"...passengers wishing to get involved could pre-register to use their faces that then allows them to pay fares."
Rail ticketing has really kicked on in recent years and is beginning to mirror the rapid development and innovation being made on the tracks. Thanks in large part to the now-ubiquitous smartphone, the magnetic paper tickets that are still prevalent around the world are beginning to give way to more advanced alternatives. In London, passengers have been able to pay for their journeys using smartphones since 2015 and represents a huge potential globally – according to ABI research, more than 35 billion digital transport tickets are expected to be used on smartphones by 2019.
The motivation among passengers wanting to use technology that makes tickets easier to buy and harder to lose would appear obvious, while for the operators the streamlined processes and fewer queues present massive operational benefits. But what are the latest innovations in rail that are helping the industry reach the era of totally ticketless travel? Dave Songer gives five areas that have already changed the landscape… and some that are likely to.
ONE: The rise and rise of apps
The apps that smartphone users in their millions use daily have been present for as long as the devices themselves have been around, but what has changed in recent times is the technology that powers them. Those advances have been keenly felt in transport-orientated apps, turning the smartphone into a one-stop shop – from planning journeys and receiving live updates, to booking the ticket and opening the barriers.
One such example was launched by Keolis in the summer. The “all-in-one” app was developed by Masabi for use on the France’s Orléans network that includes the ticket technology company’s M-Ticket, a digital tool that allows passengers to buy tickets and then validate them for use. Designed to saves travellers valuable time, Masabi’s JustRide SDK-powered app also finds the quickest routes by combining all transport modes, and even walking, in the same way Google does with its Maps app.
TWO: SMS-powered travel
Technology’s ability to offer up-to-the-minute answers to age-old problems is one of the greatest reasons for its suitability in life, but particularly in transport ticketing. And nowhere is this more the relevant than in Kenya, where the country’s national operator has stemmed the illegal trade of rail tickets being sold on for inflated prices by using SMS text messages. Launched this month, Kenya Railways has rolled out an SMS-based payment platform for use on its Nairobi to Mombassa line that has cut-out the criminals in one fell swoop.
Those buying the tickets via SMS will be protected by an extra layer of security; the system requires purchasers to provide names and national identity card numbers. The service also enables passengers to make payments via a mobile money platform to secure their tickets.
THREE: Facial recognition gets go ahead
Meanwhile, news of an altogether more futuristic way to buy train tickets was revealed in the UK in the summer and involved the passenger to do absolutely nothing. Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the South West of England secured funding from the Rail Safety and Standards Board to use facial recognition technology to pick up passengers before they reach the train, potentially seeing a time whereby ticket barriers would become completely unnecessary. So great has the advancement of facial recognition technology been in recent years, it is now possible to check against a database of customers using the shape and texture of a face that can even differentiate between identical twins.
Already receiving interest from the largest UK rail operator Go-Ahead, Bristol Robotics Laboratory said that passengers wishing to get involved could pre-register to use their faces that then allows them to pay fares or top up credit.
FOUR: Keeping tickets in hand
A somewhat more obtrusive approach to transport ticketing that will get under the skin of those involved has now been introduced in Scandinavia. In a development that will be bad news for the squeamish, SJ Railways now accepts tickets that are stored on biometric microchips in travellers’ hands – the first rail company in the world to do so.
Currently only available to the around 2,000 people already with the travel-compliant chips inside them, customers are required to buy tickets in the normal way online but use their membership number to link the ticket to them. Conductors will then scan the passenger’s hand with a smartphone to check and validate the ticket. Still in its infancy after only being released in the summer, the new method has had a few teething problems, but has been broadly welcomed by the tech-savvy Swedes. In the country, only 2% of all transactions are carried out using cash.
FIVE: A seamless experience
Back in the UK, steps are being taken by Chiltern Railway to harness another function of the smartphone that can track passengers and make a world without train tickets a very real possibility: Bluetooth. The use of the wireless connection technology to create ticket-free travel has been made possible by SilverRail, which allows passengers to use their smartphones to take trains and automatically be charged the best price for that journey at the end of the day.
Aligned with SilverRail’s Seamless Mobility mantra, the company teamed up with Chiltern Railway’s parent company, Arriva, to run a pilot scheme earlier in the year on Chiltern’s route between Oxford Parkway and London Marylebone. Should it go into action, the new system has been deemed especially suitable for those stations across the UK without ticket halls or ticket barriers.
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