The Future of Transport Ticketing: Card, Smartcard, Mobile or NFC?

transport ticketingTransport ticketing technology has witnessed a major and rapid change in the last decade with an ocean of possibilities in hopes of improving efficiency and reducing costs.

In an industry as established as rail transport, change comes slowly. With the world’s premier public transport systems accommodating millions of passengers daily, there’s very little breathing space to experiment with radical ideas and unproven technology. Innovative ideas are great but more importantly, innovative solutions remain to be of utmost importance for now.

And so, there are very few countries which dispute the fact that contactless smart cards makes a lot of sense in public transport for many reasons such as convenience, a heightened sense of security and technology readiness.

According to Silvester Prakasam, Director of Fare System Division, Land Transit Authority of Singapore who shared with us his insights on Day 1 of the Cards and Payments Plenary Roundtables at Cards and Payments Asia 2014, he stated that:

“NFC has progressed faster on a timescale as compared to smartcards. The main problem with NFC is that there is no sense of convergence felt by phone companies. For example, China Mobile might call up Samsung and insist that they should come out with certain standards but NFC is unable to do so as they have to cater to the global market.”

“Today, there are only two countries in the world with Japan and Korea that are well-established in NFC technology due to the fact that they share a common denominator – their phone companies work very closely with their phone operator.”

In Singapore however, the excessive middlemen that range from cellphone suppliers to telco carriers, banks and etc. see through many changes before it reaches the hands of the end user.

Also, NFC is still struggling to pull through its weight especially when it comes to performance in the scope of transit. Meaning to say that NFC does very little to enhance the usage of ticketing as opposed to cards. A simple explanation would be that a card has to complete a transaction made by the user to open a ticketing gate within the span of 500 milliseconds. However, through conducted tests and trials method proved that NFC phones couldn’t offer the same efficiency in Singapore.

In fact, NFC phones proved to have several retries in the “waving and go” experience and the fact is, nobody wants that especially when you’re blocking somebody behind you. And nobody wants that, especially when you’re in Singapore.

Therefore, many industry experts agreed and concluded that when it all boils down to the simple concept of user performance and experience, then why bother replacing NFC with cards? From an innovation perspective, it certainly makes sense in the development of “the mobile wallet” but for now, it seems that contactless cards remain to stay.

As such, it’s a matter of timing for NFC to truly take off and for now much of its potential have been focused in the self-service top-up experience in the more NFC-centric regions in Asia. If you’re interested in learning more about the self-service top-up experience, more can be read on “Overcoming Ticketing Challenges in NFC for Transport.”

[Image: European Commission]

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