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Ticket to ride: a look at apps and tech delivering advances for operators and passengers.

Posted by Dave Songer on Mar 27, 2019

Transport for London ticket barriers [Credit TfL]I almost take my own rail commute for granted now. Well, the way I pay for it at least. For more than four years I have been using my bank card to open the ticket barriers at my local London Underground station, replacing my previous rather aimless method that often led to me being denied access thanks to my empty Oyster card. London’s tap-and-go payment system is still very much in action – and there have long been more efficient ways to pay for journeys than how I did it! But it appears that I’m not the only one who prefers the predictability of journey costs coming straight from my bank account; it has been predicted that around one billion journeys will be contactless, which would represent a rise of 200 million on 2018's numbers.

Passengers electing to use new ways to pay and challenging the pre-accepted norm of magnetic tickets isn’t the preserve of England’s capital, of course. There are a great deal of other operators and technology companies that have devised alternatives to fumbling around for change or topping up a smartcard. In this feature, SmartRail World looks at a few of the more recent innovations that are changing the traditional face of ticketing to make the process of paying for journeys smoother more efficient and more secure.

Unpredictable routes, predictable prices

Jump is a kid-specific appFor a vast majority of long-distance train journeys, the requirement to book weeks and sometimes months in advance of the actual trip is still very much part of the process. The principle behind it is simple: buy early when more seats are available to get discounted rates. Clearly, that model isn’t suited to off-the-cuff travel; those looking to make a trip of more than a few hours will often expect to part with more money than their contemporary who had the luxury of planning ahead. But what if that same long-distance journey could be paid for in the same way that I do on the Northern line every morning and afternoon – using different modes of transport to get there at a more standardised price?

That is the situation now being enjoyed by commuters in Switzerland and Lichtenstein, where journeys can be made to traverse both the countries using SBB’s GA app without the requirement to buy a ticket in advance. Developed by Fairtiq, the system works by the user swiping Start on the app at the beginning of their journey – which generates a QR code ticket – and Stop at the end, whereupon a fee will be issued for the trip regardless of the number of changes or line changes across its bus, train or tram network. Users that forget to do the final stage shouldn't fear though, as the app uses the in-built GPS functionality to ensure that there are no nasty bills or surprises!

The kids are all right

Fairtiq calculates tailored journey tarrffsIn neighbouring Germany, developers there have been working hard to include a customer that arguably hasn’t always been front and centre for operators: children. It perhaps makes sense: without full-time paid employment, maybe it’s just worth making technology and ticketing innovations for the parents and guardians that look after them. Well, times are changing in this respect, with an app that includes younger members of society that use transport unaccompanied, but who also (let’s be honest) have a better grasp of technology than most adults.

The Berlin transport operator VBB has enlisted the help of HaCon to develop its child-specific app to help children feel more included. Tested on children aged between nine and 13, the Jump app helps keep users safe while using public transport with features that allow specific routes to be set up that include important locations such as schools, clubs and family addresses. And for when journeys don’t go as planned, there is a GPS-enabled function that allows users to easily find the best connection from their position using easy-to-follow instructions and graphics, should anything go awry.

SmartRail event bannerTo learn more about the kinds of technology covered in this article, our annual rail event SmartRail will be taking place in Munich on 17th-19th June. Among the show’s attendees will be infrastructure managers, passenger rail and freight operators and industry suppliers discussing the latest developments all under one roof – with confirmed speakers including CTOs and CIOs from Deutsche Bahn, SNCF and FS Italiane.
Visit the show website to see the agenda, speakers and register for the show.

Counting the costs

No matter how advanced the technology or cutting-edge the development, there is one type of passenger whom remain impervious: fare evaders. It’s a major problem that hits transport providers’ bottom lines – Transport for London announced this month that it loses around £100 million a year as a result of passengers not paying for their journeys across its train, bus, tram and boat network. Naturally, different countries and operators approach the area of revenue protection in different ways. Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, for instance, recently took the decision to prevent anyone from entering into the main station, thereby cutting the number of people from boarding trains at the platform. 

For those markets that have made the step up from paper and now offer digital tickets, but which haven’t employed the same level of physical security as The Netherlands, help is at hand. Thanks to near-field communication (NFC), conductors checking these kinds of tickets can now do so without even having to look at the barcode or QR ticket on a passenger’ smartphone, instead waving the handheld validators near the device. The powerful ticket checkers can also be linked up to agency databases and access rider information, adding an extra layer of security that could well convince repeat offenders that it’s not worth the risk. With power comes responsibility, however, and it calls on any operator using a similar system to safeguard sensitive data from prying eyes, such as that offered by NXP Semiconductors. The company, which is one of the co-creators of NFC technology, said it has enabled more than two billion smartphones and wearable devices with its own security infrastructure.


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Topics: Passenger Information Systems, Ticketing, technology

Dave Songer

Written by Dave Songer

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