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Unified ticketing: key implementation considerations (blog #3)

December 21, 2023
By Arnaud Depaigne, Smart mobility Product Manager, and Taoufik Sakhi, Technical Advisory VP Deputy at Fime.
Unified ticketing: key implementation considerations (blog #3)

Developing and maintaining an interoperable ticketing scheme for an entire city, region or beyond presents many challenges. And while creating an interoperable scheme has a multitude of benefits, unified ticketing requires unified leadership. It is imperative that the authorities and operators working for a common system establish both a short-term and long-term vision for the project. In doing so, they must find a balance between the unique needs of each authority and operator against the overall collective objectives of the network. And with ever-changing passenger needs and expectations, it is imperative that networks continue to remain at the cutting edge of technical advancements within the transit ticketing ecosystem. If achieved successfully, by unifying their ticketing, operators can create an efficient and seamless mobility service that can even encourage people away from using private vehicles. 

Dedicated leadership and governance.

Authorities and operators must develop a scheme which they can use to organize the development, implementation and ongoing management of the unified ticketing framework. This is essential to ensuring that the framework evolves in line with changing market demands and operational necessities.

Often a dedicated organization is formed to lead the initiative. This helps to align stakeholders under the remit of an independent collective organization. The neutrality of this central organization helps arbitrate any disputes between operators. It also pools the resources of its members to facilitate ongoing and future investment into the network.

When not already decided at the national level, authorities and operators must also define the jurisdiction of the unified ticketing system, agreeing on the districts, cities, regions or even further that the new approach will encompass. Depending on the bylaws, the leading organization may have the responsibility to:

  • Define the overarching governance system between stakeholders as well as the rules for decision making, 

  • Set up business and technical working groups, 

  • Guarantee consistent baselines for architectural and technical specifications as well as the assets lifecycle,

  • Highlight required infrastructure changes,

  • Validate the roadmap for implementation,

  • Consolidate funding plans for specific and/or common infrastructure,

  • Incentivize participation in the system to ensure uptake by stakeholders. 

The primary objective of this leadership group is to deliver value for passengers and all stakeholders, with a long-term vision and multi-year strategy for the organic growth of the system.

The pillars of interoperability.

Once the foundations of unified ticketing have been determined, participants must then agree on how the system will be designed, run and managed. There are three major pillars of interoperability that members must agree on:

1. Process interoperability

It is important to keep in mind the primary objective of unified ticketing: to improve the traveler experience. Stakeholders must first align on use cases and how points of interaction with customers can be homogenized. Passengers must experience the same level of quality across sales, fare validation, after-sales, customer care activities and all other front and back office operations.

Other procedural and operational overheads must also be agreed upon. From providing customer support to system repair and maintenance costs, to procuring the tickets themselves, each operator must contribute their fair share to ensure the unified system remains operational. However, under a unified system, procurement and maintenance costs are often lower than they would be otherwise. This is thanks to the ability to leverage economies of scale and the core capability to open the market to several suppliers.

Finally, the process followed by each operator when designing fare products then reporting their revenues and ridership must be uniform. Revenue shares are often decided based on the proportion of tickets sold or passengers validated on each network. This also takes into account additional factors such as service volume, distance travelled, mode of transport and other predetermined variables. It is therefore crucial that the procedure for reporting on these statistics that each operator within a network follows is consistent.

 2Technical interoperability

Two major trends are driving the evolution of the new ticketing solutions. The first trend is contactless interaction, where users can easily validate their tickets without physical contact, offering a convenient and hygienic experience. Simultaneously, account management on the back-end system has become a focus, streamlining data processing and user management. The integration of these trends enhances the overall user experience but requires careful testing and qualification to ensure perfect communications between systems at all operator and authority levels.

The second trend is mobile phone integration which is another critical development in ticketing solutions. This technology offers passengers a convenient and versatile approach to managing their fare media and travel account in "the palm of their hand". It acts as an integrated channel for purchasing and validating tickets, making payments, and accessing fare information and travel history. By incorporating mobile ticketing capabilities, passengers benefit from an all-in-one solution, but with it comes certain interoperability issues depending on the handset or operating system. Additionally, there is the risk of excluding some passenger groups who are unwilling or unable to use their own device.

To make these innovations work seamlessly, unified ticketing requires technical interoperability implemented effectively across various levels of the ticketing ecosystem. This involves ensuring that fare media can communicate with fare terminals using contactless protocols. It also means making sure that fare media data can be processed consistently without conflicts. Flexible architecture and efficient software modules or software development kits (SDKs) further enhance interoperability. This allows different components of the system to work together smoothly. Finally, the integration of sub-systems is crucial for ensuring a holistic, integrated approach to ticketing, where all components function together effectively. 

3. Payment interoperability

 In the realm of payment and acquisition contracts, collaboration with banks often poses a challenge. These contracts are frequently divided among various stakeholders, depending on the payment channel leading to complexity and inefficiencies. For example, unattended vending machines, ticket office machines, and internet websites may each have different terms in their contracts.

The adoption of unified ticketing systems offers a fresh perspective. It reimagines collaboration between diverse stakeholders, including public and private partners. This approach fosters a more cohesive and efficient ecosystem by streamlining payment chains and flows.

In the payment landscape, the variance in technologies for terminals and payment gateways has been a common issue. This discrepancy can hinder the integration of payment flows between service providers. However, unified ticketing systems can provide a solution by harmonizing these technologies. 

Another advantage of unified ticketing is the ability to manage complex cases and business rules involving integrated purchases. Such frameworks empower the creation of customer baskets with multiple products and services from various mobility service providers simplifying the transaction process for the end user. Additionally, the management of financial risks such as payment fraud, transaction failures, processing delays, and revenue sharing among all involved parties can be simplified with improved compliance.

Regulation, standardization and certification.

To enhance interoperability in ticketing systems, adherence to existing regulations and policies is vital. However, it's equally important to encourage necessary evolution to accommodate the changing landscape. Additionally, the creation of open standards or the consolidation of existing ones is instrumental in creating accessible, interoperable solutions. Promoting the value of such standards, especially through real-world implementations, is key to their success. It guarantees the authorities and operators can retain sovereignty over their service.

Secondly, the development of a rigorous certification process is crucial. Certification should go beyond self-conformity checks by suppliers. It should involve getting the support of trusted third parties to assess the implementation. This external validation ensures that systems are tested thoroughly and meet established interoperability standards. This helps make sure that both passengers and other stakeholders can be confident in the reliability and compatibility of ticketing solutions.

Unifying mobility.

Unifying a network’s ticketing helps operators evolve with changing patterns of mobility. However, partnerships between providers can only function in a system based on mutual trust, clearly defined procedures and technical interoperability.

Operators aim to secure their share of collective revenue while protecting themselves from any negative impact caused by insufficient infrastructure investment by their partners. Unified ticketing helps keep services reliable and fares affordable, as each operator looks to enhance their share of the collective revenue pot, thanks to an increased ridership.

Working with Fime.

By working with a trusted partner like Fime, stakeholders can take advantage of specialist expert insight while retaining control over the design process. Fime’s technical insight makes sure that all solutions are interoperable, future-proof and scalable while seamlessly integrating within the existing network.

Find out more about how Fime can help deliver your unified ticketing project today

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