Last week, I attended the excellent Transport Ticketing Digital Summit which focused on advances in fare collection and Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
Every year Consult Hyperion publishes our Live 5. We try to shine a lens on the year ahead and think about what will be impacting our clients. The themes for 2021 are:
Today I want to explore the topic of micro location from the point of view of (mostly) Apple ecosystem, and how developers can leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) to build useful apps. In order to understand that, first we should visit the topic of location in general – how do devices know where they are?
In our Live 5 for 2021 we raised micro-location as an area of technology where we expect to start seeing significant advances being made. UWB (Ultra Wideband) is just starting to get traction in consumer electronics and we believe that this will trigger innovation in micro-location technology.
It’s that time of year again: where’s it’s traditional to take stock and look to the future. At Consult Hyperion, we do that through our ‘Live 5’ process; where we look at major trends in business, technology and consumer attitudes and project them onto our areas of business focus, with twists of our own. This is more than a marketing exercise. It informs our advisory services, but also sets our own strategy, for example by determining what technologies are investigated, and protypes built, by our Hyperlab unit.
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.
This is the second of three blogs about technologies to support contact-free use of public transport.
Public transport operators have been making great efforts to make public transport safe during the pandemic. TfL recently launched a new app that makes it easier for passengers to plan their travel and avoid routes where they might come close to large numbers of people. There are claims that the rate of uptake of contactless by passengers has increased significantly since the pandemic and the demand for contact-free transactions on public transport. Visa recently offered a graph relating to global public transport contactless transactions. However, it is not clear what the actual contactless usage is since they are hidden behind month-on-month percentage increases which look enormous when the previous months had fallen off the proverbial cliff.
This is the first of three blogs about technologies to support contact-free use of public transport.
I heard on the radio that, despite ministers encouraging people in England back to work in their offices, most are staying at home. Commuter trains are about one-third full and buses are about 40% full. During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for public transport fell off a cliff as governments told their people to stay at home. A major part of encouraging travellers to use public transport is the provision of systems that allow social distancing of passengers from staff, ideally eliminating the need to exchange physical tickets, cash and paper receipts.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has been ruthlessly exposing fragile business models and weak balance sheets across a whole range of industries but perhaps never more so than in the travel business. In fairness, no one could have anticipated a global, government dictated total shutdown and no business models could ever be flexible enough to support such an improbable scenario. Still, it’s become clear that many travel industry companies are effectively broke and that the payments model they rely on is broken. Going forward we need a better and more sustainable approach to payments in the industry.
Most travel industry payments rely on payments cards so it’s worth starting by recapping on how most card payment models work. When a cardholder makes a payment to a merchant – either in store or, increasingly, on-line, this is routed to the merchant’s card acquirer. The acquirer has a direct relationship with the merchant in the same way that a card issuer has a direct relationship with cardholders and the acquirer will route the payment request to the relevant issuer – usually by sending the request to a payment scheme who uses the card number to identify the correct issuer. If the issuer approves the transaction then the response is routed back through the same path and the purchase completed. This is no different from any other card payment, although there are hidden complexities where the merchant is an online travel agent sourcing flights, hotels, etc from multiple underlying vendors. However, that’s a detail.
As if lockdown were not bad enough, many of us are now faced with spending the next year with children unable to spend their Gap Year travelling the more exotic parts of the world. The traditional jobs within the entertainment and leisure sectors that could keep them busy, and paid for their travel, are no longer available. The opportunity to spend time with elderly relatives depends on the results of their last COVID-19 test.
I recognize that we are a lucky family to have such ‘problems’. However, they are representative of the issues we all face as we work hard to bring our families, companies and organizations out of lockdown. When can we open up our facilities to our employees, customers and visitors? What protection should we offer those employees that must or choose to work away from home? What is the impact of the CEO travelling abroad to meet new employees or customers, sign that large deal or deliver the keynote at that trade fair in Las Vegas?
A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to host one of our weekly COVID-19 webinars. We discussed the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on public transport and how our technologies are likely to be used to help.
We had two panellists from Consult Hyperion (Neil McEvoy, CEO, and Simon Laker, Principal Consultant from our US office) and the guest panellist was Steve Cassidy from Fuse Mobility, a Scottish start-up providing Mobility as a Service (MaaS) software solutions.
The discussion was divided into three parts as follows:
- In the ‘Before Times’, MaaS was the direction of travel motivated by congestion and global warming. Will this continue to be the case?
- During the COVID-19 Lockdown, how can technology help facilitate safer essential travel?
- What will the ‘New Normal’ look like for mobility?
The Before Times
MaaS solutions – ones that integrate different existing transport providers to provide a near seamless door-to-door experience for consumers – were assumed to be the long term ‘direction of travel’ in order to address the mobility, congestion and pollution issues. Our MaaS Payments white paper in July 2019 showed that integration is key:
- Journey planning
- Hyperpersonalised packages
Many public transport operators are providing ‘enhanced Sunday services’. As most passengers stay at or work from home, we are seeing a decline in ridership of 75-95% across the globe. Changing patterns of user mobility when working from home means there are many fewer advance purchases in an uncertain future with tightly managed budgets. This is pushing us towards the future we already thought was coming where PAYG dominates and season tickets are irrelevant. Operator web sites are having to make special provision for customers claiming refunds on their season tickets which they can no longer use.
Meanwhile, we are seeing reports of levels of traffic being back at 1955 levels and the improvement of air quality leading to an estimated 1,752 avoided pollution deaths in the UK.
For me, the most interesting technical development for coming out of Lockdown is the ‘Privacy-preserving contact tracing apps’ being proposed by various government and organisations across the globe. We have seen an unprecedented co-operation between Apple and Google in agreeing to modify their mobile device operating systems to accommodate such apps. The technology proposed is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) which uses radio waves over distances up to 10m. The technology is the same as has been tried without much success for running Be-In Be-Out (BIBO) transit payment schemes. These tend to suffer from not being able to detect accurately enough whether a potential passenger is on or off a bus, or just standing nearby. And they also suffer from being no more convenient to use than established technologies such as contactless cards and 2-D barcodes.
BLE will allow two contact tracing apps to detect each other and share anonymised information about being in contact that can be used later to alert potentially infected parties when someone declares themselves as having tested positive.
The UK government has rejected the proposals from Apple, Google and several others to instead prefer a centralised approach because they believe the alternative would lead to a delay in the reporting of symptoms, amongst other consequences. Only time will tell whether the UK population can be convinced to use the NHS app which launched a trial in the Isle of Wight on 4 May. Steve Pannifer recently blogged about this. And we discussed it on week 6 of our Webinars, the recording of which will be available on our website soon.
What will the future hold for public transport when lock down lifts? On the webinar we considered what plans China had in place at that time. The Shenzhen bus company paper about combatting COVID-19 covers the following points:
- The virus will not be eradicated soon; extra precautions are needed against the spread of the virus.
- Passenger will be screened using temperature checks.
- Big data used will be used for planning the most important routes needed for getting passengers to work; mobility provided will be modified according to demand.
- Passenger health data will be collected from apps. Presumably, like other contact tracing apps mentioned above.
- Continued enforcement of a maximum of 50% passenger loading.
- Voluntary passenger name and contacts registration in case needed later.
There is an opportunity for MaaS Providers post lockdown since the public are likely to be either using their private cars to avoid contact with others or else using on demand services.
The transit COVID-19 webinar recording is available to watch. Many thanks to our panellists for sharing their time and insights.
We continue to host weekly webinars every Thursday at 4pm BST. Let us know if you would like to register to attend.