This post explores how new technology, open standards, cloud computing and commodity hardware are helping to change how transport authorities and operators can manage fare collection and explains a future in which technology is driving innovation.
It then goes on to shown how these changes can help authorities and operators procure software and hardware in a new way for the benefit of their organisation and riders.
Open Standards and Commodity Hardware
Arguably the two most successful technologies of the past 20 years are the Internet and the mobile phone - both of which can attribute their success directly to the use of open and interoperable standards rather than closed proprietary ones and cheap commodity hardware.
The GSM family of phone standards has meant that the same handset will work across the world from Tokyo to Timbuktu. This has been great for consumers, but also for phone vendors who could more easily reach economies of scale - reducing the prices consumers pay and allowing a greater focus on innovation. Similarly, for the Internet, the use of standardised technologies means that your internet browser can view any website reliably. In technology, open standards always win out over proprietary technologies.
Public Transportation systems were once at the very cutting edge of technology - rail networks underpinned the successes of the industrial revolution, and in turn urban transit systems made the growth of cities possible. However much of the historic technology still used in fare collection systems is today archaic, pre-Internet technology - based on proprietary technology which has stifled innovation.
To give you an example; installing a new paper or smartcard based ticketing system 15 years ago was a huge project involving bespoke software and complex hardware installations. It took a significant amount of work, cost and ongoing expense. Once these systems were in place, making changes to fare tables or adding stations was incredibly costly and time consuming – often involving an engineer manually updating the software on every ticket machine on the network.
However, advances in broadband speeds, cheaper processing and storage have enabled an explosion in Cloud computing. The advent of a completely different way of running and providing software has changed the game across most industries and the transport industry is no exception.
Cloud-based solutions provide a fast track to innovation as the software is operated from a central location and the provider you choose can be based on a fixed contract that is significantly more lightweight to install, scale and replace than an old fashioned legacy system. Legacy systems tend to include investment in specialist server hardware, software and complex infrastructure, meaning installing, scaling and replacing the system involves significant resource, time and cost.
As an example, at Masabi we provide cloud-based mobile ticketing solutions. This means the solution can be deployed in a matter of weeks or months, based on the client’s requirements and an agreed contract period. These roll-outs are much faster than traditional fare collection systems because there is often no hardware to be installed on-premises – it’s all in the cloud and on customer’s phones. Updated and changes to the system are also quick and easy as they are done from a central location (like fare updates).
How to Procure Software and Hardware
Another factor to consider is how you buy software and hardware. The smartphone has become a commodity product, with high reliability and an ever growing list of features all for an ever lower price. In transit, they are not only being used for riders to purchase and display tickets, but also for validation, where they are far more cost effective and smaller than the costly custom hardware alternatives available.
When procuring hardware and software separately authorities and operators have the flexibility to replace the software without the need to replace the hardware and visa-versa. Software and hardware have different lifecycles, so it doesn’t make sense to bundle them in to one procurement and lock-in to one supplier for that period.
Installing validation readers which either have pre-installed - or are easily upgraded to include - multiple ticketing technologies like barcode, NFC, EMV and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), you are able to future-proof your readers by allowing multiple ticket media to be deployed easily across your network, meaning new ticket technologies does not require investment in a whole new hardware infrastructure.
By future-proofing your readers you can reduce your reliance on one technology and by procuring hardware separately you can ensure you have the flexibility to replace the software, meaning ticketing technologies you use in the future can be catered for without the need to replace existing hardware, just the software running in them.
Transport authorities and operators often crave the flexibility to be more innovative and agile yet the foundation upon which their procurement process are managed and services are run fly in the face of what is optimal. Cloud computing and commodity hardware have changed the game in terms of how fare collection systems can be acquired and run, making this new approach a reality for even the most traditional of organisations.