Tapping to travel

No longer confined to smartcards, ITSO travel products are starting to appear on smartphones too, courtesy of ITSO Transit Hub. First Group is trialling ITSO-on-Mobile integrated with Google Pay, using Ticketer ticket machines and with the help of mobile ticketing specialist Corethree.

Steve Banner reports.

Passengers using First Bus Glasgow services are able to tap their Android smartphone on the Ticketer readers in order to travel, with no need to produce an ITSO smartcard.

Tickets are delivered directly into the passenger’s Google Pay digital wallet and are immediately recognised by the Ticketer readers. The speed with which this happens shortens boarding times, Ticketer contends.

Assuming the Glasgow trial is successful, the smartphone solution will be rolled out to over 1.6m passengers across the First Bus network.

Elsewhere, bus operators and their passengers are benefiting from tap-on/tap-off contactless technology combined with capped fares in Brighton. Working with Ticketer and Littlepay payment services, Go-Ahead-owned Brighton & Hove Buses and Metrobus are employing it, and it is proving to be successful.

“Contactless payment now represents 40 per cent of all their on-bus transactions,” says Go-Ahead retail project manager Graham Pether. “It has been warmly received and take-up has been positive.

“We estimate that as much as 10 seconds per onboard transaction might be being saved,” he continues. That speeds up boarding times, makes it possible to improve journey times, and potentially increase frequencies on key routes,” Pether says.

“Passengers no longer need to ask the driver for the correct ticket,” says Ticketer chief executive officer, John Clarfelt. “They simply board, tap, tap and exit.”

Tap-on/tap-off means the operator knows exactly how much the journey has cost the passenger and is designed to ensure Brighton & Hove and Metrobus passengers always pay the best-value fare possible, says Ticketer.

Ticketer’s and Littlepay’s technologies work together to deliver a daily cap on fares, regardless of the type of ticket the passenger requests. It equates to the price of a day ticket for the area the individual is travelling in if this is less than the total cost of the single fares.

Passengers who forget to tap off are charged the single fare to the end of the route they are on, and have to contact the operator’s customer services department to get their money back.

Lothian Buses is pursuing a somewhat different policy. Customers using contactless bank cards and mobile devices on Lothian City buses, tap on, but do not have to tap off. After three taps they are automatically charged the best day-ticket price, and no more.

The initiative was launched in July in time for the Edinburgh Festival, rapidly hit 45,000 taps daily, and logged its millionth tap in August. “We’re excited to have been the first bus operator in Scotland to introduce capped contactless payments to our customers, and we’ve been completely overwhelmed by how quickly Edinburgh’s residents and visitors have embraced this payment method,” says Lothian commercial director, Nigel Serafini.

“It’s been at the top of our customers’ wish lists for some time and removes any need to carry cash in order to travel, or know at the start of the day how many journeys you plan to make,” he adds. “Capping means that our customers will always get the cheapest daily fare possible, no matter how their travel plans might change throughout the day.”

Solely using tap-on makes sense for Lothian, which charges a flat fare for all journeys in and around Edinburgh.

An enthusiastic advocate of systems that oblige travellers to tap on but do not require them to tap off is industry newcomer Tap to Board, which was launched at the Coach & Bus UK show. Its tap-on-only package uses inexpensive generic hardware – a reader accompanied by either a smartphone or a tablet – plus its own software.

While Ticketer’s John Clarfelt is a keen advocate of tap-on/tap-off, he stresses that there is nothing to prevent operators opting for tap-on-only if they have a flat fare policy. “That’s the approach First Bus Aberdeen pursues for example, and tap-on-only is something we offer,” he observes.

Tapping off as well as tapping on provides a bus company with valuable information about the travel patterns along its routes. There are other ways to obtain this data however.

Earlier this year Nottingham City Transport (NCT) and Touche-NFC completed a trial which used beacons on buses and at stops to detect where passengers boarded and alighted, assuming that they had downloaded Touche-NFC’s Riposte app to their Android smartphones. The journey records were sent to Touche-NFC’s back-office system, and users were asked by the app to confirm whether their record was correct or not.

The three-month trial was conducted on the city’s Green 11 route.

The system worked, and clearly has potential. However accuracy rates will need to improve before it can be adopted widely, or used as a means to help calculate fares so that the right money can be deducted from customers bank accounts.

Forty per cent of the users had accuracy rates of more than 90 per cent, of which 30 per cent were 100 per cent accurate. Most of the other users were over 85 per cent accurate, with a few outliers recording lower accuracies.

Touche-NFC is confident that rates can be improved further, with more guidance to passengers on how to use the solution, and further refinement of the interaction between the app and the operating system.

“We’re encouraged by the results of our beacon trial, and particularly by customer feedback about their experiences, which were overwhelmingly positive,” says NCT marketing manager Anthony Carver-Smith. “Many described the app as stress-free and very simple to use, and this is encouraging for Touche-NFC as it develops and refines its Riposte solution.”

Passengers who have to pay for their bus journeys can sometimes find it difficult to estimate their upcoming travel needs in advance in order to buy a cost-effective travel pass. In response, ACT, a Fujitsu company, has launched Account Based Ticketing (ABT) for ITSO.

“It provides a pay-as-you-go model of ticketing,” explains head of ACT Mark Fagan. “Passengers can use their ITSO card to travel first and pay later, with capping applied to offer the best-value fare.”

Delivered using ACT’s Actora smart ticketing platform, ABT for ITSO provides occasional travellers with a reason to start using an ITSO card, ACT contends. They do not use the bus enough to make buying a travel pass worthwhile, so are currently faced with the option of choosing an alternative means of travel, or buying paper tickets.

“They will gain the convenience of smart ticketing, even if they don’t travel regularly,” says ACT senior solutions architect Dave Spillett.

Something else Ticketer will be increasingly offering is a ticketing machine that can deliver services that go beyond ticketing. Reading Buses is now using its machines to help its drivers carry out daily walk-around checks and log their findings, and is looking at ways machines can be used to drive destination displays.

“Using machines to aid daily checks is working well,” says Clarfelt. “The checks are tailored to the individual vehicles. This means that if drivers have been allocated a single-decker then they are not being asked to go and check the seats on the upper deck.

“That gives the check far more credibility so far as drivers are concerned.”

Modern ticketing technology can reduce the risk of fraud. That is what Leeds-based Tetley’s Coaches found once it had opted for an e-ticketing platform from ShuttleID.

It runs school services among its other activities, and had the headache of a significant number of pupils boarding buses without a pass, or one that had been forged or had expired, or one that was in the name of another pupil. Drivers were trying to examine passes with the naked eye to figure out whether they were valid or not as children crowded aboard.

Switching to ShuttleID’s platform means that the old passes have been scrapped and that all pupils now have to have individual tickets – either pre-printed or on their phones – which must be scanned as they board. Ticket fraud was eliminated within the first week of the scheme’s introduction.

“It’s a 100 per cent turnaround, it really is,” says Tetley’s operations manager Daniel Milnes.

Returning to Ticketer, it used Coach & Bus UK to launch what is believed to be Britain’s first national, multi-operator ticketing app for passengers under the Kazoot banner. It enables travellers to plan their journeys and pay for them using a single device, no matter which bus company’s services they are using.

“It removes many of the barriers travellers face when they want to use public transport and helps them access the services that best meet their needs,” says Clarfelt. “Passengers want to be able to download a single app in order to be able to travel, not six different ones.

All the talk about tapping-on and tapping-off using cards and smartphones might lead one to conclude that cash is on the verge of disappearing.

It has certainly declined in significance – debit cards overtook cash as the UK’s most frequently-used payment method in 2017, says the Bank of England (BoE) – yet it remains an important means of settling bills. There are over £70billion worth of banknotes in circulation according to BoE figures; roughly twice as much as a decade ago.

As a consequence cash-handling systems are important to operators, and are likely to remain so for some time to come, with suppliers such as Cummins Allison and Suzohapp – best-known for its Scan Coin products – well to the fore.

The advent of new coins and polymer banknotes has prompted some businesses to invest in new cash-processing equipment.

Birtley, County Durham-based JH Coaches for example has opted for a Scan Coin CDS-820i to handle coin deposits integrated with a CashComplete SDS-150 to handle note deposits. The advantages of this package, says Suzohapp, include the CDS-820i’s ability to reject foreign, damaged and counterfeit coinage.

The BoE observes that many people like cash because it is a fast and convenient way to pay and is widely accepted. Furthermore, it is helpful when it comes to budget management; and it should never be forgotten that many bus users are on very tight budgets indeed.

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