The Great Light Rail and Tramway Robbery

Whenever you travel by train or tram, the ticket you pay for is subsidising those who don’t pay. Neville Hilton, Revenue Protection Specialist at AFD Software, examines the changing face of revenue protection and how straightforward solutions can help operators lose less to the fare evaders.

In today’s money, £46 million was stolen during the Great Train Robbery of 1963. Yet nearly 50 times that figure (£2.2 billion) in revenue has been stolen from the UK’s light rail and tram networks over the past ten years – enough to pay for the new Nottingham Express Transit system four times over. This is a major crime by any standard, and one which is unfair to every investor, every transport group, every operator and every fare-paying passenger.

All this revenue is lost one person and one journey at a time, and an estimated 10% of journeys are not paid for. So what makes an effective revenue protection strategy, and what are the practical issues that need to be considered?

At AFD Software we have worked closely with major transport operators including First Group, National Express and Metrolink RATP Dev with our Pocket Names & Numbers software to underpin effective deterrence, increase the proportion of fines paid and prosecutions made.

Changing the game

Ten years ago a revenue protection officer would check the details of a passenger by telephoning a central office where an advisor (if not already swamped with calls) would leaf through hard copy directories looking to confirm the name and address details given. The time taken through this laborious process would delay and frustrate the passenger, sometimes leading to violent assaults! Thankfully, a lot has changed since then…

In 2005, AFD Names & Numbers was first introduced as a central component of revenue protections systems. It compresses the encrypted name and address details of over 42 million people in the UK into less than 1.5GB of data, making them instantly available and searchable on a handheld device. This is very useful when parts of the transport network have no internet access.

False information = No money

Speed of access is vital, both in terms of productivity and in protecting staff from customer impatience. Staff can combine their local knowledge with rapid, instant data retrieval with Names & Numbers. It’s a powerful combination and enables careful questioning, which reduces the possibility of staff accepting false information. Accurate details mean more fines are collected and more prosecutions successfully made.

Word travels fast

If it’s easy to avoid paying fares, or it’s just cheaper to pay the occasional excess fine than buy a season ticket – word travels quickly via social media sites. More than ever a visible staff presence is required to deter avoidance and issue fines, along with an effective back office system that is able to actively follow through to collect fines and prosecute those who don’t pay.

Consistency of approach by revenue protection staff is important and performance data needs to be collected and analysed so appropriate training interventions and coaching can be delivered. The days of rugby tackles are over, calming conflict and getting the right result without violence are key.

What does success look like?

If there was a formula for success in revenue protection, I think it would look like this:

(Passion + Process) * (IT + Management + Training + Frontline Staff + Enforcement + Prosecution + Publicity) = Revenue Protection Success.

It is the combination of these elements that brings in revenue through deterrence and prosecution. I see how Names & Numbers plays a hidden but practical and crucial role in strengthening each aspect of the revenue protection through delivering the information necessary to collect fines and to prosecute offenders – day after day.

As Ian Law, Head of Finance at Metrolink RATP Dev, told the Manchester Evening News: “Revenue generated from ticket sales goes back into running the system so our efforts are focused on creating an effective deterrent to travelling without a ticket. We believe that a failure to take this seriously would be a disservice to the honest, fare-paying customers who make up the majority of our passengers.”

The AFD Mobile Product range is revolutionising mobile name, address and bank data validation for charities, finance, transport and revenue protection sectors. What could it do for you?