UK rail agrees mobile ticketing standard

A new standard for secure barcode rail ticketing has been developed by Masabi, the secure mobile applications company, working in conjunction with the Rail Settlement Plan (RSP), the rail ticketing body jointly owned by UK train operating companies and the rail operators.

The new open standard allows all mobile ticketing schemes to use a common secure barcode system, and also to be able to start accepting a single mobile ticket on a journey involving multiple rail operators.

To date, all rail mobile ticketing systems have used the web to sell a restricted selection of advance tickets using proprietary standards. The approval of RSPS3001, the UK-wide standard, is the first step toward being able to use mobile tickets and print-at-home tickets on many different rail operators for everyday walk-up tickets, which represent the vast majority of sales.

RSP’s Mostafa Gulam stated: “With Masabi’s help we have been able to bring down the cost of implementation and raise the functionality of the system in ways we had not thought possible.”

The Achilles heel of any digital mass transit system is how it copes when things go wrong, and when the internet, database or server connections have failed. The new barcodes contain enough ticket and security information to allow off-line systems to scan and validate tickets with similar security to the Oyster smart card system used in London. This allows the system to operate as an islanded system on vehicles or on hand held terminals in the event of system disconnection, and still process millions of tickets quickly and conveniently.

Mike Short, president of the Mobile Data Association, said: “The trend towards paperless ticketing benefits both the passenger and rail industry as a whole; it makes travel more convenient and environmentally sustainable. Mobile phones have become the most inclusive digital device that we carry today, secure mobile bar codes offer a clear pathway towards an increasingly cash free society. Other innovations may follow, but this landmark RSP decision shows a clear way forward to serve mobile customers anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

Masabi builds transport ticketing systems for mobile, and has already delivered systems together with Atos Origin to provide services for National Express and Heathrow Express and also with YourRail for Chiltern Railways, the first UK rail operator to pioneer mobile ticketing. Masabi’s latest applications allow travellers to both buy and display tickets from their handsets, finally allowing the mobile to reduce rush hour queues at the station, even if the traveller only thinks about purchasing as they arrive at the departure station.

By removing the need for users to sign up or remember any usernames or passwords, early users of Masabi’s ticket sales applications have described the purchase process as better than the web, and thanks to the new RSP ticket standards, this can start to enable the everyday ticket purchases, not just providing an alternative delivery mechanism for the 12% of tickets purchased on the web.

Ben Whitaker, COO of Masabi, commented: “It’s great that RSP has now produced this new standard, but the hard work now falls to the Rail Operators to roll out systems supporting this standard, and agreeing to share tickets on routes with other barcode ready operators. Only when consumers can buy everyday walk-up tickets on the mobile will the real operator savings and consumer convenience of mobile ticketing be realised.”