The Race for a Free Seat

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According to a report in the “I” newspaper at the beginning of November, and several others, the London North Eastern Railway has fitted free seat sensors in its entire rolling stock fleet. The entry in the paper stated:

“Sensors which detect whether a seat is free have been rolled out ….”

Back in August, the Daily Telegraph carried this exciting headline:

“Seat sensors on trains will end scramble for spare places, railway firm announces”

Hmmm – the August announcement was for a trial -this trial was apparently a success, so all the stock has now been kitted out.

Why, and how will that help if there is still 50% of the seating free because it’s in first class, and few people choose to pay the extra for a first class seat?

With the system passengers – or intending passengers – will of course need access to a smartphone or tablet, to connect to the on-board Wi-Fi network to see where the seats are located. This will show as a location map on their devices.

But of course seats that have been reserved, have always been shown on Virgin Pendolinos – the LNER system differs only in that you have to have a smart device, and then wait 5 minutes on board, before interrogating the system to see if there is a seat available. It’s even more useful than that, seats shown in amber (aka a traffic light system), have only been reserved for part of the journey. This means that you will be able to sit for some of the time, and then stand for the rest …. unless of course someone else on the train has nabbed the seat before you.

It’s the genuinely ‘free’ seats I think are a potential launchpad for conflict. Let’s say two passengers – neither having a seat reservation – find the same free seat, would it then be a foot race to see who gets there first. Then, once at the seat, how do you decide who should then occupy this seat, so that the on-board system can update itself, as it scans the physical space to see if someone has sat down, and updates its database before the next station stop.

Picture if you will the scene on a station platform as the train rolls in – the passengers with reservations are OK – but then there are the last minute passengers, who just buy a ticket to travel. People now have their phones at the ready waiting to board, and impatient to access the on-board Wi-Fi to access the ‘free seats’ map, and the scramble for best position begins near the door. The complex mess of passengers trying to get off, with others trying to board, and access the Wi-Fi, or just clogging up the vestibules at the coach ends, along with copious amounts of luggage.

It was announced back in August 2018 as a trial, but I’m sure it will all go swimmingly, now that they’ve rolled it out fully, and the need for passenger angst, or guards on trains will be diminished still further. Falling back on technology just because you can develop an app may not be the best way, but still, at least nobody will actually need to speak to a fellow traveller at all.

Here are a couple of interesting links.

 

 

-oOo-

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