Quno aims to make booking train tickets “simple and straight” the firm’s MD Jeremy Acklam told Business Traveller.
Readers are justified in being sceptical about such claims. That is because Quno, in common with every other UK rail booking website, must rely on the limitations of the ATOC (1) data base for display information.
But in truth when I previewed the site before its official launch today (Thursday) I do believe that Quno has managed to devise the best display of any UK rail booking site to date.
Quno is not perfect (thanks to the sluggish response times from that ATOC database) but it has been designed so that fewer clicks are needed to source information. Crucially it’s the first rail website with a separate column (find it on the left-hand side of the page) allowing you recheck, rebook or fine tune information without wasting time in scrolling back.
It also lists the train operators so it is easy to spot different options or “open access” (2) operators. You can also sort your jouney according to price and time of train.
Simply key in London to Birmingham and you will be provided with three train firms along with the choice of stations at both ends of the route. Or key in London-Doncaster and you will find both the incumbent TOC (3) (East Coast) plus open access firms like Hull Trains and Grand Central.
Jeremy Acklam admits that [dealing with] “the ATOC data base is quite a challenge” so “that is why we are developing the site in stages.”
Quno is currently aiming itself at individual travellers rather than firms with corporate accounts. Within the next three to six months it aims to roll-out mobile phone and print at home ticketing where these options are offered by the TOC. It also hopes to allow customers the ability to cancel tickets online.
One minus point (judging by comments previously posted on our forum) is that Quno levies booking fees. These are set at 50 pence if you pay by debit or £1 if you pay by credit card. By contrast when passengers book direct with a TOC online there is usually no fee.
“We are aware that the TOCs are subsidising their booking sites,” says Jeremy Acklam, “but we believe our simplified site which displays all options will appeal to passengers and therefore we feel our fees represent value. Remember that two out of three rail passengers do not book online because they are not confident in doing so.”
Quno is backed by US firm Silver Rail Technologies. The UK is the launch site in Europe. Next step in 2011 will see Quno include international train travel from the UK. That will be followed by moves into individual European countries. Any way to simplify international rail booking (even more complex than booking UK trains) is to be welcomed.
We await developments with interest. For more information visit quno.com.
Report by Alex McWhirter
1. ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies): a trade body representing the train firms
2. TOC (Train Operating Company): a train firm
3. Open Access operator: these are train firms which are allowed to compete against incumbents on a select number of routes. Generally an open access operator can charge less for flexible tickets because its overheads are lower. For example, it is freed from making franchise payments to the government.