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The single ticket vision for truly seamless travel

Posted: 31 October 2012 | John Verity, Chief Advisor, ITSO Ltd | No comments yet

Until recently, most smart ticketing schemes were completely independent of each other and often based around bespoke closed transit operations. This made a lot of sense to the large transport operators or metropolitan authorities who commissioned them. It gave security and control, met their specific local needs and, should they decide to exploit it, a unique relationship with their customers. Schemes such as Oyster in London and Navigo in Paris have been incredibly successful, even if some are nearing the time for a technology refresh.

However, to the increasingly mobile customer, with access to sophisticated handsets, it has meant carrying ever larger wallets full of plastic. And when schemes become increasingly close or overlapping, separate closed smartcard schemes begin to make less logical sense.

Although smartcards have begun to migrate to common technology platforms, the customer has been less well served. Hans Rat, recently retired UITP Secretary General, observed that: “The switch to a modern smart ticketing system has been planned and prepared with the good intention to make travelling on one card easier. There has been a strong focus on system technology. (We now need) a stronger focus on customer perspective and lifestyle.”

Until recently, most smart ticketing schemes were completely independent of each other and often based around bespoke closed transit operations. This made a lot of sense to the large transport operators or metropolitan authorities who commissioned them. It gave security and control, met their specific local needs and, should they decide to exploit it, a unique relationship with their customers. Schemes such as Oyster in London and Navigo in Paris have been incredibly successful, even if some are nearing the time for a technology refresh.However, to the increasingly mobile customer, with access to sophisticated handsets, it has meant carrying ever larger wallets full of plastic. And when schemes become increasingly close or overlapping, separate closed smartcard schemes begin to make less logical sense.Although smartcards have begun to migrate to common technology platforms, the customer has been less well served. Hans Rat, recently retired UITP Secretary General, observed that: “The switch to a modern smart ticketing system has been planned and prepared with the good intention to make travelling on one card easier. There has been a strong focus on system technology. (We now need) a stronger focus on customer perspective and lifestyle.”

Until recently, most smart ticketing schemes were completely independent of each other and often based around bespoke closed transit operations. This made a lot of sense to the large transport operators or metropolitan authorities who commissioned them. It gave security and control, met their specific local needs and, should they decide to exploit it, a unique relationship with their customers. Schemes such as Oyster in London and Navigo in Paris have been incredibly successful, even if some are nearing the time for a technology refresh.

However, to the increasingly mobile customer, with access to sophisticated handsets, it has meant carrying ever larger wallets full of plastic. And when schemes become increasingly close or overlapping, separate closed smartcard schemes begin to make less logical sense.

Although smartcards have begun to migrate to common technology platforms, the customer has been less well served. Hans Rat, recently retired UITP Secretary General, observed that: “The switch to a modern smart ticketing system has been planned and prepared with the good intention to make travelling on one card easier. There has been a strong focus on system technology. (We now need) a stronger focus on customer perspective and lifestyle.”

These comments mirror the challenge set by Siim Kallas, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Transport, who once commented: “Why can’t I yet plan or book my journey through Europe – switching from air to rail or sea, to urban or road transport – in one single go and online?”

But turning that simple wish into reality is not easy. The customer must be guided through journey planning, timetables and fares to deliver the chosen journey option.

Rarely will that involve a single ticket. More likely it will involve the customer purchasing a number of discrete tickets from different retailers along their journey. For the single ticket vision, interoperability from one system to another becomes essential. But to the travelling and paying customer, travel is simply about getting from A to B.

There has been a lot of investment in new contactless technology in public transport, but only now is that being drawn into a cohesive approach across Europe. With the right political will and funding, interoperable smart ticketing might match perfectly with the need to get passengers to switch to public transport.

The pathway to interoperable smart ticketing (sometimes referred to as Interoperable Fare Management or IFM) has been underway for over a decade. It started in the UK and elsewhere when these countries realised they were independently looking at interoperability. Schemes needed to work together to reduce the cost and complexity, and increase the speed, of procurement thus helping to facilitate interoperability.

Using the International Standards Organisation (ISO), a framework for IFM was published. It focused not on the data involved in IFM but on the different players, use cases and security needed to make a successful scheme. This was published five years ago as ISO 24014 and is now the backbone behind interoperable smartcard schemes in the UK (ITSO), Germany (VdV), France (AFIMB) and an ever-increasing number of other countries in Europe and further afield.

However, it restricted itself to schemes where the smartcard was dedicated to the scheme that issued it to the customer. It couldn’t itself hold tickets for schemes outside its own security system, perhaps on the other side of the continent. To do so involved new levels of trust, whether that was because of the potential values involved in cross-border travel, travelling on new and unknown transport systems or simply a desire for privacy/anonymity of information stored on the card.

In June 2010, a European Commissionfunded project – the EU-IFM Project (www.ifm-project.eu) – concluded with an innovative, international, multi-application demonstration. Contactless smart tickets from three national transport ticketing schemes – UK (ITSO), France (Navigo) and Germany (VDV-KA) – were separately loaded onto a single smartcard, proving that travel on local public transport networks in different countries can be carried out with a single smartcard.

The EU-IFM Project has now published a range of documents supporting the moves towards cross-border smart ticketing. These include the technical requirements for a multi-application smart platform on which the different IFM ticketing applications can run (now ISO 24014 part 3); a Privacy Charter; and the interfaces that individual schemes will need to work cooperatively.

But it will not happen overnight. The EU-IFM Project recognised that there were two paths to success. Quick wins, where tickets for different legs of a journey across different schemes can be co-located on the same smartcard, or NFC-enabled mobile phone, will come first. Then there is the ‘long haul’ where a single European smart ticket is accepted across different schemes. But that requires another step-change in trust as well as settlement.

Following the successful EU-IFM Project, an IFM Alliance has been formed. It has outlined the vision of a single smart media which could be used in any country, supporting different operators’ payment regimes at the same time. This means a single device that could support zonal fares, pay-asyou- go, season passes or individual tickets, reservations, and be read and accepted wherever it is presented.

It is recognised that there will always be a need to offer alternative methods of buying and paying for local public transport tickets on the move – such as cash and bankcards.

For metro systems with flat or simple zonal schemes, payment does not present a problem. Contactless payment using a bankcard or NFC-enabled phone allows the operator to capture customers’ bank or credit card details on entry, write a temporary ticket if needed, then allow the passenger to travel; all in less than half a second. The back office can take over and do the work of taking payment and reconciling tickets. The smartcard is simply a token; the means of secure identification as the passengers make their journey.

But it is with the more complex transactions, or where the customer wants to pre-plan a journey, that something new is required.

Smart ticketing is not just about payment as it is in the aforementioned metro example. It is a set of different decision processes such as whether to walk, which train or bus to catch, which routes are the quickest, the shortest or involve the minimum of changes, the cheapest, and is it on time? For these decisions, the passenger needs support on the move.

This is the unique advantage of the NFCenabled mobile phone: it can support the interaction between the passenger, the trans – port operators and the payment mech anism needed during the decision-making process.

It starts with journey planning. The complex algorithms, the databases of bus and tram stops, railway stations, walking routes and timetables are all in one place to allow the customer to choose their optimum or preferred journey. The EU-IFM Project has set out how the tickets or permission to travel can be put onto a single smart device. But something is missing between the two.

The gap is choosing the right fare and paying for the ticket.

Competition law prevents transport operators sharing price data. So the concept that the journey plan can directly lead to payment and ticketing is not there yet. This is the last hurdle to truly seamless travel. The solution may come through third party retailers and aggregators.

Once the journey has been decided and payment made, the customer can then be enabled to actually make the journey, even identifying where to stand for the train or bus and which seat to sit in.

Within the European IFM Alliance, smart ticketing supports interoperability at three levels: within local schemes; encouraging big cities to cooperate at opposite ends of international journeys with a single combined ticket; and at the national level as is already happening in a number of European countries.

But the real goal is international interoperability – ensuring cross border interoperability of transport smartcards and NFC-enabled devices where customers can use their local smartcard outside their area.

Much has already been achieved: smart ticketing is well defined in terms of its definitions, its use cases and its actors. There are standards defining the application and the data elements for European smart tickets. There is an international standard underway for implementing IFM in a multi-application environment, and there is new work to standardise the way contactless smartcards are used in smart ticketing to keep security key and transactions as fast as possible.

The main national smart ticketing organisa – tions in the UK, France, Germany and elsewhere are determined to address the opportunities offered by interoperability. They have a shared vision to create a network to provide direction, coordination and networking of best practice where the payment mechanism is no longer a barrier to travel.

Public transport’s key drivers are social inclusion, mobility, supporting the green agenda and being aware of global impact by encouraging modal switch away from high carbon-usage modes. Ten years ago, smartcards were a tailored solution to a local transport need. Today, smart ticketing needs to address a European need at both the customer and transport operator level. It needs cooperation, it needs standards and it needs trust.

 

About the author

John Verity is Chief Advisor to ITSO Ltd, the UK transport smartcard organisation, and was previously the Operations Manager for Rail Settlement Plan, the UK National Rail’s ticketing and settlement organisation. A graduate of Imperial College, London, John holds a number of Fellowships for his environmental and energy work, and is an Associate of the UK Royal College of Science. John sits on the ISO/CEN Standardisation committees overseeing smartcards in transport and supports both the UITP and the European Commission as an expert on smart ticketing. He was co-ordinator of the European funded project to develop a roadmap towards Europe-wide interoperability for smart ticketing.

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