Steve Wakeland, Executive Chairman of ITSO Ltd, explores the role of smart ticketing in Mobility as a Service…

This October, train operators across the country are taking part in Smart Week – an initiative designed to drive passenger take up of smart ticket media, moving away from the iconic orange paper tickets that have long been a staple of UK rail travel.

To date, smart ticketing has been slower to develop on rail than on other transport types, in part due to the complexities of the 55 million different fare combinations available on the national rail network. Rail smart ticketing has also focused more on smartcards and barcode tickets, rather than on more agile smartcard emulation on a mobile device. The rail industry wants to embrace digital technology and the acceptance of EMV is an important step for single or infrequent travellers.

The popularity of the smartphone means there is genuine possibility to disrupt how people travel and how they pay for it and this will be a fundamental part of how Mobility as a Service (MaaS) schemes are brought to life.

In its simplest form, MaaS is the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility package accessible on demand. MaaS smartphone apps bring together end-to-end trip planning, booking, electronic ticketing, and payment services across all modes of transportation, including rail.

In Europe, successful models in action include Hannover’s ‘Mobility Shop’, and Vienna’s ‘WienMobil’, both of which allow users to access one smartphone app to plan, book and store tickets for travel across trains, buses, trams, bicycles, private hire vehicles and more. Take up of MaaS models in the UK, however, have been much slower. The Whim app has been trialled in the West Midlands after enjoying success in Helsinki, but until there is further adoption of mobile ticketing across various transport modes, and importantly, collaboration between operators, we are still some time away from truly seamless travel for passengers.

And that’s at odds with our ever-increasing move towards digital. In today’s fast-paced world, people expect the same instant and uninterrupted access to transport ticketing that they experience in all other aspects of daily life. Our mobile phones are always with us; payments are digital; and the world is within our palm. Passengers now want to be able to use their smartphone as both ticket machine and ticket, removing the need for queues and unnecessary paper. The challenge for rail, is to keep up with the demand of today’s tech-savvy consumer.

Between January and March 2019, 14.1 million smart tickets were sold in the UK. If those tickets were placed in a line, they’d make up the return distance from London to Edinburgh. To date, smart ticketing on rail has focused primarily on ITSO-enabled physical smartcards and barcode tickets. Both eTickets; which must be printed at home, and mTickets; which are held on a mobile device in a rail app, make use of QR or Aztec codes to store ticketing information within a barcode. This is then scanned at the gate and validated for travel. However, this technology is not without its flaws and prioritisation needs to be given to mobile ticketing that offers both ease of travel for passengers and data security.

The September 2019 hack of First Bus and Metrolink by the so-called ‘Public Transport Pirate Association of the United Kingdom’ exposed the vulnerabilities in the QR codes used by public transport apps. The private key used to create the codes was included in the app itself, leading to claims by hackers that they could issue ‘free’ transport tickets. Security is a primary concern for passengers when using open networks on their mobile handset and this is one of the chief barriers to wider adoption of mobile ticketing by the rail industry. There is a security ecosystem in place to ensure the safety of transaction data and using mobile tickets is as safe as using cash or smartcards.

At ITSO Ltd, the device keys used to generate value for our mobile ticketing technology, ITSO on Mobile, never leave ITSO Transit Hub, our sophisticated back office that handles the data. These keys include multiple layers of security and are user specific, protecting mobile apps and the ticketing provided by operators from sophisticated attacks and widescale ticket fraud. We worked closely with Google Pay during the build process for ITSO on Mobile, co-designing a security solution in combination with a cloud-based risk mitigation engine. While the average rail passenger may not require this much detail, they do need to know their data and mobile device will be safe.

We are fast approaching the first anniversary of the launch of ITSO on Mobile with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) under the ‘Swift on Mobile’ brand. Our technology enables the virtual replication of a physical smartcard on a smartphone, meaning passengers can benefit from all the advantages of a traditional ITSO-enabled smartcard while only needing to carry their phone with them on their journey.

TfWM rolled out Swift on Mobile on the West Midlands Metro tram network in November 2018 and plans to bring this technology to bus and rail; a welcome move towards MaaS, with only a single app required to provide tickets for the transport modes.

Smart ticketing has great potential on the UK rail network and is a key component for passengers to manage their travel and encourage greater use of public transport. Today, around one billion journeys are made on Visa cards per year on the Transport for London network, according to Paymentsense, with contactless payments accounting for around 50 per cent of transactions. However, contactless cards aren’t currently able to offer the flexibility and sophistication that is required by regular transport passengers.

ITSO on Mobile’s smartcard emulation enables operators to offer smartphone users various ticketing types as well as pre- and post-payment options, allowing passengers to confirm the end fare they will be charged for their travel ahead of time. Through an operator’s mobile app, passengers can buy and store season, concessionary and off-peak tickets, offering true travel choice.

Contactless payments work well for short or single journeys, where there is a £30 maximum daily cap, or in London, where there is an additional weekly cap on EMV cards. But with this ‘tap and go’ payment method passengers are unable to buy tickets in advance and may not find out the exact fare they will pay before embarking on their journey. Outside cities such as London, many rail networks do not currently support contactless payments, but the majority provide ITSO-enabled ticketing gates, meaning mobile technology could be swiftly rolled out across the network for the immediate benefit of passengers.

This year, the UK rail network awaits the findings of the Williams Rail Review, with proposals to simplify fares and ticketing. Keith Williams, the chair of the review, named ticketing as one of his top priorities, while the Rail Delivery Group is reporting its own findings from its ‘Easier fares for all’ proposal, reviewing the way the network manages fares and ticketing to make them simpler.

With UK rail journeys reaching a record high of 1.759 billion in 2018-19 according to the Office of Rail and Road, the industry plays a crucial role in mobility. But, if rail operators cannot collaborate with each other and integrate with other modes of both public and private transport, MaaS will be unattainable. For the UK transport industry to become fully interoperable it is time to adopt the technologies that will enable passengers to travel seamlessly from one mode of transport to the next. Mobile ticketing is a prime place to start.

Steve Wakeland is Executive Chairman of ITSO Ltd