Railways must simplify the purchase of international tickets

Booking tickets for an international train journey is even ten times more difficult than buying airline tickets on the same route. This is evidenced by the percentage of failed attempts by users of ticket systems, the portal Railtech.com reports. In an experiment at an Austrian university, technical and organizational factors prevented as many as a third of purchase attempts.

The research was carried out last year by an employee of the University of Applied Sciences in St. Pölten Thomas Preslmayr and his students. The study sample consisted of 304 cases. Each of the 76 participants in the experiment was given two different international routes in Europe for which they had to book train and airline tickets (four reservations in total). The organizers gave no instructions. The result was unequivocal: of the 152 train bookings, no fewer than 50 (about 33%) were not completed. The purchase of airline tickets failed in only 9 cases, of which only 5 (about 3%). The reservation system on the railway can therefore be described as 10 times less user-friendly than the airline reservation system.

Easier with the direct train

The study initiator emphasizes in an interview with Railtech.com that the most difficult factors for buying tickets and planning a trip are the need to transfer and cross more than one state line. – Traveling on direct trains between neighboring countries is quite easy – although here, too, none of the survey participants were able to book a train ticket from Warsaw to Prague – says Preslmayr. Such a purchase was possible via the Polish website intercity.pl since June last year, a little earlier such a ticket could be bought via the website of the Czech Railways.

As he adds, the confusion was also caused by the multitude of online booking platforms available, none of which cover the whole territory of Europe and all carriers. So some participants didn’t know which one to use for a particular report. Part of the blame lies with the rail operators themselves, who are often reluctant to provide the necessary data. As a result, for each of the three platforms mentioned – Trainline, RailEurope and Omio – it was not possible to book the respective route in about a third of the cases.

The scientist notes that most of the cases studied involved relationships to and from Austria. Most of the participants in the experiment were Austrians. Combined with a relatively small study sample, this study cannot be considered representative for the whole of Europe. However, the fact remains a much higher degree of complexity than in aviation systems. As Preslmayr points out, a statistician who would have too much trouble under normal circumstances (booking tickets for a computer at home) would give up traveling by train.

UIC has a solution, but…

The reasons for the complications are technical as well as legal, economic and strategic. One is the division of tickets into integrated tickets, which require reservation, and non-integrated tickets, which do not require booking. The latter category includes the majority of long-haul and regional domestic services. Combining both types of tickets is difficult, but there is already a solution for this – run by UIC Open sales and distribution model (OSDM). It was the division into integrated and non-integrated tickets that prevented, for example, the purchase of a ticket from Vienna to Rome during the experiment. – However, this year it is possible, thanks to the introduction of OSDM. So the progress is visible – admits the researcher.

However, participating in OSDM is voluntary – UIC cannot force it on carriers. – For some operators, eg in Eastern Europe, their lack of implementation is also a financial issue. They use older ticketing systems, explains Preslmayr.

More arrangements across the border

Sometimes the reasons for complications are organizational matters. – It is impossible to buy a ticket from Germany to Poland two months in advance, because in Poland the presale starts only 30 days before the travel date – the scientist gives an example (Preslmayr is wrong, but such tickets are available two months before train departures also in Poland, they are already for sale via intercity.pl). The solution would therefore be to harmonize similar conditions of carriers from individual countries. However, in Italy, when booking a ticket for a group of six, you must provide the details of not one, but all participants in the trip.

The barriers to buying tickets are one of the reasons why railways have lost significant market share to aviation, Preslmayr said. – Although international train travel is gaining in popularity, too many people are still lost in the ticket booking process – the researcher concludes.

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