Ticketless travel: the advantages of smartcards and contactless payments for public transport

15th November 2019

This summer saw the launch of contactless payments on Manchester’s Metrolink tram system – meaning that the city now joins the likes of New York, London, Singapore, Rio de Jeneiro and countless other cities around the world – where public transport can be used without any need for physical tickets. And it got us thinking, nowadays it’s generally considered the norm to touch in and out at ticket gates with a smartcard or bank card, but rewind just a few years and that wasn’t the case.

Back when Transport for London’s Oyster card was being trialled in the 1990s, it was a radical concept. The idea of travelling without a paper ticket or a pocketful of change was a hard one to grasp. But what a success it was! London led the way, and the world followed – in fact Hong Kong, Seoul and Chicago even beat London to rolling out the full scheme – with TfL fully launching it in 2003, and Hong Kong being the first in 1996. Now, many years on from the launch of the first travel smartcards, many systems around the world are being upgraded again, to accommodate payments directly from contactless bank cards. (Mind-blowingly, one Swedish company has even made it possible for commuters to have smartcard chips implanted in their hands! Which is certainly one way to avoid scrabbling around for a travelcard).

We’ll now identify some of the greatest advantages that ticketless travel holds, whether it’s by bank card, smart card, or even… scanning your own hand.

Easier, more appealing travel

Journeys are far easier and quicker, and no longer require lengthy queues for tickets – making them far more user-friendly. Passengers don’t need the correct amount of cash either – a godsend in this modern age, where western countries are becoming increasingly ‘cashless’, and carrying physical currency becomes more unusual. It follows that the latest research shows that 49% of UK commuters consider the introduction of contactless payments as the biggest improvement to their travel experience overall.

It goes without saying that the more convenient public transport becomes, the more it’ll be used. It’s predicted that if payment were easier across the board, transport use would rise by 27%.

Better recorded journey data

Scanning cards at the start and end points means that exact journeys can be recorded – meaning that operators are able to identify entrance and exit locations, journey times, and frequency of travel. This not only brings immediate advantages to the customer in the form of automatic fare calculation, but also allows transport providers to trace who is travelling where in real-time, meaning that they can plan resources accordingly. They’re also able to build up a detailed purchase history, allowing any marketing to be tailored specifically to them – thus making them feel more understood and valued.

Saved paper

It may seem obvious, but it’s a huge benefit; ticketless travel saves a vast amount of paper, which is far better for the environment, given paper’s significant impacts. Better still, encouraging greater use of public transport in place of more polluting transport types, is only going to help in the fight against climate change.

Smartcards and contactless payment schemes have had a huge impact on public transport systems around the world. And it’s only the beginning. Companies such as Cubic Transportation and Maynard are currently at the research stage, re-evaluating the very concept of journey payments, and developing cutting-edge gateless technologies – so there may soon be no need to tap in, or walk through a ticket barrier at all. Just don’t tell the guy with the biometric chip in his hand …

If you’re looking for ways to make your passenger experience memorable for all the right reasons, get in touch with our team to find out how CRM systems ca n improve your processes and marketing.

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