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ITSO – the borderless specification

Posted: 18 August 2008 | Helen Mitchell, Head of Business Development and Head of Operations and Delivery, ITSO Limited | No comments yet

The ITSO specification has played an integral role in the early success of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) that has rolled out across the country. On the 1 April 2008, England took a momentous step on the path towards integrated smart travel, with some 6.8 million cards being distributed to people over the age of 60 and the disabled.

ENCTS follows the relatively smaller national schemes that have evolved over the last few years in Scotland and Wales, and whilst both the over 60’s and the disabled in Britain can benefit from free travel, the significance of the extended roll out in England for the development of a countrywide smart ticketing platform will become increasingly apparent.

The ITSO specification has played an integral role in the early success of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) that has rolled out across the country. On the 1 April 2008, England took a momentous step on the path towards integrated smart travel, with some 6.8 million cards being distributed to people over the age of 60 and the disabled. ENCTS follows the relatively smaller national schemes that have evolved over the last few years in Scotland and Wales, and whilst both the over 60’s and the disabled in Britain can benefit from free travel, the significance of the extended roll out in England for the development of a countrywide smart ticketing platform will become increasingly apparent.

The ITSO specification has played an integral role in the early success of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) that has rolled out across the country. On the 1 April 2008, England took a momentous step on the path towards integrated smart travel, with some 6.8 million cards being distributed to people over the age of 60 and the disabled.

ENCTS follows the relatively smaller national schemes that have evolved over the last few years in Scotland and Wales, and whilst both the over 60’s and the disabled in Britain can benefit from free travel, the significance of the extended roll out in England for the development of a countrywide smart ticketing platform will become increasingly apparent.

However, the nature of ITSO means that it is not confined by national borders. Its specification fully complies with the standards put forward by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), meaning that it is at the forefront of specifications that are available for the European market.

ITSO – universal interoperability

Formed in 1998, ITSO is a non-profit sharing or distribution organisation, whose members include bus and train operators, industry suppliers, the Department for Transport and regional and local authorities. Its objective is to facilitate the development of an interoperable smart environment through the development, operation and management of an interoperable smart media environment. Originally created as Version 2 in March 2004, ITSO specification now resides as Version 2.1.3 (as of April 2008) and as Crown Copyright it is available to all.

The ITSO shell on a smartcard provides the opportunity for a card to store multiple products, meaning that an ITSO card can be compliant with other schemes such as commercial transport ticketing or additional applications such as leisure or library products. ITSO embraces a multitude of existing card types, which vary in terms of their suitability for specific schemes. These cards are contactless, a necessity in the transport sector as they are quicker and easier to operate than contact counterparts.

Painting a picture of the UK

So far the ITSO specification is applicable to schemes in Scotland, Wales and England. The National Entitlement Scheme in Scotland is administered by Transport Scotland and has been in operation since 1 April 2006. Whilst predominantly a facility for allowing free travel for passholders across Scotland, the National Entitlement Card has a wide functionality base that allows the card owner to use the card for other public services dependant on the local authority they are registered with. The Welsh Assembly will introduce their ITSO compliant scheme for concessionary travel across Wales, rolling out over half a million passes and equipping buses with smart readers in the Autumn. By the end of 2008, the Welsh Assembly hopes that the majority of Wales will be using their ITSO cards in a smart environment, with local authorities printing and encoding new card issues.

Whilst the Scottish and Welsh schemes are centrally controlled by their respective devolved governments, the English scheme is much more widespread, and given the fact that each separate scheme is controlled at the local Travel Concession Authority (TCA) level, much more complex. One of the main contributors to the success of the scheme is via its technical specification (ITSO), which has been designed to provide secure interoperability through its common design features. The UK Department for Transport’s (DfT) Framework Agreement was set up to allow authorities to procure all the services required in order to issue smartcards for concessionary travel. Split into four lots, it covers aspects such as card production services, card management services (CMS), back office provision (known as the Host Operator Processing System or HOPS) and in-house production equipment.

The recent history of concessionary fares in England saw a statutory half-fare minimum concession introduced for pensioners and the disabled in 2000, whilst in 2006 the statutory minimum was increased to full free local travel. The green light for ENCTS signalled a high demand of cards over such a short period of time between August 2007 and April 2008, subsequently the mass production of ITSO cards for ENCTS scaled new heights. With over 5.7 million cards created for rollout on the 1st April 2008, the pressure was on to ensure that data was processed quickly and accurately. During peak periods, some 800,000 data frames were being processed per day, equating to some 106,000 smartcards being created each day for TCAs. Due to the sheer quantity of TCAs across England, it was only natural that different levels of implementation would be required. Invariably, some TCAs were more advanced in their development of fully integrated smart schemes than others. In order to ensure that those TCAs who lag further behind were catered for, the DfT created ITSO Services Ltd (ISL). Established in October 2007, ISL was charged with supporting non-smart TCAs (authorities who do not have all the functioning components that make a fully smart ITSO accredited scheme), acting as the ITSO licensed operator on behalf of non-smart TCAs, providing ISAMs, and giving guidance and direction on issues such as stoplisting and full ITSO migration.

Overall, some 6.8 million cards have so far been produced, equating to approximately 4.8 million cards under the auspices of ITSO Services non-smart TCAs, and some two million cards that have been issued by smart TCAs including CENTRO, GMPTE, Merseytravel, NoWcard (Cumbria and Lancashire), Cheshire and Nottinghamshire. With smart TCAs in the throes of going ‘fully smart’ and installing point of service terminals on buses (POSTs), Blackpool City Transport has recently upgraded its fleet of buses to support a full ENCTS delivery for one of England’s most popular tourist destinations for the elderly.

In addition to the bus sector, there is also the development of ITSO compliancy in rail ticketing. Commencing from 2008, the introduction of smartcard ticketing will form a key stipulation to new rail franchise agreements. At the moment there are six rail franchises involved, South West Trains are the first to announce their intentions with East Midlands Trains and London Midland to follow suit.

ITSO in Europe

So how does ITSO play its part in the wider European context? Whilst many existing smartcards are restricted geographically, the ITSO specification is not confined by geography; a single media can be used for a variation of uses in different areas. As ITSO complies with the international standard on interoperable fare management (IFM), ISO 24014-1, it can be applied to all interoperable fare management schemes across Europe.

ITSO has publicly stated that they are collaborating with the European partners that represent Calypso. Despite its status as a rival European electronic card standard, ITSO policy is to allow acceptance of Calypso cards within an ITSO Scheme, which only serves to improve interoperability throughout participating European areas. To this end, ITSO specify Calypso Microprocessor Cards as one of eight Customer Media types.

France, Germany and the UK have been at the forefront of measures to improve interoperability in Europe, with all three working together with other partners across the world to write the international standard on interoperable fare management. The partnership has identified a common goal of creating an environment for European interoperable fare management, providing travellers with common styles of contactless media throughout Europe, which can subsequently be used for loading multiple transport products across separate European locations.

With this in mind, various European partners including ITSO have created a Europe wide forum called the EU-IFM Forum, organised by the International Association of Public Transport (UTIP). This is partly funded by the European Commission through the EU-IFM Project and is designed to attain a consensus across operators in Europe and to develop the platform where a single smartcard from one country can be used to load tickets in another. Membership to the forum has been extended to all EU Transport Operators and so far has received wide attention with promising discussions from the wide reaches of the European Transport family. As for ITSO applications in Europe, Hungary has already announced that it is to adopt the ITSO specification locally, whilst other European countries have also given great consideration to adopting ITSO, such as Austria who conducted a trial of various specifications including ITSO in the latter stages of 2007.

The future

Greater impetus is being placed on interoperability on the European level, over the next decade there is every possibility that as payment processes no longer prove to be a barrier to public transport users, then common styles of contactless cards can be applicable to media throughout Europe. Not only would these advances bring about a greater degree of harmony to the European transport network but they would actively encourage people to move away from car dependency and encourage sustainable modal shift. As more European transport operators look towards the ITSO specification, as well as other open specifications such as VdV, then the realisation of an interoperable media form can be made. In a relatively short leap in time, there is the potential for a customer to use a single media form to purchase tickets for travel in a multitude of locations and modes across Europe, thus breaking down geographical border constraints and making the routine of accessing public transport in its many guises a great deal easier. Should this realisation be achieved, the benefits to transport networks across Europe could be momentous.

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