Philippe Vappereau, Chairman of Calypso Networks Association, explores the future of transport ticketing

The paradox of successful transport ticketing is that it must become invisible to the passenger. There should be no long queue to purchase a ticket, wait at the turnstile, or search through multiple documents. It should be a fast, seamless experience that leaves the passenger free to enjoy the journey ahead.

It’s easy to forget just how far transport ticketing has come over the last decade and even easier to underestimate its potential for the future. As recently as the 1990s, closed-loop systems based around tokens and paper tickets were still the norm. The user experience was often poor, and public transport operators (PTOs) had limited controls over their systems.

Today, passengers can pass through the barriers with just a tap of their smartcard or mobile app, while PTOs can use this method to create new ways to connect with their customers.

The current opportunity for transport ticketing would have been unimaginable eighteen months ago. There is now an urgent need for this technology to support public transport on a global scale through this unprecedented period of regional restrictions and social distancing.

Pleasingly, transport ticketing has proved itself well-placed to assist critical public health measures and help keep essential rail services Covid-secure. But there are other important considerations, most notably the financial challenges facing PTOs and continued uncertainty about when ‘normal’ passenger flows will return. As with all other areas of public transportation, it’s important to take stock of where transport ticketing is now and where it needs to go next, as the decisions made today will have strategic importance for years to come.


Managing the ‘mass’ of ‘mass transportation’

The ‘mass’ part of ‘mass transportation’ is undoubtedly the major challenge we face during the ongoing pandemic. How do you balance maintaining essential services and the capacity for mass flows with ensuring safe social distancing measures?

Naturally, there is no silver bullet, but this is one area where modern contactless ticketing has really proved its worth. The speed of today’s contactless NFC ticketing enables a rapid flow of passengers at network entry points, minimising the potential for dangerous crowding hotspots.

PTOs can also shift to distance selling solutions, such as through mobile apps, preventing the need for passengers to gather around ATMs, ticket machines and counters. With the widespread internet availability today, this is a simple way to support social distancing measures without inconveniencing passengers.


A new era for contactless ticketing

It almost seems too obvious to state, but contactless ticketing does of course minimise the need for touch – a key measure which has seen unprecedented adoption of contactless payments across almost all sectors during the pandemic.

Beyond the immediate public health benefits, there is an important psychological value to this too. We should always remember that ticketing is the entry-point for using public transport – the gateway to mobility. Reassuring passengers with a safe, touch-free system at this point is crucial to getting them back on trains and rebuilding traveller confidence. Conversely, it’s easy to see how a system which requires physical contact could lose potential users before they even get to the gate.

Fortunately, most of this contactless infrastructure was already in place long before the pandemic. There are a few ‘loophole’ areas though, which operators should now look to close. For example, passengers may seek to use their own NFC-capable mobile phone devices as a reader, as this would enable them to reload their physical transport card with funds safely and hygienically. This requires a card with microprocessor functionality, which is capable of offering more purchase options to users, both in person and remotely.

While most travel cards for frequent users contain this chip, some cards in circulation – typically those issued to more occasional travellers – do not and are therefore unable to offer remote reloading. Instead, these tickets often require expensive booths and vending equipment to process purchases. Operators may consider how they can phase them out, enabling customers to enjoy the reassurance of a completely contactless ticketing experience.


Futureproofing technology investment

The immediate value of transport ticketing in today’s climate is clear. However, wise players will recognise that this isn’t just about weathering the immediate storm, but an opportunity to take stock and think about ticketing in the long term.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, after all, it’s the importance of future flexibility; that must be the strategic lesson. This should then alert us to the dangers of one all-too-common practice in the public transport ecosystem: the over-reliance on proprietary ticketing systems.

The problem with this approach is that it leaves PTOs reliant on a single vendor for a system they are likely to have invested a great deal of resource in. If there is an unexpected event and the vendor is unable to continue its supply, a PTO could find itself unable to operate at very short notice. Given that essential services simply cannot stop running, operators have previously been forced to provide access to their systems for free, a move with devastating revenue-hitting consequences.

Vendor lock-in is also common, particularly where a solution initially appears cost-effective because of a low purchase cost, but ultimately turns out to have a much higher (and harder to estimate) long-term cost, thus offering a very poor overall return on investment (ROI).


Moving towards an open standards approach

Open standards offer an alternative to this inherently risky strategy. With open standards, the field is open to multiple vendors and solution-providers at every stage of a ticketing system’s lifecycle. PTOs are handed back control of their ticketing network, no longer vulnerable to a sudden gap in the supply chain or indeed to the problem of vendor lock-in and all that it entails. Crucially, such an approach empowers PTOs to make an agile response to future challenges, whatever they may be.

There are other benefits, too. By fostering fair competition, an open standards approach naturally results in more competitive pricing and can drive technological innovation and new solutions. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that open standards are themselves the source of perhaps the next great innovation in transport ticketing, the development of seamlessly interoperable networks, as interoperability requires standardisation.


2021 and beyond

We’re now a year on from the first European lockdowns, and the immediate future remains as uncertain and unpredictable as ever. What is clear is that agility must now be a key priority for transport ticketing. An over-reliance on proprietary systems has so far impeded the degree to which key stakeholders, particularly PTOs, are able to respond to an evolving market. Embracing a flexible, secure open standards approach, and opening the technology up to competition will drive innovation while ensuring the industry is robust, resilient and ready for the challenges and opportunities of the post-pandemic landscape.


Philippe Vappereau is the Chairman of CNA. He has over 30 years of knowledge and experience in the transport and mobility sector and leads the association in its efforts to advance open systems that support seamless, consumer ticketing needs. Prior to joining CNA in 2008, Philippe held senior leadership positions at RATP and Ixxi. He holds a diploma in Engineering from École Supérieure D’électricité (Supélec).


Tel: (+33) 0622840222



Twitter: @philjlr

LinkedIn: Philippe Vappereau