Why use barcodes as a token for account-based ticketing?

Posted: 22 September 2020 | | 1 comment

Using barcodes as a token for ABT offers passengers touch free, best value fares on a smartphone – even without a bank account.

why use barcodes as a token for Account Based Ticketing?

We are seeing a huge increase in efforts to reduce ticketing touchpoints as we try to encourage passengers back to public transport. From choosing the right ticket, to buying it and using it, historically, there are many points where passengers exchange cash or interact with staff or multi-user touch screens, just to get and use their ticket to travel. A barcode app on a smartphone removes the need for cash or multi-user touch screens, which leads to reduced bottlenecks and better social distancing, with the benefit of being able to offer best value fares for passengers.

Getting to the station with just minutes to spare, the last thing anyone wants to see is a queue for the TVM (ticket vending machine)! Using barcodes as an account-based ticket (ABT) token means passengers always have their travel entitlement loaded – and charges are capped to provide the most cost-effective ticket for journeys. Using barcodes as the travel token, passengers can simply ‘scan on’ and ‘scan off’ with their personalised barcode on their smartphone. What’s more, by leveraging existing smart ticketing infrastructures, it’s very straightforward and cost effective for operators to implement.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing passenger confidence in using public transport is essential to avoid people choosing less sustainable transport options due to safety concerns. ‘Touch-free’ ABT on a smartphone is just one of the ways of reducing the perceived safely risks of public transport. With no need to interact with any multi-user touchpoints, their smartphone becomes their ticket.

Additionally, with more people now working from home, for at least part of the week, ABT brings convenience and flexibility – which is even more important now as we try to encourage citizens to use public transport again.

Of course, there are many types of tokens available for implementing ABT, but there are six key benefits to using barcodes via a smartphone.

1. A tried and tested, accessible technology

Barcodes have been around for many years and are the lowest common denominator of technology that mobile phones support. This makes barcodes accessible to most people, including those without a bank account. It is a cheap, yet powerful and secure technology that nearly everyone is familiar with. Barcodes are also integrated with most electronic ticket machines.

However, when you are using barcodes, you do need to make sure they are secure and dynamic, so they can’t be used inappropriately and, ideally, are able to handle online and offline scenarios.

To use a barcodes app for ABT, you first create an account to join the scheme. This enables customers to see their journey history and develop a relationship with their transport provider – get advance notice of offers, route changes etc. In turn, the operator gains better journey analysis, so they get to know their customers better – unlike contactless bank cards (cEMV) where the customer is generally anonymous.

2. Apps for everything!

The continued rise in smartphone ownership, which is set to surpass 90 per cent for the developed world by 20231, has enabled most people to use their phones for more and more purposes. I know I’d be ‘lost’ without my phone – I manage so many everyday tasks through it. Why would I carry lots of cards with me when I can do most things on my phone?

The process of downloading an app is familiar to most of us now. With just a few clicks, an app gives users access to new services such as banking, social media, shopping, games – the options are endless.

Most people are used to using their phones to carry out many day-to-day activities. Using their phone to access best value ticketing for transport services makes perfect sense.

3. Reduce bottlenecks with self-service ticketing on a smartphone

With no need to buy a ticket in advance of a journey to secure the best fare, passengers’ benefit from the convenience to board services quickly and easily by scanning their barcode. The more passengers that arrive with their ticket ready to travel, the more it reduces bottlenecks at boarding and at travel shops, TVMs and ticket kiosks.

4. Cost-effective for scheme operators to implement

Scheme operators can leverage their existing infrastructure and, with no requirement to issue smart cards, an ABT barcode app is cost effective to deploy as well as being more flexible and convenient for passengers. Operators can also reduce credit or debit transaction charges by offering a pre-pay account – where passengers make a deposit and travel charges are deducted from their balance. When passengers load fewer, periodic, larger top ups in advance, rather than at the point of use, fewer card transactions are processed, reducing card transaction charges.

5. Can offer a pre-pay option for inclusivity

The ability to set up an automated payment method is perfect for most people, but it doesn’t suit everyone.

Some people either don’t have a bank account or are reluctant to use cards for automated payments. A recent report by Pockit2 concluded that the UK’s 1.2 million so-called ‘unbanked’ pay a “banking poverty premium” because they are missing out on preferential deals and discounts on utility bills, mobile phone contracts, broadband and personal loans. They are disadvantaged with higher travel costs too if they aren’t provided with a pre-pay option, where they can load their account at a travel shop or online.

6. Supports concessionary fares

ABT systems allow you to associate entitlement or concessions with customer accounts. When using a travel token, such as a barcode, you can then ensure the entitlement is taken into account when charging for the ticket(s) used – something that’s difficult to achieve with cEMV or pay-as-you-go.

What’s the difference between ABT and cEMV?

Contactless card payments (cEMV) certainly have a place in transport ticketing and offer a number of benefits for casual users and visitors from outside the operators’ region, but it is not the same as ABT.

For example, many operators already offer cEMV as a convenient payment method for passengers to pay as they board. As a straightforward ‘contactless payment’, it reduces friction and cash handling. However, generally, it’s offered as a simple payment transaction for single or return fares. Tap-on and tap-off along with capping can be achieved but will need to involve the services of a PSP (Payment Services Provider) to ensure journeys and tap events are linked to the same credit or debit card.

ABT, with an ability to support a range of different tokens. gives you greater control over the scheme rules configuration, but more importantly, provides a customer centric service that allows you to have a better relationship with your customers. Coupled with the flexibility to support entitlements, the flexibility of pre-pay and post-pay accounts, and inclusivity of those without bank accounts, it’s clear that ABT can provide a number of benefits over and above that of simple cEMV.

Find out more

To find out more about the benefits of ABT with Barcodes, or to discover the unique value of ACT’s multi-token ABT platform, read our whitepaper. You can also contact us to discuss your ABT strategy and to request a demo of our solution.

With industry leading experience of delivering large-scale smart ticketing solutions, we’re ready and able to help you deploy ABT in your own business and reduce bottlenecks and friction points in passengers’ ticketing journeys.


Article by Dave Spillett, ABT Product Manager at ACT, a Fujitsu company

1. The future of the smartphone, by Deloitte, 2018

2. The Banking Poverty Premium report, by Pockit, 2019

One response to “Why use barcodes as a token for account-based ticketing?”

  1. Mike Duncombe says:

    Looking back, it’s a surprise that we ever thought smartcards were a good idea for public transport ticketing. Barcodes have so many advantages as Dave describes.

    he big issue with bacodes has always been the ease with which they can be copied, leading to fears of increased fraud.

    These days with smart phones you can easily have a dynamic barcode that changes every few seconds and so quickly goes “stale”.

    Where the reading technology is missing you can provide a visually verifiable icon.

    It’s a surprise that we didn’t get here sooner – I know Masabi has been banging on about it for at least 10 years!

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