Open access and reserved - two public transport options getting closer

Despite the fact that both concepts have always been considered separate offerings, open access and reserved travel options are increasingly getting closer to each other. Why is this happening, and what does it mean going forward?

Previously, the rail and bus public transport industry had established a clear divide between daily urban and suburban services and long-distance services. Operators running the different services had contrasting approaches in terms of commercial strategy, customer experience, processes, and solutions. 

The (sub)urban operators 
On the one hand, (sub)urban operators designed their services to handle high volume and high frequency. At the same time, they made sure passengers could easily board and depart trains and buses with just a valid ticket.

The long-distance operators
On the other hand, the long-distance (high-speed) train operators placed their focus on the individual passenger experience while optimising their revenue through reservation- and yield management.

The evolution of the market

Because of the continued dialogue with customers, public transport authorities, and operators, we are keenly aware of how the market is evolving. We see a constant influx of new needs and ideas as the demand for public transport solutions continues to grow. Public transport operators are doing what they can to make public transport an increasingly attractive option. They do so by increasing the overall level of comfort, adding innovations, levering new offers, or a combination of these. 

At the same time, these same operators have to contend with crowded services. As public transport increases in popularity, services become increasingly busy. This may have a negative impact on the passenger’s overall travel experience, and could even lead to safety concerns.

To better serve their regular customers and manage the flow of passengers on extremely crowded lines, a number of operators introduced quota management and/or allowed reservations. A few noteworthy examples include: 

The Rail Delivery Group
The aforementioned quota management was the first model open access operators used. UK operators that belong to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) utilised this model. Many of those operators want to guarantee a seat to commuters (those travelling in and out of London for example), but find it is operationally impossible to provide each passenger with a specific seat reservation due to the great frequency of stops and departures. 

In France, TER Normandie, a regional train and bus network, introduced seat reservation on several lines in 2021. They made this decision to help avoid crowded trains, to add to the safety and comfort of their passengers. 

After the TER Normandie approach proved successful, TER Grand-Est made a similar choice in 2024 by introducing seat reservation on several lines that connect the Grand-Est region and Paris.

The geographical layout of the market may also play an important role in these decisions. Brightline out of Florida serves long-haul passengers that mainly travel between Miami or Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. These passengers will be on the train for approximately three hours and want to be comfortable during the journey. 

At the same time, commuter travel in the South Florida region is also an important market for Brightline. There are many people who commute to and from Aventura or Boca Raton to Miami to go to work. These passengers consistently choose Brightline and provide recurring revenue through the purchase of specific ride-passes.

To make sure the trains are filled optimally, passengers cannot select their own seat, but  have their seat automatically assigned to them in the most efficient way according to S3 Passenger’s seating algorithm.

Our vision for the future

At Sqills, we anticipated the evolution of non-reserved operators offering some form of reserved seating. We believe public transport operators do not have to choose between non-reserved, quota management, or seat reservation options exclusively. As an operator, you can flexibly mix and match between the different strategies, making decisions based on your knowledge of the market and the demands of your passengers.

S3 Passenger offers a broad and fully configurable solution that makes this mixing and matching possible. You have the capability to better manage demand, benefit the overall customer experience, integrate new services, and innovate your business with new types of offers.

We are constantly developing new capabilities that natively integrate in the S3 Passenger landscape. All features we develop are available to any type of operator, regardless of whether they offer open access of reserved options.  Modules such as the S3 Pricing Engine or S3 Travel Pass allow operators to manage subscriptions, discount cards, multi-ride tickets, dynamic pricing, and more. 

How this benefits you as an operator

Having looked at the current state of the market and looking at the different options, these are just some of the benefits you can expect as an operator when using S3 Passenger. 

You have the option to provide a mix of services (both reserved and non-reserved). You can do so for an entire service, by train, or even by coach. You have the option to only offer reserved seating for a specific period of time and with additional services. 

Stimulate ridership
By offering train passes and discounts, you encourage return customers to use your services. You actively influence passenger travel behaviour by creating a dynamic price that not only responds to supply and demand, but you can use virtually any factor to influence your final price calculation. For example, you could opt to give travel pass holders a discount during off-peak hours. 

Increased passenger comfort
Make sure that each passenger has a seat, or provide the option to reserve a seat for a specific group of passengers. Specific target groups might include those who have a subscription, commuters, locals, frequent travellers etc.

Increased passenger safety
Manage the number of passengers on specific crowded lines by using reservations and/or quote management. You can clearly specify on which lines, when, and on which trains (or a combination of these) you would like to do so. This allows you to reduce potentially unsafe situations on the most crowded trips. 

Everything in one place
Having all of your commercial offers (products, discounts, subscriptions, tariffs and more) in one place is a major benefit. You no longer have to worry about complex synchronisation or possible discrepancies between different systems. With S3 Passenger, you manage all propositions and business rules for all channels and partners in one single platform. 

As we continue stimulating public transport, it is important to be flexible in how you cater to your audience. By using S3 Passenger, you have the option to increase overall passenger comfort and make planning easier, which helps stimulate ridership and increase greener forms of transport.

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