HackTrain’s River Tamoor Baig looks at what ticketing technology could revolutionise rail in 2020 and beyond…

It’s hard to believe that only five years ago, we didn’t actually have digital tickets anywhere on the network. Trainline has done a fantastic job in pioneering the ‘M-ticket’ for GB rail over the last few years with every major train operator using it.

But what next? Aside from fares reform, what else is on the horizon for ticket innovation? The rail industry is actually at a crossroads where ticketing could go in any of several directions.

The good news is new ticketing tech will make passengers lives easier if they travel on a single operator. The bad news is, it could result in a fragmented customer experience where travelling on multiple operators requires different ticket types to be presented.

What actually happens will depend entirely on what each TOC decides to implement. What are the new technologies?

Open Loop Ticketing

The biggest technological leap which is achievable from an implementation perspective seems to be Open Loop Ticketing. As a concept, it’s the ability to allow passengers to simply walk into a station and walk out of another being charged retrospectively depending on how far they travelled. For the technology to work, each passenger would need to register a travel account beforehand, top it up with some credit, and then take their journey.

When a passenger enters a station, sensors would detect they’re walking through and ask them to ‘check-in’ digitally on their phone. The same process would then apply for exiting a station too.

The main benefits using gateless technology will be decreasing congestion at busy commuter stations where ticket barriers create bottlenecks slowing down the flow of passengers and increasing safety risks.

Mobility as a Service

The biggest commercial leap is the enablement of Mobility as a Service where travelling between different modes of transport requires only one ticket or card. Passengers would have an account which they can top up through a Pay as You Go credit system or monthly subscription fee. They would then be able to use that account to rent bikes, travel on buses, take trains or hire taxis without having to buy multiple tickets.

Transport for West Midlands actually ran a MaaS pilot for several months integrating buses, taxis, trams and trains into one account which passengers could use for travel. The technology is now in full operational use. Commercially Mobility as a Service is easier to operate within cities.

Biometric Tickets

The crudest way someone has implemented Biometric Tickets to date has been cutting the NFC microchip from an Oyster Card, inserting it in their arm, and then scanning it at the ticket barriers. Scary stuff, right?

Swedish train company, SJ, actually began accepting microchips inside of passengers bodies as legitimate train tickets – and passengers love it!

SJ don’t sell the microchip itself, you have to already have had a microchip implant done. SJ allows you to connect your travel account to the microchip which can then be scanned by train conductors or at ticket gates.

Thousands of passengers in Sweden have already begun using the implant citing it being very practical and easier than carrying a card or train ticket everywhere. But microchip implants aren’t for everyone. What about the rest of the population?

A less physically intrusive approach would be to adopt facial recognition technology for ticket checking purposes. This could be combined with gateless ticketing technology where instead of sensors picking up your device, they scan your face and then charge your account accordingly for the journey you’ve travelled.

Whilst this might be less physically intrusive compared to microchips, from a privacy perspective it may make passengers think twice.

Overall Thoughts

If I were to back a winner, I’d say all three technologies will be implemented in GB rail eventually. Whilst each in its own right will benefit passengers, the greatest impact will be if these technologies will be able to work with each other seamlessly. Making that happen, is the real challenge.

River Tamoor Baig is Chief Executive and Founder of Hack Partners