Continuing revolution in smarter ticketing solutions

Board a bus these days and you are increasingly likely to reach for your mobile phone to show you are entitled to travel rather than hunt for some change to pay your fare. So-called m-ticketing is likely to become more and more popular as part of a major surge in favour of contactless means of payment which includes the option of using smart plastic.

M-ticketing has now become the go-to solution for customers of a wide range of bus operators across the UK. Steve Banner reports

Ticketer has recently completed the installation of contactless Electronic Ticket Machines (ETMS) on all 5,835 of First Bus vehicles UK-wide in a programme that started in June 2017. “We’ve already achieved over 9 million contactless transactions,” says First Bus managing director, Giles Fearnley.

He wants as many passengers to go contactless as possible and move away from using cash. “If more of them switched to a digital payment method then this would help speed up boarding times and make journeys quicker,” he observes.

“The introduction of Ticketer will enable us to meet our target for digital payments to exceed cash by mid-2019,” says First Group chief information officer Dave Lynch.

Using payment service provider Littlepay, the First Bus initiative forms part of a £19.3million investment aimed at helping to improve the experience of customers.

It is now processing some 1.5 million contactless card payments a month, with almost one-third of payments taken by First Bus Aberdeen involving contactless plastic. M-ticket sales have accelerated too across the UK fleet.

Customers can buy tickets on First Bus’ website, with a QR code sent to their smartphones which are scanned as they board the bus.

First Bus has seen its revenues rise, and margins increase. Machine-reading of QR codes means that fraud has fallen sharply, resulting in the level of unrecovered funds from contactless payments falling to a mere 0.1 per cent; significantly below the industry average of 1.5 per cent, Ticketer points out.

First is by no means the only operator to be going contactless with Ticketer.

Arriva is rolling out the company’s technology to its 3,500 UK buses in a programme which should be complete by summer 2019. It follows a six month trial in Guildford which resulted in almost 30 per cent of transactions being contactless.

“Advances in technology are changing expectations of how we access products and services in all areas of our lives, including transport,” says Arriva UK Bus digital and commercial platforms director Neil Shah. “Arriva passengers expect us to keep up, so we are adapting to make travel faster and seamless for them.”

RATP is heading in the same direction.

With 150 vehicles, its Bournemouth-based Yellow Buses subsidiary has made a major investment in Ticketer contactless machines. The company has also acquired two hand-held Ticketer machines for queue-busting ticket selling at busy locations in Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.

ETMs can handle a lot more than ticketing.

The First Bus machines help with schedule adherence by providing drivers with a countdown to departure times. Passengers benefit from data from the ETM because it is fed into the First Bus Travel Information app; if you know where a bus is, then you are better able to tell travellers when it will arrive at their stop.

Freeway Fleet Systems fleet maintenance software can read data on vehicle walk-round checks entered by drivers into Ticketer ETMs, including reports on any defects. Reading Buses has played a key role in the necessary integration work, says Freeway, and will be the first operator to adopt this approach.

“It immediately alerts the workshop if there are any problems so that it can be ahead of the curve,” says Freeway managing director Patrick Tandy. “It can then allocate the parts and labour that are required.”

Daily checks are of course increasingly being carried out using an app on a smartphone. “Using an existing device in the cab though means that there isn’t an extra piece of equipment to worry about,” he says.

Using an ETM to report the findings of walk-round checks makes a lot more sense than using paper checklists, says Tandy. “With laborious manual capture the details often only become available many hours later,” he observes.

Ticketer is by no means the only company involved in smart ticketing solutions.

ITSO is responsible for the national standard for smart ticketing in the UK and has developed a m-ticketing solution of its own. “Smartcards have been around for approximately 20 years and they are looking like a technology that’s had its day,” says ITSO chief executive officer Steve Wakeland.

ITSO’s solution enables passengers to pay for their tickets using Google Pay and prove their entitlement to travel by means of the NFC (Near Field Communications) chip embedded in their phone. “It took us a year to develop it and it is suitable for buses, trams, rail and ferries,” he says.

M-ticketing offers a one-stop shop, says Wakeland, and – as was indicated earlier – is capable of resisting fraud. “It offers more security than a card and with a phone you can see what tickets you’ve got on it,” he observes.

“Our solution has just gone live with Transport for West Midlands on its trams and several hundred people are already using it,” he adds. “The next operator to adopt it will be Nexus on its Metro rapid transit light rail system in Newcastle upon Tyne and we’re in talks with First about integrating it into their mobile offering.”

It makes it easy for a ticketing system to be integrated across a number of different operators and services, he says. “Wales and Scotland have expressed interest in using it for concessionary travel.”

ITSO’s m-ticketing programme operates separately from its role as a test and certification body.

One area of the UK with an integrated public transport system is Northern Ireland, thanks to Translink

Developed by Flowbird Transport Intelligence, its Future Ticketing System is scheduled to be rolled out across all Translink bus and rail services in Northern Ireland over the next two years. It offers passengers a range of options that can be used to pay for their travel.

As well as cash, they include smartcards, contactless payment cards and mobile payment.

All existing Translink smartcards are compatible with the new system, which was unveiled at the same time as the launch of Belfast’s new Glider bus rapid transit network. Glider passengers will be the first to benefit from it.

Flowbird has installed 114 self-service retail units at stops along the Glider network, supplied 230 platform validators and provided 45 hand-held inspection devices.

Passengers can buy tickets, top up their smartcards, collect tickets purchased online and validate their journeys before boarding.

A support operation has been set up in Belfast by Flowbird with engineers on call to provide maintenance support and technical expertise.

It has also developed an entirely new back-office architecture to manage Translink’s ticketing infrastructure. CloudFare will act as the hub for Future Ticketing System, enabling administrators to monitor and control ticketing devices directly, view route performance statistics in real time, set automatic system alerts, manage passenger accounts and run management reports.

Flowbird was set up last year by parking and transport ticketing technology specialists Parkeon and Cale.

Elsewhere, digital technology specialist Rise DM claims that its mobile ticketing platform Bushub offers the fastest way to deploy a ticketing solution that works across the widest range of smartphones in the market. The company, which includes First and Abellio in its client list, provides fully customisable solutions for bus and coach operators, and it has also designed an ‘Internet of Things’ smart ticket machine with access to a range of features which enable a cost-effective secure ticketing and vehicle tracking system.

Meanwhile the future of notes and coins as a payment medium has to be questioned given the increased reliance on m-ticketing.

In fact it is in a remarkably healthy state, according to cash handling equipment specialist Cummins Allison.

The amount of cash in circulation is rising it points out, from some £80.43billion in 2016 to approximately £82.56billion in 2017. Just over one-third of all payments – £13.1billion – made in the UK were in cash last year it adds, and average cash withdrawals from machines rose to over £70; a record.

Furthermore, 2.2 million people choose cash as their predominant method of payment even though 92 per cent of them have a debit card.

As a consequence, Cummins Allison believes that demand for equipment such as its JetScan 150 note scanner and JetSort 1000 coin counter and sorter should remain healthy for quite some time to come.

Suzohapp, Cummins Allison’s rival, agrees that cash is likely to play a key role in the economy for the foreseeable future.

Among its latest products is the Scan Coin ICX Active-9. A coin sorter with a 10in touch-screen, it can sort up to nine different coin types at a rate of up to 2,700 a minute.

Cash is expensive to handle and accepting it can lead to fraud and theft.

That said, it makes it easier for some people to budget, it is reliable and – unlike digital methods of payment – will not suddenly be rendered useless because a bank’s electronic payment system has crashed. Nor can it be hacked.

So it looks as though notes and coins will be around in Britain for a while yet – despite what their detractors say.