Bring Your Own Token

I’ve just attended the Smartex Transport Card Forum (TCF) 2014 annual two-day event where I was presenting. The first day was about requirements and we heard from Passenger Focus that customer convenience is high on the list. Over and over we heard others repeating that convenience is a key requirement. At the end of day 1 I took a stroll through Oxford for half an hour and then caught a bus to my hotel. As the bus approached, I realised that I might be in trouble. Three or four smart card emblems were on display in the window, none of which I recognised. I boarded the bus and asked whether they accept cash. “Yes,” was the reply. I tendered my Scottish £10 note. “But not those,” he said. “We used to, but our systems no longer accept them. The other bus company might take them.”

Not having the energy to argue, and feeling a very inconvenienced customer indeed, I got off and continued to walk until I found a taxi happy to take my £10. In fact, none of the taxi drivers I used over the last two days batted an eyelid at the dazzling array of Scottish notes I tendered. I joked with one of them that no-one knows what Scottish notes should look like, so I make them myself at home in Edinburgh. He asked if he could borrow the machine, but he was not inclined to refuse my money.

The next day, the morning started with presentations from suppliers about how they are starting to roll out remote download of smart tickets to ITSO cards. If you find one of the suppliers’s terminals (or you have registered and have one of their contactless readers installed on your PC) and you have obtained the right operator’s card, you can have the ‘convenience’ of not having to buy or collect a ticket immediately before boarding. Basically, this is aimed at the frequent traveller in restricted geographical areas and seems to deliver Oyster-like convenience. And in addition, this could be extended to long-distance rail, something not offered by Oyster.

Right now, Transport for London (TfL) offers what I would term Choose Your Own Token (CYOT). You can travel anywhere on the Oyster network (bus and all forms of rail: tube, train, DLR, tram) using either an Oyster card or a contactless payment card. You don’t need to worry how much the journey costs and you are guaranteed to be charged the best fare and that will be capped after a certain amount of travel within a certain time period. None of the details of which I need to know; you simply trust TfL to always give you the best deal.

Now that’s what I call convenience — unless you neither have an Oyster card nor a contactless payment card. Or you happen to be outside of London, say, in Oxford, trying to board a bus with Scottish money. So, no, we are not really close to general customer convenience.

There are examples of existing tokens already being used to access multiple services, which include:

  • Utah ski pass being accepted on local buses during the validity period of the ski pass. The Super Pass includes round-trip travel on UTA ski buses and TRAX light rail. To gain free access on UTA Ski Buses and TRAX light rail it is necessary to both tap in and tap out with the Super Pass card.
  • Larger cities in Estonia allow residents to purchase “virtual” transportation tickets linked to their ID cards. Period tickets can be bought at public kiosks. Customers have the option of e-mail or SMS notification when the ticket is about to expire, or of setting up automatic renewal. To use the virtual ticket, customers must carry their ID card with them whenever they use public transport. During a routine ticket check, users are asked to present their ID card, which is then inserted into a special device. Ticket information is stored in a central database, not on the ID card itself. Thus, to order a ticket, it is not necessary to have an ID-card reader.
  • British Columbian driving licence being used to access various government services such as health.
  • In the next phase of TfL’s Ticketing Project (FTP), TfL plans to allow season pass holders to associate a contactless payment card with the season pass. This will be their first us of payment cards as tokens and will mean that the customer will not need to also carry an Oyster card.

However, again, these all rely upon the customer obtaining the appropriate token that is accepted, whereas the real convenience vision I have for a country such as the UK which may never have a national electronic ID (eID), is what I call Bring Your Own Token (BYOT). Certain standardised tokens that meet common security requirements and we all carry anyway would be used to prove to any merchant that we are good to pay for their services, or we are eligible for them. I don’t care what that token happens to be, so long as I have one with me at all times. I don’t expect all other customers to use the same token as me and I have a vision of a variety of such tokens being accepted and there being a central service (in the cloud, of course) which all merchants or service providers use to verify eligibility of the token.

Some say that it would be impossible to get all the parties to agree to sign up to such a central token verification service. And to them I say, look at TfL. After several years of negotiation with the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) operating in the London area, agreement was achieved that TfL collects all the Oyster or contactless payment card ‘taps’ on Oyster readers for trains, calculates the journey, deduces the fare payable by the customer, collects the fare from the customer and distributes the portion of the fare due to the TOCs.

It is no longer tenable to say TfL achievements are only possible because London operators are regulated. The TOCs are deregulated and they have agreed to trust TfL to reimburse them fairly without knowing how many journeys passengers have actually made using Oyster or payment cards. Like the taxi drivers, the TOCs would rather be paid than not, unlike the bus operator in Oxford.

These are the personal opinions of Consult Hyperion and its guests and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinion of its clients or suppliers. To discuss how any of the technologies discussed in this post can benefit your business, please contact Consult Hyperion.