Skip to main content

The technology journey to frictionless travel

(Image credit: Image Credit: Slon Dot Pics / Pexels)

If you hear the term ‘smart ticketing’ in the UK, you’d be forgiven for immediately thinking of London’s public transport system. After all, the Oyster scheme has been a big success, and epitomises what smart ticketing can offer - affordable, accessible travel which reduces friction from the public travel experience. London is often tabled as the pinnacle of what integrated smart ticketing can offer, however across the rest of the UK there has been significant progress to not only emulate London’s success, but to further build upon it. The widespread adoption of smart ticketing is gaining pace and a key differentiator for those outside the UK capital is maintaining interoperability through the use of open standards. To achieve a seamless travel experience across multiple operators, regions and cities requires interoperable smart systems that work together to accept and authenticate passengers’ smart cards and right to travel. This is seen as a key requirement to ensure there is widespread adoption and a seamless customer experience.

There are many successful deployments across the UK, as an example passengers in Nottingham can use their Robin Hood PAYG card to travel across bus, tram and train operators. Through interoperability, Scotrail smart card holders can load Glasgow Subway products onto their Scotrail smart card rather than carrying two different travel cards. There are countless other examples but we are reaching a tipping point where operators can come together to offer combined smart products for passengers to travel within and between cities.

What about the ‘app’ generation?

Mobile phones have become a central part of our everyday lives. It seems logical to provide mobile ticketing for those passengers who would prefer it as an alternative to a traditional smart card.  There are a number of mobile or mTicketing deployments in the UK but they are based on proprietary technology which makes mass adoption and the cost of the required additional supporting infrastructure a challenge for operators.  A new technology called Host Card Emulation (HCE) has emerged which is proven in the mobile payments industry. HCE allows a virtual smart card to be loaded onto an NFC-enabled smartphone, which can be used to store digital travel tickets, allowing the phone to be tapped against a ticket machine or gate in the same way as a physical smart card. This allows passengers to use a device they already own to travel without the need to wait for a smart card to be issued. This also reduces the issuance and management costs for operators as they don’t need to manage physical card estates and crucially, HCE ticketing works with existing smart infrastructure.

HCE ticketing allows a passenger to self-serve as they can securely browse, pay and download tickets directly to their device through an app. As with smart cards, travel data can still be captured but mobile offers a way to communicate with the customer, creating opportunities for value add services such as real time travel updates, retail offers such as coffee discounts at station and more, offering new revenue streams for operators.

The combination of HCE, smart card technology, data analytics and partnerships between transport bodies and third parties will facilitate an improved travel experience.

The future of integrated, frictionless travel

What will public transport look like in ten years’ time? Imagine a scenario where there is no infrastructure, no gate or barrier to pass through to board a train. You simply turn up with your smartphone and begin a journey, wherever you are. You might use several modes of transport to reach your destination, each time simply getting on board with no barrier to slow you down.  The smartphone identifies who you are and your right to travel, you have an existing account in the cloud that will be automatically charged the correct fare for your journey. The mobile will provide a means of direct communication between you and all touch points on your journey, perhaps you have a spare 10 minutes to grab a coffee before your train so a discount offer is pushed to your phone. The operators receive the correct apportionment for the journeys you have taken and be collecting your travel data they can better plan services, avoid empty buses wasting fuel and better plan services.   

Further still, from the public sector’s point of view, the data collected by this next generational form of travel will be invaluable for the facilitation of smart cities in the UK. With this data, governments can more accurately build infrastructure in the places that matter, receive insights that will allow them to execute effective crowd management, and generally foster a more intelligent, connected environment for citizens.

Smart ticketing is capable of dealing with the frustrating ticketing challenges, which mean as a passenger I need multiple tickets, and as a transport provider I never have an end-to-end view of the passengers’ journey. Interoperable smart ticketing not only makes best use of investment, it delivers on this promise of a smarter, frictionless, data-driven experience.

A future we’re working towards

This kind of transport experience is entirely possible. The transport industry wants to improve its offerings for the benefit of the travelling public but the common thread here is removing friction from a journey and improving a passenger’s experience. New innovative technologies such as HCE enable operators to offer more convenient forms of ticketing without the expense of replacing or adding infrastructure. They can better know and communicate with their customers, and be more empowered to quickly deploy new ticket products that better fit with the needs of how their passengers actually travel. The maturation of smart ticketing technologies means that this isn’t just a future that we’re envisioning, it’s one that we’re actively working towards.

Russell McCullagh, Managing Director, Rambus Ticketing
Image Credit: Slon Dot Pics / Pexels

Russell is Managing Director of Rambus Ticketing with over 25 years’ experience in semiconductor & software industries. His extensive smart card industry experience covers all smart card sectors including payments, GSM and transit.