Travel in modern-day cities has taken on a whole new approach towards innovation and sustainability amid challenging times such as Covid. There has been an increased demand for simplified, seamless travel options that suit the ever-evolving needs of passengers as well as efficient, well-functioning transit systems that adapt well in terms of serving the growing urbanization and population of urban areas.
With the evolution of digital infrastructure, companies around the globe have been able to achieve incredible results when it comes to providing the general public with technology-driven solutions that address common issues in public transport (one of which is account-based ticketing). Think in terms of value, access, and mobility.
What is the ultimate goal for an efficient, well-functioning transit system within a Smart City?
The future of smart cities is built upon the pillars of sustainable infrastructure, public transit, personal vehicles, and people, all working together in perfect synergy to improve the quality of lifestyle for the current and next generations.
We have seen and experienced the advancements in internet services, the speed at which data is processed, managed, and stored, including access to real-time data, and the implementation of smartphone devices and contactless credit/debit cards. All of these components have paved the way for new and improved means of travel, services, and products that no longer lean on or require outdated systems and modalities.
Local transport providers and agencies are now actively seeking ways for integrating multiple transit systems to reduce costs, pollution, and traffic congestion, whilst also improving the experience of passengers, as well as the quality of life for residents.
But what does smart travel look like exactly, is it practical, and what value does it provide for passengers?
Smart travel focuses on the best value proposition for users, societies, and the environment. And while the concept of smart city infrastructure is very appealing and futuristic, many people ask this simple, realistic question; how practical is it and how does it apply to my daily life?
Let’s take a look at some of the ways smart cities implement new models of technology-based solutions that aim to improve a town’s infrastructure as well as the quality of life of its citizens.
This can look like anything from smart parking to account-based ticketing, bike infrastructure as well as various Mobility-as-a-Service tools. Countries and cities all around the world have woken up to the beauty and potential of systems such as MaaS, Account-based ticketing, ticketless ticketing, and various products and services within the travel industry that provide valuable solutions to customers’ demands and previously unmet needs.
Think in terms of improved mobility, optimization of media interface, connection, integration, and simplicity regarding user experience. Although at a glance it might seem somewhat overwhelming, the truth is that it is based on a business model that works towards simplicity and unification.
What is Account-based Ticketing in passenger transport?
Amidst times of global pandemics, the need for simplified travel has never been greater as the world gradually adapts to a more cashless and contactless way of life.
At its core, Account-based ticketing is a fare-collection system where all of the information regarding the right to travel is held in a back office in the form of a digital account.
To put it simply, it is a digital way of allowing people to travel along various transport platforms using different modes of transit by taping or scanning their choice of fare media. This is essentially done by using a secure token that is linked to an account (managed outside of the transit media) in a back office.
The commuter’s data is then kept on a secure server (on-prem or cloud) of the system operator and includes all the information regarding fares and demographics. By storing data this way, it becomes much easier for operators to monitor and adjust fares, subsidies, and segmentation within the system, offering a new and modern approach of flexibility and seamless adjustment to any parameters.
How Account-based ticketing works
Account-based ticketing is designed to provide the rider with a choice of whether to buy a paper ticket or travel with other fare media of their choosing. Its aim is primarily to improve mobility within the public transit sector and provide simplified solutions for travelers, as well as improve the overall customer experience across all platforms and modes of transport.
In conventional media-based systems, a rider’s typical purchase involves a form of physical media (whether that be a paper ticket or a reloadable card), and the passenger is then given the choice between buying individual tickets or a pass that lets them access a capped fare. However, one of the disadvantages of this type of physical media is that it is based on a somewhat outdated system and is vulnerable to damage, loss as well as overcharging passengers who are not frequent travelers (pay-as-you-go models).
In an Account-based ticketing system, the account is where all the passenger’s information is stored. This account can be linked to various fare media – from smart cards to mobile ticketing apps, smartwatches, and other smart wearables. The rider’s account in this case, however, isn’t dependent on the physical media, and all of the information about the trip history and balance remains within their individual account.
It is a system that gives travelers many benefits, including flexibility and ease during their trip. Their daily commute is now faster, smarter, and more convenient.
What are the Benefits of Account-Based Ticketing
The primary goal of Account-based ticketing revolves around the notion of integration, practicality, as well as simplicity. The system is designed to provide value, solutions, and optimization to outdated ticketing systems and media. Let’s look at some of the benefits that this type of system provides.
Media agnostic approach
One of the main benefits that come with Account-based ticketing is the abundance of payment methods available to riders. Passengers can simply log in to their account and enable their preferred validation token. This fare media can look like anything from an NFC card to a mobile app, a Contactless EMV card, a smartwatch, or any other smart device that a person may carry on them.
It’s that easy. They don’t have to worry about card loss, constant topping up, waiting in lines, or even forgetting their card at home.
Another important benefit is that all transactions and information are being synchronized in real-time as opposed to media-based where the only way to transfer the information is by tapping the card to a connected device (typically a validator). The device then reads the information (name of the passenger, their details, fare products) and transfers it to a secure server (a central data center or a cloud).
Contactless method of payment
Contactless bank cards or Contactless EMV (cEMV) are among the easiest ways to use Account-based Ticketing. This method is extremely simple and convenient as most people will carry a bank card on them daily. A contactless method of payment also reduces virus transmission risk onboard public transit vehicles.
Multiple benefits & flexibility for riders
Account-based ticketing provides riders with a choice and a modern, comfortable way to pay for a journey, using public transit systems. There is a vast variety of validation media that a passenger can choose from when traveling including contactless methods of payment, by mobile phone, or any smart device. There is more convenience, less congestion, no stress, and an overall improved customer experience.
Reduced costs & valuable data collection
The back office is essentially where all of the data regarding a passenger’s account is stored. This includes personal details, travel history, fares, discounts, and demographics. This allows agencies to easily manage fare policies and their customers’ accounts. It also gives them access to a pool of valuable data which can help them with the optimization of the system regarding the best deals available, and the retirement of others. All of this helps them reduce operational costs. There is no need for heavy infrastructure or cash handling.
Ticketless ticketing & Sustainability
Since physical tickets are becoming obsolete in an account-based fare collection system, operational costs for ticket providers are automatically reduced, and there is less waste (as most tickets are used only once). Although it might not seem like much per person, on a larger, global scale this has a rather huge impact. Going ticketless not only saves you money on paper tickets but also helps the environment.
Limited spread of viruses & diseases
The removal of physical fare media touches yet another important aspect in recent years and that is the limitation of the spread of viruses such as Covid and other common diseases an individual might be exposed to when touching contaminated surfaces in densely populated areas such as train stations.
What is Not (Necessarily) Account-based Ticketing?
As mentioned previously, Account-based ticketing operates based on a system model that stores all information about fare products, rights associated with travel linked to an account, as well as other business rules and maintenance carried out for various operations. Everything goes into a single back office (physical server or cloud storage). In Account-based ticketing, travel rights and identification are established through a uniquely identifiable ticketing token carried by an individual, using a media of their choice.
Magnetic stripe card or NFC card vs Account-Based Ticketing
On the other hand, media-based ticketing systems use for operational purposes data that is primarily and exclusively stored on the fare media itself, whether that’s a magnetic stripe card or an NFC card.
Although some reader-writer terminals of a card-based system may store data or transfer it to a central server, the data itself is not used for operational purposes such as validation of tickets in real-time against the central server. This is one way in which the system differs from standard Account-based ticketing systems.
That being said, smart cards can be a valuable part of any account-based ticketing system and can be connected to the rider account for ease of use, top-ups, and contactless validation.
Pricing models and fare capping
With contactless EMV, price capping works best if you have an Account-based Ticketing system operating at its full capacity, however, it is not reserved exclusively just for ABT systems.
EMV for public transit offers the possibility of supporting fare capping, and ’best-price’ schemes as well as fundamentally any ticket pricing logic. Card-based systems which are non-ABT have a good amount of data available on the NFC card needed to determine the pricing of a ride or journey, but not in real-time.
The implementation of Account-based ticketing can only be described as an amazing advancement in technology that benefits travelers and transit agencies alike. It promises ease of use, convenience, and trust and so far, it has proven to work incredibly well when integrated and implemented correctly. We can only speculate how it will look and progress in the future, but undoubtedly it will continue to be an essential component of any smart city infrastructure and its public transit system.