In recent years, online sales have developed rapidly within the overall sales segment. This rapid growth was set on an even steeper trajectory overnight by the COVID-19 pandemic. This marked trend has not escaped the attention of electronic ticketing systems and services for public transport.
COVID-19 highlighted the fact that many customers can be lost very quickly and are much harder to win back as their needs change. There are examples internationally, but also in this country, of public transport passenger numbers not returning to pre-pandemic levels. It is therefore particularly important for transport operators to rethink their services.
Electronic ticketing systems, which are evolving internationally, are now expanding beyond their former territory. They no longer stop at simply managing public transport tickets, but are seeking to add as many value-added services as possible to their core service. The aim is to make public transport more attractive and competitive, to increase the number of customers and to increase the number of services used.
The aim is no longer just to support passengers from the very beginning to the very end of their journey with timetables, fare information, passenger information, multimodal journey planning, electronic payment solutions, real-time traffic information. These are becoming essential functions for an increasing number of ticketing systems. The new direction is to provide passengers with continuous and personalised information, not only about their journey but also about other services related to their journey. Like most customers, passengers have latent needs, and the latest electronic ticketing systems try to respond to these.
There is now a clear demand from passengers for an electronic ticketing solution that is easy and simple to use, providing fast and efficient support for everyday situations. In many cases, e-ticketing is now expected by users to be part of a complex digital service ecosystem rather than a stand-alone, isolated solution. Passengers no longer want to buy a bus ticket if they do not want to get from A to B quickly and easily. In many cases, the aim is no longer to move, but rather to relax, to unwind, to go shopping, and nowadays solutions must be provided for these everyday purposes and situations.
A number of features have emerged in leading-edge electronic ticketing systems, which in fact have the primary purpose of bringing customers and generating consumption while maintaining interest and significantly enhancing the user experience. Examples include various incentive schemes, user account-based operation (as opposed to the former passenger media-based operation), advanced in-vehicle payment methods, continuous interactions with the passenger, personalised discounts/offers, fare caps, automatic fare optimisation during the journey, and gamification methods such as personal carbon footprint tracking, challenge completion, rewarding travel habits that meet certain conditions (e.g. rewarding frequent travel).
Implementing these services will require new technologies and cross-sectoral integrations, while working with a wide range of partners and organisations. The technologies used should be seen as tools, so that a ticketing system does not rely on one technology or another because it is trendy, but because it is the most efficient. The different ticketing systems also compete with each other on the international scene, which has a positive effect on the 'benchmarking' of different technologies. There are many examples where several different ticketing systems provide services in a given area (city or region).
One common point can be found in the competing successful solutions, and that is mobilisation and the various solutions available on smartphones. Today, we don't just pay on our mobile phones, we don't just consume social media, these smart devices are perfectly capable of supporting our daily lives.
In the future, public transport ticketing systems will increasingly rely on the capabilities of smartphones (QR or other barcode scanning, GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth, accelerometer, cellular information, etc.). One technology that is on the way, but has not yet been widely deployed, is Bluetooth beacon-based ticketing. Its main advantage is that it does not require costly on-board validation equipment or on-board devices in vehicles or stations, but only so-called beacons, which have orders of magnitude lower cost of ownership, installation time, space and energy requirements, and increase the efficiency of control. Passengers "check in" using an app installed on their mobile phone. This is done by the app detecting the signal emitted by the beacon within its range. The extent of this coverage can be controlled, and the technology is capable of doing so. In effect, the signal transmitted by the beacon can be used to deliver an identifier to the passenger's app similar to the way a passenger scans a QR code when boarding a plane. The resulting identifier identifies the specific entry point (metro gate, vehicle, platform, etc.) where the passenger intends to enter/board. Once the code has been scanned, the system automatically validates/applies the fare product(s) according to a predefined logic.
The beacon-based solution can also be the basis for completely new types of pricing, such as pay-as-you-go, as it can be used to record not only the start of the journey (entry) but also the end of the journey (exit).
In addition, this identification process can be highly automated, which offers considerable convenience to passengers. The beacon can be used to record more accurately the level of service used, so that the charge can be set in a way that passengers perceive as fairer, thus enhancing the user experience. This could further increase the acceptance of public transport.
Keeping in mind international best practices, trends and, most importantly, user expectations, the best way forward is to translate the transformation of the electronic payments world into the evolution of ticketing systems. In electronic payment solutions, first cards moved to mobile and we started to "pay by mobile", and today we are seeing the dawn of the cardless instant payment era, where we no longer pay by mobile if we are not actually paying by mobile. With these advanced solutions, we are seeing more and more complex digital service ecosystems coming at us through our smartphones, innovations where we can travel with petrol bottles or even support the sustainability of our communities by switching from our cars to public transport, leaving a smaller carbon footprint!