Mobile ticketing

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Fare payment systems represent a potential barrier for customers considering transit. Cash fares generally require customers to have exact change. Regional smart card systems are powerful, but they still require customers to acquire a physical card that may not be conveniently available. These barriers are perhaps more acute for visitors to a region, who may not be familiar with local transit services and the payment methods accepted.

Offering mobile ticketing can help reduce these barriers, especially as we seek to enable seamless, integrated travel both within and across regions. Leveraging the smartphones most people already carry, mobile ticketing technologies offer a convenient method of fare payment to users, at a modest cost to transit agencies.

Implementing Mobile Ticketing

Comparison of Technologies

  • Barcode

Barcode mobile ticketing systems display the ticket as a 2-dimensional barcode, which can be scanned by fare inspectors or at faregates. New Jersey Transit's mobile ticketing platform uses this technology[1]. Although barcode validation traditionally required specialized machinery, mobile validation applications developed by Masabi[2] and moovel[3] allow validation using smartphones. Barcode validators can also be attached to electronic bus fareboxes and transit station turnstiles[4]. Limited wireless connectivity and poor lighting can impede processing of barcodes, delaying boarding on high volume transit routes[1].

  • Flash Pass/Visual Verification

Flash pass, or visual verification, tickets are activated by the customer when beginning a trip and displayed to the fare inspector. One of the simplest mobile ticketing technologies, they are currently used by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, San Francisco Muni, and several other agencies. One drawback is that flash passes provide agencies with limited data on passenger boarding compared to other forms of mobile payment[1].

  • Near Field Communication

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a technology that stores financial data on a secure microprocessor chip (or “secure element”) embedded in certain smart phone models[5]. The chip transmits data at short range using radio waves,[6] communicating with devices that read smart cards meeting ISO standard 14443[5], as well as with other NFC-enabled mobile devices[7]. Payment typically requires a designated payment application like Android Pay or Apple Pay, and the processing of payments relies on an interchange of data between the mobile payment application, secure microprocessor, transaction processor (the fare validator) and application acceptor (the “merchant,” in this case, the transit agency)[5]. Riders can tap their phones to an NFC-enabled kiosk to download a fare product onto a particular payment application, then tap the phone directly to a ISO 14443-standard fare validator to “pay” the ticket from the application (as with a smart card)[5]. The phone-to-phone transfer of data permitted by NFC technology also allows for NFC-enabled phones to validate fares stored in the Secure Element of other NFC phones in situations (like on city buses) where no ISO 14443-standard validators are available[7]. Many implementations of NFC do not require riders to first visit a kiosk, accepting payments from applications like Apple Pay directly at the faregate (cite/NYC?).

  • Bluetooth Low-Energy

The third mobile payment method involves the use of low-energy Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth low-energy “beacons”, powered by USB or battery, emit low-power wireless signals[8] that can detect and communicate with any smartphone equipped with the technology that comes within a certain distance of the beacon. Bluetooth Low-energy utilizes less power than traditional bluetooth technology, allowing it to operate continuously[1]. Transit agencies could equip the entrances to their vehicles with Bluetooth Low-energy beacons programmed to “read” value on the mobile accounts of oncoming passengers, deducting a fare without requiring passengers to remove their phones[1].

Bluetooth Low-energy technology appears to be more widespread than Near Field Communication, available on all apple operating systems of iOS 7 or higher and on Android operating systems more advanced than Android 4.3[9]. Although no large-scale deployments of the technology for transit payment have been conducted to date[7], pilot programs have demonstrated the technology's feasibility.

  • For instance, last June, Bytetoken (the UK division of Bytemark) tested a “KeyPass” system which utilized Bluetooth Low-Energy beacons, in conjunction with a 3-D camera monitor, to validate mobile tickets on the phones of boarding passengers: Once beacons detected a valid mobile ticket, and relayed the information to a back-office server, the server would instruct the transit fare gates to open[10]. The KeyPass system used the 3-D camera to track passengers’ movement and detect their physical characteristics, allowing the system to associate mobile tickets with specific passengers and open the fare gates for these passengers for a length of time sufficient to enable their entry[11].
  • SMS-based

A final form of mobile ticketing makes use of the phone’s Short Message Service (SMS) function. Riders can send a pre-determined code or phrase (representing a certain transit fare type) as a text message to a designated number, prompting a response showing the ticket fare (or zone) and travel details, often including an identification code[12]. Rather than billing the customer directly, the transit agency charges the customer’s mobile service provider, which then passes on the fare cost to the customer as part of their messaging fees[13]. Such a form of payment can be used for single ride tickets on several public transit systems in Europe, including in Stockholm[14], Helsinki[12] and Milan[15]. One of the primary products for this type of ticketing is Gemalto’s Netsize[16]. One variation on SMS technology uses Multi-media Messaging to send passengers a two dimensional barcode after they text their ticket request[17]. This form of ticketing is employed by the municipal transit agency in Malaga, Spain[18]. Token Transit, a North American company whose mobile platform is used by several California transit agencies (including Kern County Transit, Omnitrans and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus) has a ticketing window on their website that allows riders to pay for transit passes online and send the pass to their phone via SMS message[19].

Basic SMS-based ticketing systems work with any mobile device (not just smartphones) and do not require possession of a credit card[16]. The simplicity and speed of the purchasing process (with no upfront billing required) may make this form of payment more amenable to customers than a mobile application for which one has to register[20]. Unfortunately, current deployments of SMS ticketing in Stockholm, Helsinki and Denmark[21] can only be used for purchases of single fares (as opposed to passes), because of the messages’ limited functionality. The billing of mobile companies, rather than individuals, impedes employer-based fare payment and excludes riders who do not subscribe to an approved service provider[20]. The technology’s use of mobile billing also requires transit agencies to enter into partnerships with mobile providers[22]. Finally, basic SMS tickets lack secure encryption[23]. SMS ticketing that involves use of a barcode ticket is more secure, but requires possession of a smartphone.

Overview of Mobile Ticketing Platforms

The following table lists some of the major companies involved in the mobile ticketing industry, with information on their platforms and the technologies and uses these platforms support.

Company Product name Components Supported technologies Validation Technologies Auxiliary Functions Transit Systems
  • Mobile Ticket application
  • Merchant Back Office
  • Validators
  • Visual Verification
  • QR-code
  • NFC
  • Merchant Mobile app (Smartphone-based)
  • Hardware validators (stand-alone)
  • Trip planning[25]
  • Scheduling/Route Maps
  • Advisory Alerts
  • New York Waterway[26].
  • Toronto Transit commission[27]
Masabi JustRide[28]
  • mTicketing app
  • Hub (cloud-based back office)
  • Inspect Validation Suite
  • Inspect app (Smartphone)[4]
  • Inspect validator (stand-alone)[4]
  • Inspect Gateline (attaches to existing fare gates)[4]
  • Trip planning
  • Service Alerts
  • Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit[30]
  • Metrolink[31]
  • Santa Clara VTA[31]
  • RiderApp (Mobile)[32]
  • RiderWeb (website)[32]
  • InspectorApp, Fare Connect. [32]
  • TOMS (Back Office)[32]
  • Inspect app (smartphone: validate barcodes and NFC)[32].
  • FareConnect (hardware agnostic: integrated into existing hardware)[32][33]
  • RideTap (ridesourcing, carshare and bikeshare)[32][34]
  • Orange County Transportation Authority[35]
  • Portland TriMet[36]
  • Integrated Mobile Travel app[37]
  • Visual Verification inspection[37]
  • Trip planning[37]
  • Real-time tracking[37]
Token Transit
  • Ticketing application[40]
  • Visual Verification [40]
  • Visual Verification inspection[40]
  • Santa Monica Big Blue Bus[19]

Benefits of Mobile Ticketing

Integration with Trip Planning Applications

Challenges of Mobile Ticketing


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Florida Department of Transportation (2016). “Assessment of Mobile Fare Payment Technology for Future Deployment in Florida.” [1]
  2. “Inspect Validation Suite.” [2]
  3. North American Products.” Moovel. [3]
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Masabi. "JustRide Inspect Validation Suite." [4]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Smart Card Alliance Transportation Council. “Near Field Communication (NFC) and Transit: Applications, Technology and Implementation Considerations.” February 2012. [5]
  6. Gordon, Scott Adam. “What is NFC and how does it work on an Android?” [6]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Leal, Joao Pedro Santos Reis. Ticket Validation in Public Transportation Using the Smartphone. June 2015. [7]
  8. Bluetooth. “How it works.” [8]
  9. Bluetooth Low Energy: Introduction. [9]
  10. Bytemark. “Bytetoken delivers KeyPass.” 2017. [10]
  11. Railway Gazette UK. “Bluetooth-enabled ticket gates demonstrated.” [11]
  12. 12.0 12.1 Helsingin Sendun Liikinne. “Tickets and Fares: SMS Ticket.” HSL/HRT. [12]
  13. E.g. Netsize. “Mobile Ticketing by SMS.” [13]
  14. “Fares and Tickets.” SL. [14]
  15. GSM Association. "A Global Study in Transport." 2015. [15]
  16. 16.0 16.1 Netsize. “Mobile Ticketing by SMS.” [16]
  17. World Bank. "SMS or barcode on Smartphone." [17]
  18. EMT-The Mobile Bus Ticket System in Spain. [18]
  19. 19.0 19.1 Token Transit. "Send a Pass." [19]
  20. 20.0 20.1 Juntunen A., Luukkainen, S., & Tuunainen, V. K. (2010, June). Deploying NFC technology for mobile ticketing services–identification of critical business model issues. In Mobile Business and 2010 Ninth Global Mobility Roundtable (ICMB-GMR), 2010 Ninth International Conference on (pp. 82-90). IEEE. [20]
  21. Fynbus. "Enkeltrejser" (Translation: Single Tickets). [21]
  22. Polite (Policy Learning in Information Technologies for Transportation Enhancement). “Analysis and Reporting of Best Practices.” [22]
  23. Ferreira, Galvo Dias and Cunha. “Design and Evaluation of a Mobile Payment System for Public Transport: The MobiPag Prototype.” 2014.[23]
  24. Bytemark. Products.[24]
  25. For information on Auxiliary Features, see. Bytemark. "Transit Services." 2017.
  26. Gilkyson, Blair. NYC Ferry Launches New Midtown to Astoria Route. 2017. [25]
  27. Mobile Payments Today. "Mobile Ticketing Comes to Toronto's Transit System. Jul 13, 2015. [26]
  28. Masabi. JustRide Platform. [27]
  29. 29.0 29.1 Masabi. "JustRide mTicketing App." [28]
  30. Apple Store. Smart eTickets [29]
  31. 31.0 31.1 Masabi. "Customers."
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 32.5 32.6 32.7 “North American Products.” Moovel.[30]
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 Sandler, Emma. "moovel’s Latest Tech Brings Company Closer to Dominating Future Transit Payments." June 19, 2017. [31]
  34. [32]
  35. Bucher, Maile. "moovel Introduces Fare Connect a Contactless Fare System." July 24,2017. MassTransit Mag. [33]
  36. Globe Sherpa, predecessor. See. Tavila, Elisa. Transit Mobile Payments: Driving Consumer Experience and Adoption. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. February 2015.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 37.4 Passport Products: Transit. [34]
  38. Charlotte Agenda. “Mobile Ticketing for the Light Rail is Finally Here.” [35]
  39. 39.0 39.1 Passport. “Who We Serve.” [36]
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 "Token Transit." [37]