Some 85 percent of the people who use the underground in London pay with the Oyster card. The contactless card can also be used to pay in buses and for National Rail tickets in the suburbs of London. "Around 50 million cards have been produced to date, and about 20,000 new cards are issued every day," explained Brian Dobson, who played a key role in the development of the Oyster card for London.
Sophisticated contracting models would keep the initial investments relatively low, Vassilakou`s office also said. "There are also companies in Austria that have the technical and financial means to implement such a contracting model for the Vienna mobility card." However, the urban development and transport department is not responsible for this. But they are not opposed to the introduction of such a card.
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It took years to develop the British card. Work began in 1997. "Our goal at that time was to reduce queues at ticket counters and reduce fraud attempts," Dobson told futurezone. "Developing a new ticketing system was a major project.
We started with people who bought monthly passes and then expanded the system gradually. It took over three years and required numerous tests. When millions of people use something every day, it has to work," explained Dobson. The Oyster card has been used in different variants since 2003. In addition to a personalized version, there is also an anonymous pay-as-you-go variant and a seven day travel card. Many stations are equipped with machines that can be used to manually top up credit on the card.
Card calculates ticket price by distance
While the card simply has to be swept over a contactless reader when entering a bus and a fixed amount is deducted, the passenger must hold the card up to a reader upon entering and leaving when using the underground or National Rail system. This allows the fare to be calculated based on the departure and destination stations according to a zone model. The maximum amount is never more than the price of a daily pass. The development of such a project was of course a true challenge with the London network – but it was a success, as proven by the fact that 85 percent of passengers and eight million people per day use the card.
Card already adopted in other cities
"The oyster card concept has already been copied dozens of times," said Dobson. Many transport authorities around the world have based their solutions on the concept. The most recent project is in Scotland and is called the Saltire Card. There was cooperation with London from the start for Hong Kong`s Octopus card, which has also been in use for years and which enjoys even greater acceptance among the population than the Oyster card. "We listened to each other and exchanged ideas. The fact that the transportation providers worked together was very important for the success of the projects," said Dobson. "It depends strongly on the country and whether or not the transport providers use closed systems, in other words barriers to control access to the public transportation facilities," explained Dobson.
Vienna: "Working on the development of a mobility card"
Even though Vienna uses an "open system" without access barriers, the Vienna Transport Authority is considering the introduction of a contactless mobility card like is used in London. "We are working on the development of a mobility card," confirmed the Vienna Transport Authority in response to an inquiry from futurezone. Discussions are under way with different project partners, they said. But they are still in "initial stages." In any case, the mobility card should be used not only for public transportation in Vienna, but also for Citybike stations and car sharing.
NFC credit card to work in buses by the end of 2012
One reason for the considerations could be the fact that contactless technology has advanced since the introduction of the Oyster card. Credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa are now integrating NFC chips into their cards. Numerous mobile phones also contain NFC chips. In fact, all major manufacturers except Apple offer such devices.
This means that it should be possible to buy bus tickets with NFC-equipped Visa and MasterCard credit cards in the near future. "By the end of the year, Tap & Pay with a credit card will be introduced in over 8,000 buses in London," told Dobson. It was planned to have this function for the Olympic Games in the summer, but officials did not want to risk transport delays during this sensitive period because of a rushed conversion.
The introduction of NFC smartphone compatibility in the London transport system is not as easy. A first pilot test was conducted in November 2007 with O2 and the Barclaycard using the Nokia 6131 – one of the first NFC-capable mobile phones. Customer acceptance in the pilot test was 92 percent, and Dobson is enthusiastic: "I can still pay with my Nokia phone today." But the introduction of this system is still far off five years later.
SIM card does not communicate with the terminal fast enough
According to Shashi Verma, head of the customer experience department at Transport for London, the technology is not ready yet. New standards were defined in various committees after 2007. Since then, it has not been possible to get people with NFC smartphones through the barriers quickly enough. Instead of 25 people per minute, only 15 people per minute can be processed, explained Dobson. The reason for this is the NFC SIM card. Since the change in the standard, it is no longer fast enough. It is not capable of meeting the limit of 500 milliseconds.
Verma sees another problem delaying the replacement of the Oyster card with NFC smartphones. In addition to the insufficient speed of the SIM cards that have to communicate with the readers in the London transport system, the procedure that the customer must complete before making contactless payments with the smartphone is also still much too complicated. "If you need to go through 12 steps to set it up on the phone, that`s a nonstarter," Verma told the NFC Times. Verma said that the technology will be ready when the procedure is as simple as downloading an app from the app store.