During the bid process, we looked at many of the smart schemes around the world, both the successful and those less successful in order to learn from others and identify those elements that would best suit the operator of ferry services in the West of Scotland. Reading and listening to these experiences, together with the specification in the contract, shaped both the technology we identified as well as the approaches to business change needed to create a scheme that would be simple to use, a positive experience and one which would grow the take up of smart ticketing and on-line usage.

The current CalMac system has been doing a good job for 20 years but despite many enhancements over the years it is time for it to be replaced by a system more able to handle the digital world in which we live.

We started looking at the needs of foot passengers with a view to allowing the purchase of tickets through different channels online, through the web or via mobile apps, directly in the ports, convenience stores or through our contact centre. The objective is to be responsive and easy to use in the ways that the best web sites and apps such as Amazon and Trainline are. The use of Smart media includes the credit card sized cards that are familiar to people using Oyster for travel in London, or our bankcards, or increasingly in the form of an app which sits on our mobile phones.

The operators of commercial vehicles are going to be catered for with the new scheme, particularly in respect to ensuring we can get the best utilisation on the vessels. By having the ability to book and reserve up to a short time before sailing we can provide flexibility in circumstances where in the past vessels have sailed with space which only became available close to sailing. To avoid any abuse of the system we are looking at ways to provide a fair and equitable system but one which does have the capacity to penalise possible misuse.

There is a lot of complexity in the computer backup and the software and the design builds on our learning and experience from elsewhere and takes account of the special circumstances of a maritime environment. Anybody who has dropped a phone in or near water knows that salt water is not good for equipment or electronics, particularly when used on an exposed slipway. One of the conditions in the CHFS2 contract was too ensure the smart system could be used by other ferry or transport operators so we have made sure the design and delivery can meet this requirement. To make the system flexible in meeting our current ticketing and reservation products we are developing a codified set of business rules which can be used by the system to automatically interpret customer choices. These rules can be changed at short notice to accommodate disruptions of any kind, or new vessels, or events and festivals.

I mentioned the challenge of the maritime environment and on top of that there are other challenges that we face, including the geographic spread of our ports and harbours, the inconsistent communications networks and the weather. No other smart ticketing scheme has had to accommodate these features in this way but that is what makes this project so interesting. Those schemes that operate on the mainland and in our major cities have the luxury of telecommunications, broadband, roads and ready access for field engineers. Compare this to our situation where for some of the most remote places, two days is a good travel time; equipment must be robust and resilient and easy to fix. On board the vessels these factors can be multiplied, which is why we are exploring the use of mobile devices like those in use on Scotrail. Consider the difficulties of operating a smart phone with protective gloves on a wet and windy day – or night!

The procurement and implementation of a comprehensive scheme is not a quick process and in order to introduce some of the features early we are exploring the use of a mobile app to demonstrate to foot passengers the sort of approach we plan for the main system. This app will build on the work done in other parts of Scotland and the UK on rail, bus and tram networks and we believe it will be something our passengers will welcome.

This is at the start of what I believe will be a significant step to implement the strategy of Scottish Ministers in making it much easier to use different transport modes without todays complexities in buying separate tickets for each mode. I have worked before on a number of smart schemes, so bringing smart ticketing and reservations to the ferries of the West coast of Scotland is a different challenge but also the one with so many interesting ways to improve the customer experience on CalMac.

David Hytch, Technology Lead - Transition Team, CalMac

By David Hytch, Technology Lead - Transition Team, Calmac

Issue 14 - December 2016


Looking for a previous issue? Use the menu below to select an issue.