Riga implements one of the most progressive payment systems in public transport

Posted: 20 September 2009 | Leon Bemhens, Chairman, Rigas satiksme | No comments yet

Nowadays, many local authorities take increasing care of their residents’ comfort in public transport, and hundreds of cities worldwide have already implemented and are operating electronic payment systems. One of the latest and most progressive systems was launched in Riga, the capital of Latvia, which, together with its suburbs, is home to almost one million […]

Nowadays, many local authorities take increasing care of their residents’ comfort in public transport, and hundreds of cities worldwide have already implemented and are operating electronic payment systems. One of the latest and most progressive systems was launched in Riga, the capital of Latvia, which, together with its suburbs, is home to almost one million people, potential users of public transport and customers of Rigas satiksme.

Rigas satiksme, as it is now, was established in 2005, after Riga municipality achieved one of its goals – to create an integrated public transport company. Rigas satiksme provides public transport services in the city of Riga, offers various types of transport for rent, as well as manages municipal parking-lots in Riga (3,120 in total). Rigas satiksme runs 252 city trams on 11 routes, 346 trolleybuses on 20 routes and 478 buses on 54 routes and employs 5,108 staff1. As of 1 May 2009, only electronic payments are accepted in the Riga public transport system.

Integrated electronic payments – after a careful feasibility study

The integration of public transport started in the early 2000’s by gradually merging public transport, parking and car rental enterprises into a single company, and a logical continuation of this process from financial, service and quality improvement aspects would be the implementation of an integrated payment system.

The idea that Riga should take advantage of the global experience and the opportunities provided by state-of-the art technologies, was backed not only by the local government, but also by experts and academic circles. Therefore, in 2005, immediately after the public transport companies merged together, the feasibility study of the best payment solution started.

The implementation of the electronic ticket system was in line with the goal set at the national level: to create an integrated, flexible, sustainable and environmentally friendly transport system.

In the first half of 2006, the Institute of Transport Infrastructure of Riga Technical University developed a feasibility study document entitled ‘Implementation of Integrated Public Transport Ticket (e–ticket)’. The document consisted of four main parts: the study of a technological basis for electronic ticket systems, international experience of building electronic ticket systems, economic aspects, and also the legal aspects of implementing the system. The main conclusion of the feasibility study was that the most advantageous and progressive technological solution for an electronic payment system would be that of contactless smart cards. As for the most appropriate model of implementing an electronic payment system from an economic point of view, it would be the establishment, at the initial implementation and maintenance period, of a joint venture with a strategic partner having experience of implementing similar projects in other parts of the world.

Joint venture established

On 28 December 2007, following the approval of Rigas satiksme’s council and the share holder, a joint venture limited liability company, Rigas karte, was established in accordance with the implementation model and the approved business plan. In the joint venture, Rigas satiksme owns a 51% share and its partner, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), owns the remaining 49%. The company’s registered and paid equity amounted to LVL 2.6 million.

Under the contract, Rigas karte and ACS perform the implementation of the electronic ticket system in Riga public transport and the system maintenance during the whole project period. The project is based upon a BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) principle of private and public partnership, which means that Rigas karte develops the system, installs it in public transport and 13 years later transfers it to its public partner – Rigas satiksme.

At the moment, the system is in full operation and one can conclude that the choice of the strategic partner was successful and justified.

One year and five months to implement the system

Given the fact that the project partners already had a business plan and a vision of the project future development, the active implementation of the project started in early 2008 – immediately after the joint venture was established. Very soon, after one year and five months of intensive work, electronic payments were fully implemented – from developing the technical project to installing equipment in public transport, depots and infrastructure objects, trade outlets and at other areas across the city.

A special brand was established, which, owing to a large-scale successful information campaign, is recognised by everybody in Riga and its surroundings. The process of personalisation and issuing cards to residents was also performed very quickly. At the same time, the staff at Rigas satiksme and trade outlets were trained to use the new system.

At present, the new system is fully implemented and is operating successfully. A new stage with the main tasks of adapting the processes and using the advantages of the new system has started.

How does the system function?

The electronic payment system consists of a central database and technical equipment, which, using wireless technology, is able to send and receive information to and from the central database. The central database stores all necessary data about the use of services and payments made.

Public transport vehicles are equipped with card validators to which passengers put their electronic tickets close to. Drivers use special electronic devices to sell single-trip paper tickets.

Ticket trade outlets are provided with ticket sale terminals, and there are also ticket vending machines throughout the city.

The controllers use electronic reading devices, which allow checking whether a passenger has paid for the trip and if they have registered it after getting into the vehicle.

The key payment instruments of Riga’s electronic payment system are smart cards and smart tickets, which exist under one brand known as e-talons (a registered trade mark owned by Rigas satiksme).

When entering a public transport vehicle (a bus, trolleybus or tram) a passenger has to put his/her smart card or smart ticket close to the electronic card validator. Thus the trip is registered and the passenger completes the payment cycle.

Passengers can also buy paper tickets for a higher price from the vehicle driver, like before.

Development prospects

The electronic payment system was initially implemented in Riga public transport. Being a multimodal and multi-operational system, based on contactless technologies, it offers significant opportunities for further expansion.

Rigas satiksme will soon be able to offer changes in the initial range of tickets, because it is already clear that the range of tickets should be improved – to become simpler and more comfortable for users.

As regards the public transport service, several payment options are being developed and implemented at the moment, e.g. the Internet shop where e-tickets can be reloaded and direct debit payments for various types of tickets.

As payment options will increase, in the nearest future the multimodality of the system will be used for payments at municipal parking-lots. The idea of possible introduction of e-tickets into minivans and passenger trains is also being considered.


  1. From figures on 1 May 2009

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