RTPI and smart ticketing: what are they for?

Posted: 25 August 2017 | Mark Cartwright, Managing Director of RTIG | No comments yet

For Intelligent Transport, Mark Cartwright, Managing Director of RTIG discusses why, even though it is costly to build, operate and maintain, public transport needs to have smart ticketing and real-time passenger information.

Owning and running vehicles may be the core function (and the largest cost) of public transport, but it isn’t much use without the passengers. So, it is entirely appropriate that operators should be making use of the opportunities provided by modern technology.

Passenger information has the primary purpose of ensuring people know how best to make their journey. Tickets are there to represent the contract with an operator. Today, alongside the traditional paper-based methods, we have real-time passenger information and smart ticketing.

These systems can be expensive to build, operate and maintain. So why do we have them?

It seems that, for most systems, the answer is a combination of three things: patronage increases, operational costs decrease, or there is a social good. Each has complex factors behind it, which in turn affects the details of how the scheme is managed and promulgated.


Keeping passengers informed is now more than just a ‘hygiene factor’ to prevent excessive complaints; it’s increasingly seen as an integral part of the public transport service. If you aren’t telling me about my journey, you aren’t doing your job. Similarly, people are increasingly expecting to be able to travel without carrying cash, and to other means – based on mobile payments and contactless bank cards etc.

It’s worth remembering that not all passengers are the same. The mindset of a student, a commuter, a young mother and an elderly person travelling to a doctor’s appointment will be quite different and so will the profitability of their journey. Are you after streamlining the flow on peak services, or filling the vehicles off-peak?

Operational costs

Moving to smarter services may have a few direct benefits (such as fewer paper tickets being printed) but this is likely to be a tiny effect. The main cost advantages will be indirect. For smartcards, this means revenue protection – some schemes have indicated improvements of several percent of turnover, which is well worth having. For RTPI, the associated vehicle location tracking means better scheduling, and potentially even a lower peak vehicle requirement.

Putting the two systems together potentially enables even more value. With much more detailed information on passenger journeys, including connections, comes the possibility of optimising route design, and in some cases even real-time scheduling (especially on high frequency services).

Social benefit

There are, of course, all the usual arguments for modal shift (improvements in congestion and emissions etc), but additional benefits are possible too. Disabled passengers can use, and in some cases book, accessible transport more easily. Smart travel accounts can be tailored to encourage disadvantaged travellers, with payoffs for economic activity and social integration.

The evidence for all these benefits is varied, and they won’t all be achievable for every service, or even every network. Also, there are continuing developments in the technology available, the competitive environment, and the expectations of passengers. Getting it right remains a sophisticated challenge.