UPDATE: an updated review on the app is here.

Virgin Trains East Coast have made a beta version of their booking engine open to the public. It's worth having a look at this now and giving your feedback if there's anything you think can be improved.

If you're unsure whether you're on the beta or the old site just check the URL bar, the beta site is beta.virgintrainseastcoast.com

I've already given a bunch of feedback and I'm happy to see some of the smaller issues identified have been fixed already.

One of the main benefits of the new site will be the ability to book season tickets online (coming soon), this also means they'll be able to give points to season ticket holders. Hopefully the platform is flexible enough to allow the addition of a decent loyalty scheme in the future.

Currently the beta site does not allow cycle reservations so if you're taking you bike stick with the old site for now, it also doesn't allow the purchase of catering vouchers.

Overall it's looking promising, although it's important to remember any beta will have issues but opening the site to the public helps identify these issues sooner.

I'm less impressed with the new 'Travel Buddy' app that has been launched on Android (and now iOS too). It replaces the old 'Ticket Wallet' app for storing mTickets.

The main issue with the new app is everything except for the ticket wallet fanctionality involves the app opening a web browser. The booking functionality is not integrated with the app, the journey planner is not integrated, the 'My Account' functionality is not integrated. The app just feels like a shell that doesn't do much on its own.

I have tested booking a trip and selecting the mobile ticket option. This does perform better than the previous ticket wallet app in the sense that the tickets are delivered almost instantaneously, however the range of tickets that are currently available is limited to advance tickets, the previous site used to have a wider range of mobile tickets available so hopefully this will also be introduced in due course.

A better app is the South West Trains app, the East Midlands Trains app is also similar. I was told that South West Trains uses the same booking engine just with a more limited set of options. The simple interface of this app really works well on a mobile screen where space is at a premium.

Another drawback at opening a browser window for most actions is that you have to log in separately to the browser even though you're logged into the app already, this makes ticket purchase feel less seamless.

Some other operators (Virgin Trains West Coast for one!) are now taking the approach where they're removing the distinction between mTickets and eTickets meaning a dedicated Ticket Wallet is no longer necessary. You can now save West Coast tickets on your phone in your app of choice (even in email), you can choose to show on your device or print them out.

I hope the VTEC app does grow over time, there's plenty of functionality it can add:

  • The obvious being to integrate booking within the app - also make it possible to pay using Apple Pay and Android Pay
  • Help the door to door experience by providing a journey planner that covers public transport, driving (including station parking info) as well as the ability to order a cab to/from the station
  • Context sensitive pages - when approaching destination show connection information, local weather, links to appropriate apps for the area, etc
  • Link to the 'station explorer' app which contains station maps and helps inexperienced users find their way around the station
  • Proactive offers - push cheap upgrade offers to the user
  • Station parking - register your car, have number plate recognition and allow parking to be paid within the app. Number plate recognition would then raise the barrier automatically
  • Sponsored content - businesses within and near the station can promote offers
  • Delay repay - as well as making it easier for customers to claim delay repay within the app if the user is using a flexible ticket the app can track which train they're actually on to reduce fraudulent claims
  • Catering - one of the franchise commitments is to offer an app to order catering at-seat by the time Azuma launches
  • Fault reporting - make it easy for the customer to report faults, use WiFi/bluetooth/etc to automatically populate details of the train/carriage the user is currently on making fault reporting easier.
  • Good service - the same mechanism for fault reporting can also be used for reporting good service.

Any other suggestions? Let them know! There's a feedback option within the app.