Smart ticketing drives sustainable mobility

smart ticketing
© iStock/Rain Ungert

The International Association for Public Transport speaks to Government Europa about the importance of smart ticketing solutions to drive interoperability and ease of travel across Europe.

Smart ticketing uses technology to drive greater interoperability and ease to the way in which European citizens travel around Member State cities. Government Europa spoke to experts from the International Association for Public Transport (UITP) about what smart ticketing means for the citizens, outlining the fundamentals behind it.

Why is improving interoperability of travel through smart ticketing and smart apps so important throughout Europe?

Smart ticketing is anything other than a single-journey ticket. It is crucial to keep in mind that it cannot replace a quality service and should only be used to showcase the transport services on offer. Interoperability allows for more seamless journeys and helps make combined mobility a reality; the end-goal being of course to achieve the modal shift by making public and other shared modes of transport as easy and as accessible to people as their cars.

This is why interoperability of travel is key and is one in a series of tools that both authorities and operators can deploy to encourage the use of shared transport on their territory. When a passenger chooses to travel, they are looking for ease of use and this involves ease of buying and using tickets. Apps are just one tool that might work for a certain segment of the population and might be the appropriate solution in some cases, however, what is important is to provide a variety of different solutions, to suit all use-cases and all types of populations in order to be truly accessible.

What has already been done at an EU-level to enhance interoperability?

The smart solutions that are already out there are very often local solutions; for example WienMobil in Vienna, the app that combines both travel information services and smart ticketing for the city and its surroundings. What is interesting is that the City of Vienna has made Upstream, the platform it relies on for the information, routing, booking, payment etc, available to all developers; not just to its own app solution because it is interoperable. Local areas provide the perfect breeding ground for innovative solutions that are entirely suited to answer local realities. Some global ones, needed of course, especially for tourists or any non-residents in an area. Therefore, both local and global solutions can be combined to ensure everyone in a given area can move around more easily. As always, the important thing is ensuring multiple solutions that can fit a complex reality.

What are the benefits of smart ticketing and smart app solutions?

The main benefit is definitely modal shift; ensuring certain segments of the population are introduced to sustainable modes of transport and convincing young people to adopt sustainable mobility habits for the future. Needless to say, smart ticketing and smart app solutions cannot replace a more systemic and global approach to mobility for all which involves ensuring there are as many sales channels as there are different uses of transport services in a given population.

Despite all of the benefits that smart ticketing solutions can bring, are there any limitations?

Vendor lock-ins: a top-down approach, especially in the case of urban mobility in particular (very local). The worry here is that this may kill off any local initiatives and innovations. We are currently witnessing a development of new technologies and mobility services like never before, and imposing standards in the name of interoperability at an EU level, or even sometimes at a national level, might not for one solve the modal shift problem. Secondly, it might actually stifle any innovation efforts in our territories.

Any smart ticketing or smart app solution must be relevant to local realities: what works in a large metropolis might not necessarily be appropriate for a smaller town or even for the suburbs of said metropolis. The needs of the local population will be different because the people living there will be different (age, earnings, etc), similarly, the transport services on offer will be different (more transport on demand, no mass transit, etc) and because the geography of the territory will be different (mountainous region, extreme weather conditions, regular flooding, etc). Finally, the solutions that are ultimately developed must be affordable for local authorities otherwise they will not be deployed or used as widely.

How can we ensure consumers are confident using their smart phone or smart card for ticketing and how can we see to it that their data and privacy is secure?

With proper application of the GDPR ruling: it restores trust, forces businesses to streamline their process, get rid of redundancies, etc. The GDPR sets out a common framework, within which every company or body can figure out the best way to implement these principles. So even the GDPR recognises there is no one way of ensuring data privacy. This will depend on the size of the company, on the type of personal data it handles, etc. GDPR is basically a toolbox, and it is a very good one. We can legitimately be proud in Europe of having the best framework in the world for the protection of data privacy and for leading the conversation on data privacy at a global level.

What incentives are already out there to encourage more people to take up smart ticketing solutions rather than using paper alternatives?

Sometimes financial; some ticketing solutions might be cheaper than others for the passenger. Paper alternatives are not necessarily a bad thing (and can be smart if re-usable for instance). The race to smart ticketing solutions must not, inadvertently, become a way of alienating certain segments of the population such as the elderly or tourists (or even people with low battery levels on their smartphone). On the other hand, very often pricing is negotiated in the public service contract in the case of public transport, and therefore is not always very flexible; it might not always be possible to play on price as a way to encourage people to take up different ticketing solutions than the ones they are used to. Modal shift is the objective, getting there can mean using electronic forms of payment but sometimes paper alternatives are more appropriate.

What more needs to be done at an EU level to make smart ticketing and smart app solutions easier and more effective?

Non-binding initiatives – again this is a local competence, the EU might not have the power to intervene and alternatively, it might not be relevant for it to do so. It is crucial that we be wary of a top-down approach in local transport. Any initiative must be flexible enough to encompass a myriad of local realities. What works in one area might not work elsewhere or even be remotely relevant. In Europe we still need more exchange of best practices, forums to exchange on the latest developments, regulatory or technological.

Mihai Chirca

UITP Expert on Digitalisation and Autonomous Transport Systems

Annabelle Huet

European Expert Legal Affairs

Thomas Avanzata

Director Europe

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