This is the third of three blogs about technologies to support contact-free use of public transport.
The radio again – I hear that the Transport Minister for England had just reported that there have been fewer than 400 fines for people failed to wear face covering on public transport. More than 115,000 travellers have been stopped and reminded that face coverings are mandatory, and 9,500 people prevented from travelling.
My first contact with the world of biometrics was when I worked with the Police of England and Wales to draw up their biometric identification roadmap back in 2004. In those days, the big three in terms of positive identification at population scale were fingerprint, face and iris. These were taken forward as candidates for the ICAO e-passport biometrics when we worked with the UK Passport Agency to help them choose which, if any, to use. We also worked with the UK Immigration and Nationality Directorate, helping them draw up their biometric strategy for border control, visas and asylum seekers, amongst other applications. We’ve written about Biometric travel before.
But not all biometrics are contact-free. One of the reasons some cultures do not like the use of fingerprint biometrics is that they must touch a surface (e.g. at an ATM) previously touched by many others. This is relevant for everyone now during the current pandemic. The transit industry has had a vision for some years that passengers will be recognised as they approach a gate and the gate will open (or not) if the passenger is considered good for the payment of the ensuing journey cost.
I recently replaced my fingerprint-driven iPhone 6 with an iPhone XR which does not have a fingerprint reader but uses face recognition instead. It is some time since I had played with face recognition which is common now at UK airports. At first my new phone did not like my morning face and insisted that I enter the PIN, but it also cleverly trains itself each time it is used and now I can open my phone without PIN before breakfast. Most of us seem happy to use facial recognition technology nominally under our control, e.g. Apple Face ID, but clearly, there are privacy implications.
Then I took my new phone to the shops – facial is not the ideal biometric during the compulsory mask-wearing season. And this has been the finding on public transport too, where passengers are having to remove their masks in order to get their phones, many of which no longer have fingerprint readers, to pay. Obviously, fallback to PIN is possible, but neither fast nor convenient.
One of the biometrics we looked at for the Police was body odour. The logic was, dogs use it to identify suspects from a sniff of their socks, why cannot chips of the future do the same? Watch this space, you heard it here first.
Digital wallet innovation
So, assuming that we can be sure the owner is the user, mobiles appear to be the best tech we currently have for contact-free transactions. These might include:
- Contactless bank cards
- QR code tickets and/or payments
- In-app ticketing and payments such as pre-paid accounts
- Subscriptions, perhaps as part of a Mobility-as-a-Service offer
And a big part of this is support of digital wallets by mobile devices, which were considered in of one of our recent webinars on contact-free payments. The idea is that contactless payment cards are so well standardised that wallet slots are available in all smart phones allowing the card details to be uploaded and the NFC interface to be used to make payments.
We have innovated for clients in this area, for example, making clever re-use of the contactless bank card wallet slot to represent tickets for travel and events, or even to represent pandemic immunity passports to allow people to return to work more safely.
This is the third of three blogs about technologies to support contact-free use of public transport. There are many technological options and even more considerations, but we thrive on the challenge of finding smart, innovative solutions to clients’ requirements. If you would like to discuss what this means for you, give us a call.