Despite such amenities, the TOC had seen declining ridership from 2006 to 2009. To turn this around, HEx embarked on a radical rethink of how to understand, communicate with, and sell to its customers through service innovation and technology. By combining traditional and digital marketing with focused customer relationship management (CRM), HEx was able to decisively reverse the trend, resulting in rapid ridership growth from 2009 to the present. Putting this in perspective, HEx has seen earnings (EBITDA) go from 5% average year-on-year growth between 2004 and 2008, to 49% growth between 2009 and 2011. Brindley puts this down to understanding the effectiveness of what he calls ‘integrated digital communications,’ and of which passenger Wi-Fi is a small but key element.
Figure 4 – Integrated Digital Communications [Source: HEx] This year’s TrainComms conference not only benefitted from the spectacular surroundings of the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel but also from the maturity that the wireless rail sector appears to have reached. Rather than this being a green field market in which the naturally cautious TOCs are tiptoeing toward pilots, there was a distinct feeling that it’s over the hump and into a deployment expansion phase with business models validated and technologies improved. Smaller rail and mass transit operators should take heed that now may be the time to join the party. -- Jim Baker is CEO at Xentrans Inc., a wireless project management consultancy based in San Francisco and London. A C-level wireless industry veteran, Baker has been involved in many deployments of wireless technologies on passenger transportation worldwide and is a recognized industry expert on Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G convergence. He is chair of the Technology Committee at the Joint Council on Transit Wireless Communications that is developing a strategic plan for implementation of wireless technologies in mass transit. Contact Baker via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.