Public transport in the United Kingdom has various challenges. With about ten million passengers using buses, tube and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) daily, ticketing was always a challenge. This was until Oyster Card system was implemented in the public transport sector in 2003. This is an electronic card supported by Transport for London. Verma (2010) notes that it has “been acknowledged as one of the world’s leading smartcard ticketing and revenue collection system” (p.98).The innovation to make ticketing a computerised process has had its pros and cons and the challenge facing the transport sector in London is the possibility of having a new system for better services. This report analyses the benefits and challenges of the Oyster system and evaluates the possibility of implementing a new system.
Oyster Card System
Oyster card is a smart card, developed under Private Finance Initiative, aimed at simplifying the ticketing process in U.K. The card contains a chip, which stores information on single and period tickets and travel permits Chen (2001). Customers recharge their cards before using them in the transport system they intend to use. Recharging is through purchasing online or recurring payment authority, done in sales points. The passengers then touch the card on a card reader that uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), on a card reader. The system has transformed the ticketing process in U.K. and simplified the overall process.
The contactless smart card has reduced congestion in public transport in peak hours. Forty people in a minute pass through the ticket gates, which amounts to fifteen more people compared to magnetic strips ticketing. The card has popularity with six million of the seventeen users using them regularly. This is largely because of the card’s ability to store three travel card products in one card. The card has a feature of Pay As You Go (PAYG) that enables the user to recharge the card as he travels from place to place. The system has an ability to indicate the balance of the card once the user swipes it over the reader. The card automatically calculates fares depending on the distance, route and the time of travel. With eighty percent of commuters in London using the system, the system has had a major impact both in the transport sector and revenue collection.
Issues of Transport in London
Since the inception of Oyster cards, transport in London relies largely on use of smartcard technology as means of ticketing. This is because it has support from Transport for London, which manages London Underground, London Overground, London’s buses London trams and Docklands Light Railway according to Whyte (2007). This means that commuters must have oyster cards or pay more fare in cash to access public transport. In 2008, the system was hacked, which made commuters pay for transport in cash after the systems went out of order temporarily. Some commuters accessed services without paying while others failed to travel for lack of cash money.
The system is also under criticism for extra charges it has charged commuters. The system requires commuters to ‘touch-in’ once they board a bus or tram and ‘touch-out’ when they get to their destination. Failure to do this there is a penalty of £ 6 and above, which is indicated by the system after forty-eight hours since the ‘touch-in’. This angers commuters who accuse the train company of leaving the ticket barriers deliberately. According to Crerar and McCorkell (2011), charges are expected to rise to £ 67 million from £ 56.9 million recorded in 2010. This is attributed to lack of ticket barriers in most stations which act as “physical reminders of touch in and out,” Crerar and McCorkell (2011). Train companies and Transport for London (Tfl) have been asked to come up with systems that will prevent these occurrences.
Use of Mobile phones in transport systems
Mobile phones can be use to upgrade or develop a new system for transport ticketing. From the challenges noted above, it is evident that smartcards can fail at time as evident during the hacking incidences. Commuters too forget to touch in or out while in stations because there are no ticket barriers to remind them or simply lack of memory. The new systems that will use mobile phones to pay for the tickets or swipe while boarding or leaving are used. The system will use modern technology to remind commuters to touch in while boarding and to touch out just before they get to their destiny. In incidences where the smartcards are malfunctioning, the mobile phone transfer system will transfer funds from the database with card information to the stations systems. This will be realised by use of two technologies.
Use of Near Field Communication
Near Field Communication (NFC) is a wireless technology that uses high frequency communication for short distances. The technology uses radio frequencies of 13.56 MHz to transfer data of up to 424 kilobytes in one second. Depending on the device and technology in use, NFC communication is possible when two compatible devices come to proximity of 4-10 centimeters. Ward and Peppard (2002) note that this can also be supported by use of RFID, Infra Red or Bluetooth technologies which improve the range up to thirty meters but are little cumbersome and insecure, which give NFC a greater advantage for it is ‘people-centric.’
The technology, which is applicable in mobile phones, is simple to implement. Android operating system is mobile software that has the capacity to use RFID and NFC. The operating system is capable of supporting an open platform that would allow for physical-world interaction. This is achieved by use of NFC card emulation, which uses contactless communication API to allow a handset with NFC features to operate like a standard smartcard according to DeVries (2008, p.155). The API features allow transfer of data from the phone to contactless radio and visual targets (tags). The phone interacts with the reader through a secure device in it, and transacts by use of RFID, which register transactions in the phone applications.
Use of User Identity Module
User Identity Module (UIM) also called Removable (R-UIM) is a SIM card that is developed for W-CMDA handsets. It allows roaming between CMDA and GSM networks. International roaming is possible within different radio frequencies but the SIM is only usable in GSM for it has GSM11.11 standard extension. This allows swapping of SIM cards with different handsets of different standards without losing the phone number DeVries (2008).
This feature of retaining customer information is utilised to develop a SIM card that works like a smartcard. This is through combining SIM, CSIM, and USIM features to be in one SIM card. This allows the SIM card, which is a port functionality of R-UIM to the UICC, to operate in all phones that support smartcards. This feature enables the SIM to function as an ID card and is useful in mobile transactions (E-money) according to Igoe (2007). This is a situation where an account registered with the SIM card transfer funds to supporting systems.
This type of a system is usable in transport systems for ticketing. In circumstances where a commuter does not have his smartcard or the smartcard has insufficient funds the phone can be used. The Oyster smartcard’s database is linked to the phone by use of a supporting operating system. This way, the commuter can access his commuting account by use of phone and can do transactions using the same. Transfer of funds from one account to the other is possible and depending on what is faulty between the phone system and smartcard system the commuter can access services without necessarily using cash.
This system will simplify card-recharging process. The service can be linked to a bank account whereby passengers will be able to transfer funds from their bank accounts to their ticketing accounts. This will involve linking three accounts: bank account, phone account and ticketing account. Together with the Oyster system, commuters will be sure of transport even without their smartcards, as long as they have their phones. Collection of revenue is more efficient since both the phone and the system register all transactions.
The reader at the station can also use RFID and Global Positioning systems to communicate to the commuter. Once the commuter has boarded a tram or a bus, the reader at the station should send signals to his phone on the charges to expect. The system can remind him to touch out few minutes before the destination by use of Short Messaging System. This is upgraded to include a reminder text few minutes after the commuter leaves public transport indicating whether the commuter has touch out or not and the charges incurred. Such a system will reduce extra penalties because of forgetfulness and instant chance to complain if the passengers have been overcharged.
Advantages of the system
The system will have numerous advantages over the current system. The inclusion of mobile technology system will not limit commuters to cash or Oyster cards for transport. Passengers can pay their fares using phones if they do not have cash or when their Oyster cards have insufficient funds. Travellers can also look for funds from other accounts that are accessible using their phones or ask friends or relatives to send them money electronically to their phones. This is the biggest advantage for inconveniences caused by lack of Oyster cards or cash while in the station as long they access the services with their phones Moggridge (2007).
The system will also reduce charges and penalties faced due to commuters forgetting to touch in and out their cards. The mobile technology uses Short Message System, to send messages to the commuters after commuting a public transport means and alerts them once they have reached their destination. The system will also remind passengers to swipe their cards after they get off a bus or train. The system also enables them to pay using their phones few minutes after they reach their destiny and avoid penalties.
This system is expensive to install for every station will require a transmitter station that supports GPRS services. This would also require new technology to implement systems that will support the system. This requires a lot of investment since the SIM cards used are custom for the application for the current SIM cards cannot support these services. Technology experts will also be required to ensure the implementation and smooth operation of the system. All these will incur extra expenses to Transport for London.
The current system of Oyster is a good way of ticketing. It is however, faced by some challenges which need quick response. Shortcomings due to failure of Oyster cards and penalties charged on commuters need to be addressed. These shortcomings, whether deliberate or not, should not be a means of losing money by commuters. Introduction of a system that will reduce and eliminate these shortcomings is inevitable. The system should be easy to operate and maintain besides ensuring customers satisfaction.
The current systems should be improved or changed completely to prevent the challenges facing the transport in London and U.K in general as observed in this report
Use of mobile phone applications alongside the Oyster systems will eliminate these challenges. The implementation of these systems should be flexible to include other services offered by banks and allow electronic money transfer.
Even though a mobile supported system is expensive, it is worth the cost. The system that specifically designed for the transport sector will reduce extra charges and inconveniences and therefore recommend its implementation.
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Crerar, P and McCorkell, A. (2011) Anger at Oyster cards ‘rip-off’ as millions hit for not ‘touching out’. London Evening Stardard, 34 (7).
DeVries, P. D. (2008). The state of RFID for effective baggage tracking in the airline industry. International Journal of Mobile Communications., 6(2), 151-164.
Igoe, T. (2007). Making things talk. Beijing: O’Reilly Media.
Moggridge, B. (2007). Designing Interactions.Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
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