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Ticketing’s crucial role in the passenger experience


Technology has transformed the way we communicate, purchase goods and services, and access information. Although the transit sector has not always been lauded for its agility, our collective commitment to maximising new technologies for the benefit of its passengers has never been greater.

Many transit deployments across the world have switched from paper or magnetic stripe to smartcard-based ticketing, creating  many benefits for both operators and passengers. Greater convenience when accessing travel, lower costs through issuance of reusable travel cards and the ability to collect data on how people actually use transit systems are just a few of the reasons for introducing ‘smart’ systems.

We live in an increasingly connected world where the smartphone has become ubiquitous, and this presents a huge opportunity to create a frictionless ticketing experience for passengers as well as an untapped opportunity to grow new revenue streams for transit operators. Adopting mobile-based ticketing is a natural evolution as it reduces the need (and cost) associated with issuing and managing physical travel cards; Host Card Emulation (HCE) technology offers a solution that transforms the mobile ticketing market by bringing together the benefits of secure smartcard-based ticketing with the greater convenience of using a mobile device.

HCE enables a virtual smartcard to be placed on a mobile device which can then store secure tickets. As an already widely-used technology, HCE ticketing can work with existing smart infrastructure as well – allowing operators who have already made an investment in smart technology to easily integrate rather than replace.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, Scotland’s largest regional transportation authority, has already announced it will utilise HCE-based mobile ticketing for the Glasgow Subway this year.

For consumers, the benefits need a little more unpacking. Provisioning the smartcard onto a smartphone is convenient for the customer as they can manage purchases and downloads in real-time at their own convenience. They can then use their device in the same way they would a smartcard to ‘tap and go’.

HCE is regarded as a game-changer as, in addition to convenience, it allows operators to unify key features for the customer in one easy-to-use app. This includes real-time journey information and planning services, as well as the ability to provision targeted value-added services (VAS). The key to successful VAS implementation is recognising that it’s not just about the journey – services that add real value to passengers will facilitate an improved experience beyond the act of just travel.

Here we have an opportunity for partnerships between operators and other commercial entities. For example, a shopping centre and operator could offer loyalty points or discount vouchers to passengers to reach the shopping centre, all delivered through a mobile app. The shopping centre receives greater footfall, the operator sells more tickets, and the consumer receives a discount or extra loyalty points on their shopping. Everyone benefits.

These partnerships and other VAS will be made possible thanks to the data that smart ticketing delivers, which allows operators to really understand their passengers’ travel habits. This results in personalised offers that will have greater chance of adoption.

The ability to capture this data is a major benefit to smart ticketing, but it also requires security to ensure the data is appropriately protected. This is just one of the reasons that HCE technology is predicted to help drive mobile ticketing adoption on a global scale. HCE is already used within the payments industry and provides smartcard-equivalent security on smartphones, protecting operators from ticket fraud and ensuring consumer data is protected – from the device to the back office. For technology suppliers like us, we must always balance security requirements with offering the best possible user experience.

The user experience is one of the main drivers behind intermodal travel. Imagine if, as an end user planning a trip to Spain from the outskirts of London, you could purchase and manage your tickets for your train, tram and coach to the airport, your flight, and your connecting train, tram or bus in Madrid, all in one in-app transaction. This would remove several layers of ‘friction’ from the current ticket purchasing process.

HCE technology could theoretically enable this level of intermodality today as it can be added on to existing smart ticketing systems. A wider challenge, however, is how truly intermodal travel could be achieved when there are different public bodies regulating transport, and different commercial entities competing for passengers. Individual operators may prefer to differentiate themselves rather than collaborate to provide service to consumers within the ecosystem.

Another barrier to intermodal transport is the proliferation of national, rather than international, technical standards and the implementation of proprietary technology rather than open systems. In the UK, for example, technology suppliers need to comply with ITSO-defined standards, which already enables interoperability between trains, buses, trams and ferries.
The challenge begins when you cross an international border into a country that uses different technical standards.

As an end goal, however, that is where we as an industry should be focused as intermodal transport will allow operators to deliver better and more comprehensive services to their passengers.
As suppliers, we need to work together to achieve this.

To deliver world-class smart ticketing systems to a global audience, we must collaborate with other suppliers, local and international standards organisations such as OSPT Alliance, to develop, improve and increase adoption of existing standards. A growth in international standardisation brings a growth in mobile ticketing and intermodal transport, and with them, an improved user experience.

Russell McCullagh is Managing Director of Rambus Ticketing with over 25 years’ experience in the semiconductor and software industries. His extensive smartcard experience covers all smartcard sectors, including payments, GSM and transit, including 13 years of detailed ITSO experience.


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