Automated fare collection systems have been around since the 1960s and have become as ubiquitous as public transit itself. Their basic function is to make the use of public transportation more convenient, access to public transportation more reliable – and service more punctual. In the past sixty years, we became accustomed to the fare gate and embraced the smart card. It will not be an exaggeration to say that automated fare collection made our lives easier. How did it achieve it? And what does the future hold? Let’s take a deep dive into the benefits of this marvelous invention!
In this article:
- How does automated fare collection work?
- The importance of automated fare collection
- What are the benefits of automated fare collection systems?
- Do you need automatic fare collection?
How does automated fare collection work?
From fare gates to mobile applications, automated fare collection means only one thing – removing people from the process validation (and often the purchase of fare media itself) with the help of specially designed hardware and software. Riders can use various validation media to access the public transit network. These include one-time tickets, smart cards, mobile ticketing applications, smart wearables, contactless EMV cards, and others. Validation can take the form of passing through a fare gate (for metro stations, train stations, etc.) or validation of a special electronic validator (usually installed on board the vehicle).
Nowadays, automation often entails the introduction of accounts for each passenger or the so-called Account-based Automated Fare Collection. Each passenger creates an account with the transit agency and chooses the validation media best suited to their needs – or even a mix of media. Riders can recharge their accounts with funds that can be then used to validate. This can happen using cash (at a service window or a 3rd party partner), via a mobile application and e-wallet, or via a credit/debit card. Account-based automated fare collection enables the use of contactless validations and innovative fare policies which makes it an opportunity to digitalize legacy systems and move into the new century.
The importance of automated fare collection
During the past decades, automated fare collection systems have proven to be indispensable in making public transit more affordable, accessible, efficient, and convenient.
Automatic fare collection systems are important because they make public transit:
Affordable: AFC systems have allowed agencies to provide their riders with ‘best fare’ options in a transparent and useful way. These include distance- and time-based fares, but also fare capping which is quickly turning into a must-have for any modern agency. This option can be powered only by modern AFC solutions.
Accessible: By offering the best fare options mentioned above, agencies have attracted groups that were previously reluctant to use public transportation due to its cost. The analytics and reports provided by AFC systems can also ensure that there is transit service in all of the areas that need it most.
Efficient: Automated fare collection systems can remove cash and the human element from the boarding process which greatly speeds it up – meaning less dwell time and more punctual service. Efficiency is further boosted by improved schedules and routes.
Convenient: Offering riders the opportunity to use a fare media that is convenient to them makes the process of using the public transportation system more user-friendly and invites new riders on board. By introducing the whole spectrum of payment options, transit agencies can remove the last barrier between them and potential riders – be it technological or price-related.
What are the benefits of automated fare collection systems?
The benefits of account-based automated fare collection are visible to anyone who has ever used them – the transit service is simply better. They have brought into existence a new mode of interaction with public transit, one that facilitates its adoption and use. They have also reinvented the way transit agencies are run, making it easier to manage day-to-day operations.
- Easy and efficient to use
Riders can choose the most convenient way to purchase fares. Nowadays, people have a variety of ways to pay – from cash to e-wallets. Contactless smart solutions bring flexibility to the table while remaining a safe and secure payment option as data is protected by industry-standard encryption. Validation is seamless and reduces the dwell time of the vehicles, thus improving performance and preventing delays. Various aspects of the system’s efficiency can be improved up to 40% by introducing adequate automation.
- Requires less staff
Automation is a process that takes repetitive operations off the shoulders of people, providing them with more time to focus on tasks that truly matter. In the case of public transit, drivers no longer need to handle cash or inspect fares as the AFC system does it for them. Now, drivers can focus on keeping people safe and staying on schedule, while ticket office staff can be reallocated to other important positions.
- Provides better access to transportation services
As mentioned, AFC systems can be used to attract previously unreachable demographics on board public transit vehicles. Choosing transit is not only a matter of convenience but also affordability – and by providing flexible fares and best-fare options, city authorities can make sure no one is left behind.
- Reduces revenue leaks
With automated fare collection, frauds and revenue leaks are easier to spot and prevent. Different automatic safety measures can be taken to avoid pass-back, usage of fares beyond their expiry, etc.
- Provides valuable analytics
AFC systems can be built to measure their own success and provide actionable data for further improvements. Electronic validators can collect anonymized information that can then be aggregated to provide valuable insights into the usage patterns of riders. Analytics can help agencies create better schedules, devise better fare policies, and even create new routes or decommission underperforming ones. Current technology can also be connected to traditional fareboxes to receive additional data.
- It is cheaper for the agency
With automated fare collection, agencies can reduce their spending on disposable fare media. Smart cards are created to be reusable and long-lasting, which is also better for the environment. Thanks to mobile ticketing and contactless EMV, we can now eradicate fare media altogether – riders can have their fares on their phone, or they can use their contactless card to purchase a fare and validate it at the same time. The overall trend is for agencies to want to reduce the number of ticket vending machines as they are expensive and costly to maintain.
- It is more hygienic
As the pandemic showed us, minimizing touch points on the public transit system is the way to go. We can reduce the transmission of various diseases by simply opting for contactless validation. Not only can we reduce touch onboard, but with solutions such as mobile ticketing and EMV we can remove cash from the equation altogether – and cash is the dirtiest thing we handle on a daily basis.
Do you need automatic fare collection?
The answer is short and simple – yes. No matter the size of the transit agency you are running or the size of the city, an AFC system can enhance performance. At Modeshift, we have valuable experience with smaller companies that benefited from AFC and you can look at our case studies to learn more. As we move into an era of climate uncertainty, public transit is becoming an important aspect of city living that can help us achieve our sustainability goals – which is yet another reason city authorities need to rethink their approach to transport systems and invest more in their well-being.