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Vision: A smart ticket for all public transportation

Max M. has to travel a lot for business. As a marketing manager, he has numerous appointments, often outside of Vienna. Sometimes, he gets around the city on a Citybike, because he is an avid bicyclist, and sometimes he takes the subway, a Car2Go car sharing vehicle, or a train. But this is a rather complicated affair, because he needs a different ticket with a separate billing system for each of these modes of transportation. But this is to change.

The Vienna Transport Authority is planning a mobility card for the Vienna region, which will be introduced first for annual pass holders. “Our goal is to create additional mobility offerings in connection with the use of public transportation, such as car sharing, the CityBike, and park and ride,” Dominik Gries, press spokesman for the Vienna Transport Authority, told futurezone. “But that is costly and logistically difficult. We don’t have a finished solution yet,” Gries said.

In a research project by the name of SMILE that is running until 2015, the Vienna Transport Authority is working together with Austrian Railways and other partners to develop a prototype of an integrated mobility platform and a personal mobility assistant. Mobility providers and other organizations like the Austrian traffic information service are to be connected directly to the system through open interfaces. Testing with “external partners” will start in 2014.

Then, Max M. could take a CityBike to the train station, take the commuter train to Mödling and then take an electric car from there to his destination. “It would be good in the future if we could make simple use of intermodal transport chains, and if we could simply use the mode of transport that is most practical for us at any given time,” explained Thomas Geiblinger, press spokesman for the Vienna City Utilities.

Smartphone as a means of payment

Geiblinger did not want to say what the chances are that this scenario will become a reality within the next ten years. “One thing is certain: It will use smartphones.” Transport specialist Walter Hecke at Consualia agrees with him. “The smartphone will be the means of payment of the future. It will possible to use smartphones and smart cards for all mobility offerings.”

Hecke represents the interests of the American company Cubic in Austria. The company primarily specializes in software solutions that are used for billing in e-ticketing systems. Cubic is responsible for the system behind the Oyster Card in London, for example, and is playing a key role in the introduction of the e-ticket in the entire Rhine-Main public regional public transportation system. With “next city,” Cubic is pursuing the vision of interlinking different transport systems and creating “the best mobility solution” for customers in the future.

Video customer terminal of the future

Cubic has developed a ticket terminal called “Next Agent Video Ticket Office” for this purpose. It is a video customer terminal that allows the customer to speak with a call center, and to pay with an NFC smartphone or smart card. “This personal, customer-oriented service will allow people to reserve or buy tickets for any means of transportation they need – in the language of their choosing. Reservations for car sharing can also be placed in this manner, just as current timetables can be called up for buses and subways,” said Dieter Wimmer, transport expert and manager at Cubic Germany, explaining the system. “Normal ticket terminals can’t do that.”

Sooner or later, smartphones are also to be able to handle such tasks, and the intelligent ticket terminal will be a supplementary offering for people who require personal or individual service. “In six to ten years, the smartphone will also be standard in the mobility sector. The smart card currently has some additional security functions, but the trend is moving clearly towards smartphones.”

Smartphones are to be used in the future to automatically calculate the price of a ticked based on the “be in/be out” principle. In the eSIM research project, which is being conducted in Germany by Cubic together with partners including Deutsche Bahn (DB), experts are working to find out whether or not automatic ticketing could work without the customer having to do anything at all. For this, the smartphone is connected permanently to a WIFI network, and tracks the customer’s location. This function is activated by means of an app, and the ticket price is charged at the end of the journey.

“We are still working on the concrete implementation,” Cubic manager Wimmer said. “Installing WIFI routers in buses is a small investment. In the subway system, the routers could be installed in the stations, for example. But we are still waiting for the results of our tests.” Wimmer does not think that the automatic tracking will be rejected by the general public. There is also a utilization profile for car sharing. “Data protection experts are of course involved in the development of the system,” Wimmer said.

Vienna Transport Authority spokesman Gries does not think that the people of Vienna would accept such an automatic tracking system, and sees many unanswered technical questions. “What do you do when the automatic tracking didn’t work, for example? Is it the customer’s fault? We are taking an entirely different approach. We want to motivate people to buy passes that allow them to ride as often and long as they want. We want to make the people regular customers, and don’t want to bill individual trips like they do in London,” Gries said.

While online ticket sales have proven popular with customers and already account for roughly 10 percent of revenue, Gries sees “potential for the future” with smartphone ticket sales. “That is not really taking off right now.”

One major question in connection with using as many modes of transportation as possible with a single ticket is billing. “A single settlement system for all means of transport in Austria is a very complex undertaking,” Gries said. This is being examined in the SMILE research project, but they do not expect to find a realistically functioning and easily implementable system. “SMILE will not solve how the operators divide up the revenue amongst themselves. We cannot address this challenge. But the central provider of such services should be a public operator, and not a private enterprise like a car company,” Geiblinger said.

Hecke, who represents the interests of Cubic, hopes that Austria will not see ten different individual solutions again. “We need common interface standards. The so-called last mile also plays a large role here. When you are 3 kilometers away from home, you have to plan these just as much as the 300 kilometers you traveled by train before that.” Hecke is “cautiously optimistic” that Austria will find a good solution. But the question is when.

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Barbara Wimmer


Preisgekrönte Journalistin, Autorin und Vortragende. Seit November 2010 bei der Kurier-Futurezone. Schreibt und spricht über Netzpolitik, Datenschutz, Algorithmen, Künstliche Intelligenz, Social Media, Digitales und alles, was (vermeintlich) smart ist.

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Barbara Wimmer