Digital ticketing: 5 pain points to overcome when implementing or upgrading a ticketing system

Date of publication: 30.03.2021

Author: Marco Martinez, Application Management Payment Solutions

Digitised tickets on passengers’ mobile or wearable devices can significantly reduce costs for public transport operators (PTOs) while improving the passenger experience. Governments and travellers want a digital revolution in ticketing, but what barriers need to be overcome before we arrive at this destination?

The easier it is for customers to buy and use something (think of Amazon Prime one-click), the more appealing it becomes: convenience is king. A digital ticket is a virtual ticket that can be hosted on any form of connected consumer device, such as a smartphone, watch or key fob (to name just a few). The device becomes the ‘ticket’ and enables contactless access to a transport network and use of travel services. It could even be used in retail outlets as a contactless payment method.

Transport ticketing can be a major contributor towards concerted efforts for a ‘green’ revolution, as paper tickets are phased out and governments, businesses and consumers all go digital. But what are the five main considerations that public transport operators (PTOs) and authorities (PTAs) need to be aware of and overcome to ensure success?

1. Achieving balance

 At the start of any digital ticketing strategy is an awareness that PTOs/PTAs need to deliver a cost-effective ticketing solution that protects against fraud and ticket cloning, while optimising traveller convenience. Thankfully, digital ticketing enables flexibility and PTOs/PTAs don’t have to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

By grouping tickets into categories PTOs/PTAs can easily tailor different security requirements depending on the longevity of a ticket and its monetary value, without impacting the ticket issuance or acceptance infrastructure. For example, a greater level of security can be added to ‘high-end travel passes’, such as yearly / multi-application tickets, compared to ‘limited use’ or ‘mid-range’ passes for weekly or seasonal travel.

2. Understanding ticketing issuance

Travellers essentially ‘bringing their own ticket’ and the PTOs/PTAs have no control over the device on which the ticket is hosted.

This represents two key challenges:

  1. Allowing that the ticket can be opened and is readable regardless of the device on which it is hosted.

    While most ticketing technology is based on fundamental IT standards like ISO or regional equivalents, it is important to ask any manufacturer or solution provider to align to open application and security standards that have been uniquely designed for the transport ecosystem, such as Calypso® and CIPURSE™, or the payment specification EMV®. These standards are developed in open forums so PTOs/PTAs can be confident that a wide-community approach is being taken by a range of stakeholders to deliver a consistent level of functionality regardless of device or operating system.  

  2. Protecting the ticket from being corrupted

    While apps and QR Codes™ can be perceived as offering a cost-effective solution, they are software-based, which ultimately means they have less protection and are more susceptible to malicious attacks. QR codes require additional supporting infrastructure and also cause longer queues at terminals because customers have to stop at gates while they try to scan their codes.

    If a ticket is hosted on a security  chip, known as a secure element, it is protected from beingcopied or cloned. Those with the requisite permissions are able to open it and access it. PTOs/PTAs can therefore have a level of control over the ticket and confidence that it is protected.

3. Safeguarding sustainability

Technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Public transport has an opportunity to capitalise on this trend and advance its ticketing systems to appeal to and attracts users. A ticketing infrastructure implemented today must therefore be able to flex to unknown advancements and innovations without losing backward compatibility. It’s important to give PTOs/PTAs control of their own infrastructure so they are agile enough to attract and serve customers every single day.

Using specific transport ticketing standards, and being part of the communities that manage and evolve these, enables PTOs and PTAs to: have their say on how technology needs to advance; get an insight into what innovations are predicted; and most importantly, be confident that their systems are going to be sustainable and upgradable.

4. Controlling costs

PTOs/PTAs may have a vision for the future but are unable to know exact requirements and how their travellers’ needs may change. The evolution of a ticketing network is important; having the funds to pay for it is crucial.

Competitive tendering allows that costs are controlled and vendor-lock in avoided. Request for Proposals should stipulate adherence to Calypso, CIPURSE and EMV standards to provide reassurance that there will be multiple suppliers involved long-term.

5. Making it happen

Without doubt, the time for digitising ticketing is now. Consumers have the technology in their hands and PTOs/PTAs are keen to realise the efficiencies that this brings. The task of implementing new systems and technology may seem overwhelming but this doesn’t need to happen overnight.

Upgradation can allow PTOs/PTAs to smoothly and gradually migrate from legacy systems to open standard-based solutions and state of the art security products that support competitive tender processes. Gradual migration allows, for example, acceptance infrastructure to be updated, upgraded and replaced step by step.



Date of publication: 30.03.2021 

Author: Marco Martinez, Application Management Payment Solutions