Northern’s new Parkeon Ticket Vending Machines ….

Posted on November 28th, 2011, by The Chairman

We’re getting ticket vending machines (TVMs) at three stations along the Mid Cheshire Line, Greenbank, Northwich and Knutsford, apparently due to increased patronage and also a change in franchise rules.

We once had TVMs, Almex machines like the Permit to Travel machines seen elsewhere which only sold tickets to destinations along the line and were also very unreliable.  The remains of the posts these machines perched on can be seen at some stations, such as at Navigation Road on the left on entering the platform.

The new machines are from a British manufacturer called Parkeon rather than from Scheidt & Bachmann (S&B). S&B provide many of the others on National Rail as well as the new ones used by Metrolink.

These machines don’t come cheap!  We hear they cost around £25,000 each. The franchise rules were changed recently meaning that a TOC investing in equipment can now get fair value for it at the end of a franchise – they just had to give it away previously!! So, before the rules change franchises would not invest in equipment like this unless it was in the franchise commitment, or there was a lot of the franchise left and/or the asset would generate enough extra revenue for the TOC to pay for their investment.

We’ve been having a discussion hoping the machines will sell tickets from our stations onto Metrolink, as those in ticket offices do. We already know that due to a software problem that the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) has to resolve (not a priority we understand), we can’t buy through tickets onto the Metrolink Eccles Line from the AVantix portable machines that the conductors use.

Last Saturday, I thought I’d go and see how the newly-installed Northern Parkeon machine at Stockport worked whilst on my way to meet some friends at the very special Station Buffet on Stalybridge Station platform. (Pie and black peas recommended, together with plenty to wash it down with!)

I tried buying a ticket to Anchorage on the Metrolink Eccles Line.

It was a pretty dull day hence the poor picture, and here’s what it said ….

I want to go to Anchorage ....

“Destination not available. Please try another one.”

Sounds like a line from “Oh, Mr Porter!!”

So, what do I do if I do want to go to Anchorage? I suppose I go to the ticket office and buy the ticket from there, assuming it’s open.

Anyway, this trial having “failed”, I turned to have a go with a Virgin TVM. This didn’t even have Anchorage Metrolink as a destination!

Now, aren’t we trying to encourage through travel?

Please leave a comment

  1. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    Also the Stockport machine sells the more expensive “peak” Anytime day single to Piccadilly at all times (as well as cheaper variants in the off-peak). Surely the machines should be programmed to only sell “peak” tickets before 09.30. The peak fares should then disappear from the list of tickets on the machine. Or do Northern think that some passengers want to make a donation to them by paying more than they have to?

  2. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    Also presumably part of the business case for the new ticket machines is that Northern will pay their conductors less in commission on ticket sales (currently 5% I believe).

  3. Mike Battman Says:

    I find the choice of stations strange, although I am not that familiar with passenger numbers on the Northwich section of the line.
    In my experience the Navigation Road to Hale and Knutsford stretch is where the most ‘unchecked’ passengers board and get off without buying a ticket. I’ve done it myself numerous times but I would happily buy a ticket if a machine was available.

    A further bonus if they were to fit one at Navigation Road would be the ability to buy Metrolink tickets whilst waiting for the gates to open (Unless you are travelling on the Eccles line)

  4. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    I’ve just been down to Northwich to “have a play” with the new ticket machine. It is situated in virtually the same place as the previous ticket machine, i.e. on the platform to the left of the booking office. The machine only takes cards and passengers do not have to use it when the ticket office is closed (good). The best feature is that you can pick up tickets ordered over the Internet, which should be very useful. I was there during the off-peak and I am pleased to say that the machine was only selling “off-peak” tickets (or Anytime in the case of singles where the fare is the same all day). There are buttons for “Popular Destinations” but, amazingly, “Manchester” is not among them! You have to type in “Manchester” one letter at a time! You can buy a single, day return or a 7-day season ticket for each local destination. I was pleased to find that “Metrolink City” is a destination which the machine recognises when you type it in and the correct through fares are on the machine so you can buy a through ticket. It would be useful if the machine actually stated “changing at Altrincham in both directions” to make it clear what the ticket covers. Other Metrolink zones and destinations were on the machine but tickets were not available. Also the machine does not sell Duo tickets even if two passengers are specified. But on the whole it was not as bad as I feared and several passengers used the machine with no problems while I was there. I just hope it survives unscathed!

  5. Edd Says:

    Should through tickets to Metrolink stations like Anchorage, Harbour City, MediaCity etc. from the ticket offices at Northwich and Knutsford?

    The Northern ticket machine at Stockport didn’t use to sell Cheap Evening Returns even though the Virgin ticket machine next to it does. Is it still the case that Northern ticket machines don’t sell Cheap Evening Returns?

  6. Conductor Says:

    No offence to the good people of Greenbank but I honestly do think that the new ticket machine will be there for a few weeks until it has been broken into and the cash nicked. Think about the nice new poster cases that lasted about 2 weeks on the down Chester platform?

    TfGM set the fares relating to Metrolink tickets and also all rail tickets within such as Altrincham – Manchester CTLZ. I’ve tried selecting Greenbank – Eccles MTLK on the avantix machine which what conductors use onboard our glorious 142s. No such fare exists and no fare exists within GM for a Hale – Metrolink Zone H which is the Eccles line.

    Parkeon machines also have a strange font.

  7. Jen Says:

    Conductor: As the machines are to be card only, they’ll struggle to get anything out of it other than blank orange tickets!

    I wonder if Manchester not appearing as the ‘top destination’ is because passengers from Nortwhich going to Manchester are selecting different options. Some will select Manchester STNS while others will select Metrolink City and some may even select ‘Deansgate G-Mex’

  8. Conductor Says:

    Good to see it’s card only however these aren’t vandal proof as a few have had their touch screens smashed by local yobs with bricks. Not all Debit Cards function with these machines as I believe they are offline so it might be of a situation where select cards will not work with TVMs or onboard Avantix.

    If you select Manchester Stns, Manchester Piccadilly, Oxford Road, Victoria or Deansgate the final ticket will be printed as Manchester Stns. Can see a confusion regarding Deansgate via Metrolink however. Hopefully a sticker reminding passengers of the difference may be added.

  9. Mark Barker Says:

    Thank you to the Chair and others for highlighting the arrival of a ticket vending machine (TVM) at Northwich. Others will indeed be following soon at Knutsford and Greenbank. The introduction of these machines is as a direct result of our revenue protection strategy which seeks to increase Northern’s retailing footprint to make it easier for customers to purchase tickets, and allow the conductor to get through the train to serve customers joining at other unstaffed stations. I would like to take the opportunity of responding to some of the comments raised:

    – Cost
    We have negotiated a unit cost for the TVMs that is much less than the Blog suggests, in fact our work with Parkeon has driven down the cost of machines by introducing a little more competition into the market.

    – Destinations
    We have set up the ‘quick select’ function, (the first screen the customer sees), to reflect the most popular tickets, (during peak and off peak times), based on sales figures from our industry system Lennon. I was also surprised to see Manchester not showing as part of the quick select screen at Northwich. Steps have now been taken to correct this, thanks to the blog for pointing this out.

    – Metrolink
    As mentioned in the blog, there is an issue with through fares to the Metrolink Eccles line. It is the lack of data rather than the failing of the machine that it cannot display fares to those destinations and Avantix also suffers from the same problem. We are working to fix this so that the TVM will issue through fares.

    – Peak and off peak
    When we trialled this machine the quick select feature displayed the peak and off peak fares correctly, however a change in industry systems since has resulted in some peak fares being displayed during off peak times on the quick select screen, (although all off peak fares are shown if you choose the station using the A-Z station finder). We recognise that this is not the perfect solution so we have made some changes to the TVM functionality and will roll out a fix for this hopefully before the end of the year.

    – Duo and Cheap Evening Return
    We are very aware that the TVMs do not sell these tickets, this is caused by the way the ticket is set up in the industry systems that the TVM uses for its data set. We are working on changing the way the data is programmed and will be in a position to introduce Duo and Cheap Evening Returns onto the TVMs in the New Year.

    – Card only TVM
    Northern has a policy of installing cash and card machines only where we have a ticket office open for the majority of the operating day, CCTV installed etc. We have installed card only machines at unstaffed stations or ones where the ticket office is not open for the majority of the day. The 6 original TVMs under our first roll-out have all enjoyed frequent usage and favourable comments from our customers and are even popular for short journeys.

    – Ticket on Departure
    In conjunction with the launch of our website, we have enabled Ticket on Departure on all Northern TVMs which has improved the ability for customers to collect their pre booked tickets.

    – Reliability
    We are delighted that the fleet currently is enjoying a 99.9% availability, they are very reliable indeed, and despite the attempted theft of cash from the older type of Northern TVM at Stockport, we have suffered very little vandalism so far.

    – Card acceptance
    The machines are always online for card authorisation, therefore if the machine fails to accept the card it may be because there is insufficient funds on the account, it may be an Electron card (not accepted at all), or the card may have a problem with the chip embedded into the card as well as the card reader having a fault.

    Best wishes

    Mark Barker
    Northern Rail

  10. Mike Battman Says:

    Thanks for the input Mark.

    I assume that “…our revenue protection strategy which seeks to increase Northern’s retailing footprint…” means you want to sell more tickets!!

  11. Peter Says:

    Will there still be G4S ticket inspections at Greenbank, Northwich and Knutsford? It would seem stupid to install expensive machines on the platforms and then to pay someone to make sure passengers have tickets before entering the platforms.

    Does anyone know where the ticket machine at Knutsford will be installed? There would be arguments for machines on both platforms. While the ticket office is the Manchester side the ticket office has the longest queues before Manchester bound trains depart. On the other hand people travelling towards Chester can arrive on the Chester side, then have to go over the footbridge to the ticket office.

  12. In The Know Says:

    The machines cost more in the region of £12k each, with about 90 stations covered.
    The 99.9% reliability comes from Parkion (it’s on the website).
    A few machines have already suffered damage and one was cut open with an angel grinder!
    These machines will be the norm the infamous McNulty report comes in 🙁
    My personal experience is passengers walk past them.
    When they are on platforms the sun makes the screens very difficult to see at certain times of the day

  13. Edd Says: is now able to sell Knutsford-Anchorage through tickets. I don’t know if the TVMs and conductor’s portable ticket machines are also able to do this now.

    Redspottedhanky also now offers the bus add-on for Liverpool Airport.

  14. Edd Says:

    Regarding what I previously posted on through tickets to Metrolink stops – an update to RedSpottedHanky’s booking system seems to have removed all fares from the Mid-Cheshire line to Metrolink stops, including Metrolink City Route: Altrincham. They’ve also gone from the other sites that use the ATOS Origin booking engine. I contacted them regarding this and in response they gave a generic reply saying if you need help booking tickets to phone a helpline.

    Also relating to TVMs at Knutsford and Northwich both appear to freeze a lot while you’re using them and it’s not something that just happens when it’s hot, cold, rainy etc.

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