Contact-free public transport (Part 2)

photo of a bus

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.

Contact-free public transport (Part 1)

buildings city clock downtown

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.

Transports of delight

[Dave Birch] As we have often discussed, transit is turning out to be the key battleground for mobile, contactless and mobile contactless technologies. In a city such as London, where several million people use contactless cards every day, the relationship between transit and payments is actually shaping the evolution of payment products. I read today, for example, that London continues to be in the vanguard of the transport revolution and next year people will be able use bicycles. OK, so bicycles were invented some time ago, but these will be bicycles with smart cards (hence of interest to yours truly).

By May 2010, Londoners will be using contactless smart cards to access a new public bicycle sharing program. The project will include 431 bicycle docking stations installed in nine of London’s boroughs and parks.

[From ContactlessNews | London to adopt bicycle sharing program in spring]

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use any of the contactless cards that you already have (eg, your Oyster card or your EMV card) because in the great British tradition of transport-related foresight and interoperability, the system is going have its own new contactless scheme. However, the London interoperability news is far from bleak, because Transport for London have already said that their new gates, to be introduced in 2011, will read EMV cards as well as Oyster cards and both Visa and MasterCard are working on extensions to the EMV specification so that terminals can write small amounts of service provider data back to cards (I imagine other retailers will want to take advantage of this in the future, not only transit operators). Their joint (and rather appealing vision) is that when visitors come to London in the future then they can use their bank cards to ride on the tube and the buses instead of having to get an Oyster card. If only TfL were to extend Oyster in the other direction as well, so that you could use your Oyster card in shops…

Where there is more direct competition between transit payment products and bank payment products, one might expect to see more competition and more innovation. I think an interesting case study right now is Singapore, where the government helped to co-ordinate the development of a common electronic money standard to be used by all sectors (the Common Electronic Purse Specification for Singapore, or CEPSS) and consumers can now use either card in any terminals.

COMMUTERS will now have two payment cards to choose from to use on buses and trains, to pay for road tolls and carparks, and to make purchases from stores, eateries and entertainment outlets. On Friday, Nets (the Network For Electronic Transfers) launched its long-awaited multi-purpose contactless card, the first to break EZ-Link’s longtime stranglehold on the $1.3 billion transit market. Like ez-link [which has 4.6m cards], the Nets Flashpay card has multiple uses, giving consumers wider modes of payment at a greater range of outlets. In November, local banks UOB and OCBC will come on board, followed by DBS next March, to offer bank debit cards that also double as Flashpay cards. This means customers can top up their cards directly from their bank accounts.

[From Nets, more uses than one]

Meanwhile, in a related tale, imagine my shock when I got on the bus this morning and discovered that it is making the transition directly from the 19th century to the 21st: you can’t use cards, but now you can use mobile! Hurrah! The bus is my bellwether for cash replacement, and I particularly hate having to scrabble round the house in the morning trying to find change on the days when I am riding the bus into town. I’d prefer it if I could use my Oyster card, frankly, because then all of incidental travel would be going on to one card, but no matter: the future has arrived!

Customers across Arriva’s regional bus businesses in England, Scotland and Wales, will be able to buy daily, weekly and four-weekly tickets via their mobile phones following the national launch of Arriva’s m-ticketing service on Tuesday, 17 November.

[From ARRIVA – Bus users get mobile with Arriva m-ticketing launch – News – Arriva buses]

I asked the bus driver if this technological revolution were exant, or if it existed only on someone’s Powerpoint somewhere, and he told me that yes, indeed, you could now use your mobile phone to get to Woking Station. He did point out that he might not let me on the bus, though, because he wasn’t told by the company what “colour each day was”. I had no idea what he was talking about. But it turns out that it’s something to do with the barcodes that are displayed on the phone by the ticketing application.

Anyway, when I got home I rushed to sign up and… found out that the mobile ticketing system doesn’t work with my iPhone. Oh well.


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