Transport tickets

In order to travel on a transport system, the user must have a ticket which can be inspected and validated. The ticket – or better, the travel pass – must have been acquired beforehand. Some “simple” electronic system simply deduct the amount of transport money previously stored in a transport wallet by the amount due for the fare (pre-payment). More complex ticketing systems subtract a minimum amount at check-in and reimburse the surplus on check-out. In more modern cases, there is a special “trust scheme” which will allow post-payment.

As the result of developments in technology, it is now possible to deliver custom-made information and the set of travel passes to an individual passenger when and how the passenger wants it. The shift to smart cards and more intelligent ticketing solutions has opened the doors to many changes that make the ticketing system as easy as possible for our customers.

The new technology and the rapid introduction of mobile devices – everyone has a mobile phone in their pocket for example – has opened the door to mobile payment. Mobile payment through text messages can still be used as a way of selling tickets to occasional users, but the new technology promises to attract new customers and extend the distribution of tickets and information beyond the currently used channels: NFC-enabled phones, and contactless bank card (EMV-based).

EMV (Europay, MasterCard, VISA) or NFC (Near field communication)? Although bank EMV ID cards are becoming an interesting option for payment in public transport, at this stage NFC seems to stand out as the most suitable technology for introducing mobile payment in transportation. However, each option has pluses and minuses as outlined below:


  • Most people, and especially car-owners, have an EMV card, so it is an option that could easily reach out to new markets and help incentivise more people to use public transport.
  • It is convenient for the occasional user.


  • How do you pay for your family or child or pram, for example?
  • The EMV credit card companies have their complicated, own-standard terminals, and they require also separate agreements, etc.

NFC technology enables the use of mobile phone-based NFC in a secure and easy way, with smooth interfaces and potential for fast, secure transactions.


  • Easy to use.
  • Mobile phones are the most widespread medium – they are already in everyone’s hands or pockets.
  • It is easy for users to check their account and consult travel information. • Validation by phone does not require public transport operators to change their ticketing system.
  • Possibility to top-up tickets on contactless cards, basically do exactly the same or even more than with a standalone smart card.


  • Use of NFC in Be In / Be Out (BIBO) systems still needs to be verified.
  • Availability of NFC-enabled mobile phones. • At present, more expensive for public transport operator in terms of management. Collaboration is key. Looking at the minuses and pluses, NFC appears to be the way forward for filling the gap between payments, validation and information. But deploying a secure NFC mobile application requires strong collaboration between the stakeholders involved and an in-depth understanding of the new business model emerging. In order to overcome the minuses of the NFC solution, it is necessary to analyse who has to be the provider and issuers of the Secure Element (SE), the essential item of the system where the SE element has to be incorporated (e.g. SIM, micro SD, Mobile phone itself), who will be the Trusted Service Manager (TSM), and how the payment transaction will be made.

There is a strong trend where the actual data on the ticket (personal, transport and payment data) will be stored in the Cloud. The only reference to this data is a token still physically stored on the user medium. It however requires a (regular and frequent) online connection for validation and inspection.

A ticket can be obtained from a ticket vending machine, on the phone or at a counter from a person, via a website or an application. In case of concessionary fares, the user must be able to prove why he is entitled to a reduced fare (during purchase and inspection). The user can pay cash with coins and notes, electronically or other valuables. Electronic means of payment are debit or credit cards, and platforms like iDeal, PayPal or Bitcoins.

Once payment has been confirmed, the travel pass needs to be passed to the customer. This can be done in different ways: physical tickets (pick up from a physical location or print it yourself) and virtual tickets (downloading a token, a product, or an application). What is essential is the exchange of security keys (to authenticate the process and the partners) in the buying/booking process and the delivery of the ticket into the customer’s medium.

–          EXAMPLE 2D barcode

A 2D barcode on a printed ticket helps ticket inspection by mechanically reading the data. But it can be copied (on paper and electronically) and thus is sensitive to fraud. If it is for a low-volume, low-value ticket, this may not matter to some. In other cases, a second (secure) reference is required, such as e.g. the physical credit card with which the product was bought or a personal identification. The paper variant can even have other security measures, such as watermarks, holograms, or even a DNA stamp. Electronic barcodes may also be regularly “updated” (changed) so that fraudulent users would have to repeat the (cumbersome) copying process. For e.g. SMS ticketing, it has become common practice to stop the server from issuing SMS tickets for five minutes just before an inspection.

–          EXAMPLE IFM (Smart Ticketing Alliance)

This method was proven in 2010 to be among the national ticketing schemes of a number of European countries. It consists of downloading a (local or remote) transport ticketing application on to your local (public transport) smartcard. Subsequently, tickets can be bought for, and stored in that “foreign” application. This can be done via a web portal. Naturally, the card and application need to have a few things in common (the operating system is Global Platform, and the Application is written in Java). Currently, the ongoing developments are to enable the mobile phone process to be the user medium. For this, it is required to standardise and certify the required components, such as NFC and the access to the Mobile Network operator’s secure domain on the SIM card.

NFC technology can assist travellers in the following ways: Customer offering • Show the nearest departures to your current location, as a list or map • Show disruptions on your most-used lines and stops • Plan routes with more precision from your location to your most-used locations • Guide to your departure station and when to get off to reach your destination on time

With this solution for mobile devices, the task of having the right (envelope of) tickets is still the responsibility of the customer, but it has been made very convenient.

NODES strategic objectiveContribution
Enhance accessibility and integration ++
Enhance intermodality ++
Enhance liveability ++
Increase safety and security conditions ++
Increase economic viability and costs efficiency ++
Stimulate local economy ++
Increase environmental efficiency ++
Increase energy efficiency ++

Good practice

The selling of tickets is well established in the public transport sector, of course. And even electronic ticketing has been around for more than 10-15 years now. Most operators and authorities have implemented one or more systems. They range from online sales to SMS ticketing and from third-party applications to fully dedicated NFC applications.

A great breakthrough is expected when NFC technology is finally compatible with the ISO 14443 infrastructure used in public transport, and there is a secure access to the required secure domain of a third party.


Application in NODES sites:

This tool has been evaluated by the NODES site inBudapest.

In Budapest, this tool is considered as a useful tool, but with a goal that is very difficult to achieve as it takes a long time and huge efforts to create a single counter with tickets from different operators.

Potential interchange performance improvement

Electronic ticketing does not solve the issue of integrated fares that allow for a smooth transfer. It can, however, accommodate the user in the process of buying the appropriate tickets.


The cost depends on the solution chosen and the local conditions. Some solutions may come free of charge (sponsored by the industry) or cost less than 10 thousand euro (off the shelf applications). Other solutions may cost several billion euro.