3.3.01. Public transport smart cards
(0 out of 5)

Solution family: Smart Ticketing and Tolling

Sub-family: Automated Fare Collection Systems (AFC) - Ticketing Systems

Domain of application: Urban

Technology behind: contact, contactless or both

Status: implemented

Links to relevant references 

  • Accenture, "Ticket to the Future: Smart card technology in public transportation"
  • Wikipedia
  • The EC Smartcards Study Consortium, "Study on Public Transport Smartcards – Final Report", 2011.



Concept and problems addressed A smart card contains an embedded integrated circuit chip capable of storing information for identification, authentication, data storage and application processing. Most modern smart cards, especially those used on public transport, employ the RFID (radio frequency identification) technology between card and reader without physical insertion of the card and hence are contactless. They communicate at 13.56 MHz and conform to the ISO 14443 standard. Some cards utilise a dual-interface technology which provides both contact and contactless interfaces on a single card. An example is Porto's multi-application transport card Andante.

Smart card solutions, in the form of electronic fare ticketing and payment, promise to deliver on the demands of convenient, affordable and efficient travel options for public transport users who need convenient, affordable and efficient options for travel. They also allow rapid movement through stations and onto different modes of travel.Smart cards can be purchased and "reloaded" using automated processes and on-line services. Additionally, smart cards have greater security, higher reliability, and higher resistance to fraud than magnetic stripe cards because of the more advanced technology used than magnetic strip cards.

The potential of smart cards for public transport has received increasing attention during the past two decades. In the early 1990’s, some small scale smart card projects for public transport were successfully carried out and tested in some countries, such as US, UK and France. For instance, in 1991, London underground implemented contact smart cards as yearly passes. In 1993, the New York MetroCard for the underground system was launched based on the same technology. Meanwhile, the rapid development of contactless smart cards resulted in a worldwide revolutionary change in electronic fare payment for public transport. The contactless smart card technology is an effective solution to improved passenger flows and integration in multi-modal payment schemes. Examples of widely used contactless smart cards are London's Oyster card, Hong Kong's Octopus card, Tokyo's Suica and Pasmo cards, Nigeria's ETC Card, Paris' Calypso/Navigo, the Dutch OV-Chipkaart and Lisbon's Lisboa Viva card, and more can be found at wikipedia.

A highly successful use for smart cards within the UK is in concessionary travel schemes. Mandated by the Department for Transport, travel entitlements for elderly and disabled residents are administered by local authorities and passenger transport executives. Smart cards have been issued as bus passes to qualifying residents; however these smart cards can now also be used by elderly and disabled people who qualify for concessionary taxi travel. These schemes are part of an additional service offered by some local authorities as an alternative for residents unable to make use of their bus pass. One example is the "Smartcare go" scheme provided by Ecebs. 

The use of smart cards has been seen as an important improvement to the efficiency and reliability of public transport services. It contributes to an increase in revenue by increasing the number of passengers and reductions in ticket fraud, in comparison with a more conventional paper based ticketing system. By promoting modal shift away from private cars, the smart card solution also has the potential to contribute towards solving a wide range of transport and other problems including congestion, air pollution, climate change, quality of life of those living near main roads (through improved air quality, reduced noise pollution and road safety), and social exclusion as improved public transport can promote equality of opportunity, especially amongst those without access to private cars.

One of its future systems is the ITSO smartcard which can potentially hold all types of tickets on all modes of transport for seamless door-to-door ticketing.

Data from the smart card readers are automatically collected and also processed to provide a rich source for the information about the use of public transport, travel time and distance, trip frequency, ticket type and mode share. There is a significant and rapidly growing body of work using smart card data as a basis for analysis of OD estimation, reliability and travel behaviour.

The journey times derived from the smart card data can be compared with timetables to understand the excess journey time and the ‘Public Performance Measure’ (punctuality). The system can also be integrated with traffic control and management systems for monitoring and improving the performance of multi-modal networks.

Targeted users.  The main targeted users are stakeholders (e.g. transport authorities, transport operators, standards bodies, equipment suppliers and service suppliers) and the end users are public transport users.


Barriers to Implementation

Financial issues. The costs of the smart card solution mainly include infrastructure & management, revenue protection, product sales, customer information & service, and smartcard production & distribution. Using the London Oyster card system as an example, these costs count for about 14% of fares collected.

On the other hand, the stakeholders involved in the development, implementation and operation of integrated smart ticketing can gain benefits in term of efficiency of the system and of a general company profile as also environmental aspects are regarded. The solution greatly increases fraud protection and flexibility of revenue allocation. Contactless smart ticketing has delivered the business case. High gate throughput prevents bottlenecks constraining ridership growth on public transport and fast boarding time minimises bus fleet sizes and drives up appeal of bus vs. car.

For end users the cards are not only free, but some operators even offer points for usage, exchanged at retailers or for other benefits.

Technical barriers. There are no technical barriers. Smart card systems have already been in service in many countries. 

Organisational complexity. The maintenance is easier if compared with traditional ticketing and fare collection systems. 

Legal issues. There are no legal barriers.

User and public acceptance.  Acceptance by both the operators and the travelling public is high.


Interest for Travellers 

Door to door travel time. The smart card solution saves travel time in a number of ways as mentioned earlier.

Travel cost. There is a variety of discount and concessions available to different users, although many of these would also be given if smart cards were not used by the relevant operator. In London, they include students, children, pensioners and those who have a National Concessionary Pass. Also, there is daily price capping which means that a user will not pay more than the price of an equivalent Day Travel-card no matter how many pay-as-you-go journeys that he/she makes.

Comfort and convenience. The smart card travellers have higher convenience than cash users do as the former can travel without worrying about the need to carry cash, and also don’t need to queue for buying a ticket. 

For instance in Hong Kong, smart card users may also be able to use their cards for other purposes than for transit, such as small purchases.

Safety. No significant impact.

Security. The smart card system is much more secure than paper tickets.  Furthermore, the fact that users do not have to take out their wallets to purchase tickets and thieves cannot see where they put them back to, helps against pickpocketing, especially in crowded metro stations.

Accessibility for impaired. No particular impacts are envisaged for impaired travellers although there is, for instance a Disabled Freedom Pass on the London public transport. The eligible disabilities include blindness, partial sightedness, profound deafness, walking difficulty, a learning disability and other physical disability.

Modal change

Especially in more congested urban cities, increases in public transport modal share can be expected, due to significant time savings that the system allows.


Other notable impacts

Congestion and CO2 emissions.  As a result of reduced car travel, the smart card solution has potential to contribute reduced congestion and CO2 emissions.


Summary of scores


Illustrative materials




Source: Wikipedia 


Add your comment

Your name:
Your email:
  The word for verification. Lowercase letters only with no spaces.
Word verification: