Automatic ticketing: Riding the bus without a ticket
Imagine using public transportation without having to think about a ticket. Now a new ticketing option makes it easier than ever. In Osnabrück, Germany, the app has been functioning in extended test mode on all public bus lines since the beginning of the year and is about to be put into live operation for the public. The software calculates the cheapest price for all journeys on a weekly basis. Storage of the data collected is GDPR-compliant and absolutely secure.
When Maik Blome catches a Stadtwerke Osnabrück bus to work in the morning, he doesn’t have to worry about a ticket. Although the head of the marketing and sales department at the Stadtwerke (public utilities) of the city of Osnabrück (SWO) hasn’t bought a conventional ticket, he can ride and transfer as many times as he wants. That’s because he checked in at the beginning of the trip. And when he swipes, the app he installed automatically recognizes what mode of transportation he uses. Fifteen minutes after he exits a vehicle, it automatically checks him out.
What Blome is experiencing on his daily bus ride through his hometown is a German premiere and represents a quantum leap for ticketing on public transportation. Since mid-January 2020, the staff of Stadtwerke Osnabrück has been riding on all of the approximately 150 buses, plus seven trailers, in the Osnabrück fleet without purchasing a ticket in advance. All they have to do is activate an app on their smartphone before they board. Soon this convenience will also be available to the public.
Even after exiting the bus, passengers still don’t have to think about tickets. The app automatically recognizes that they’ve finished their journey on public transportation and are now out (“Be-out”). The app then calculates the best possible ticket price on a weekly basis and invoices passengers once a month. In the professional lingo, this technology is known as a “Check-in/Be-out (CiBo) ticketing system with a best-price guarantee.” When passengers board public transportation, they check in with a swipe on their smartphone (Check-in). When they transfer or end their journey, the ticketing system records it automatically.
New convenience for passengers
For the approximately 35 million passengers who ride our bus lines every year, the app offers a brand-new level of convenience.Maik Blome, Head of the marketing and sales department, Stadtwerke of the city of Osnabrück (SWO)
His employees are currently testing the system in live operation in preparation for the major launch to the public. “Passengers will never again have to puzzle over whether the single, day, or weekly ticket would be the cheapest option,” says Blome about the benefits of the application.
The underlying technology was developed by Siemens Mobility in collaboration with eos.uptrade and HaCon, both members of the Siemens Mobility family, and the software company highQ Computerlösungen. Once the app is installed on a smartphone, it uses the sensors in the device to collect various items of data after check-in and sends this data to the backend, where it’s processed to determine routes and pricing. The smartphone also recognizes the Bluetooth transmitters installed in the buses that enable the system to differentiate between bus and car rides. “The system uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE),” explains Mathias Hueske, Managing Director of eos.uptrade. “This prevents the app from draining the smartphone battery.”
In a simple environment, the smartphone sensors combined with learning algorithms are all that’s required, according to Hueske. Stadtwerke Osnabrück also opted for beacons to guarantee even greater accuracy: A total of 301 beacons were installed. “These are low-energy Bluetooth transmitters that – like smoke detectors – are attached to the infrastructure and powered by the on-board power supply. In the future, we might also use beacons equipped with batteries that last for several years,” Hueske explains. The beacon signals improve the quality of route recording via the smartphone sensors. This is especially important for complex infrastructures where, for example, stops are close together or different lines overlap.
“The beacons will also make it possible one day to integrate the technology in a comprehensive IoT system of infrastructures,” Hueske continues. “This is the gateway to a world of intermodal mobility where we can change modes of transportation without a second thought and where the particular mode of transportation used by the customer is irrelevant.”
Algorithms calculate the best price
After check-in, passengers receive an electronically verifiable travel authorization in the form of an Aztec barcode that they can produce if asked for their ticket. The position and motion data identified during the journey are assembled into trips or entire travel chains. Based on the individual tickets that are actually required for this purpose, the best-price algorithm calculates the cheapest combination as a function of the routes the passenger used, how often, and during what time period.
Hüske stresses the valuable developments that Siemens Corporate Technology – the company’s global research and development unit – contributed to the algorithms and beacons. The algorithms identify passengers’ trips based on the data obtained by sensors in the smartphone and by beacons in buses: When there are transfers to other vehicles, they assemble them into trips. This solution has since been combined with HaCon’s for use in a joint solution in the future.
The world’s first system to use a Be-in/Be-out solution – the most innovative solution in the XiXo portfolio – had already been in live operation in Switzerland since April 2018 and, according to eos.uptrade, has proven its viability. It’s now being developed by HaCon, eos.uptrade, and Siemens Mobility because, Hueske explains, “The concept has advanced from the research phase to the standard innovation and development phases.”
Simple integration and scalability
Hueske is noticing tremendous interest in the technology, and he attributes this to its simplicity for the operators of public transportation networks. “It can be integrated easily and securely,” he affirms. The data and interfaces remain the property of the transportation company. The comprehensive reporting, tracking data, and analysis options are fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). According to Hueske, the technology can be implemented quickly, cost-effectively, and seamlessly in existing apps and system environments in public transportation. Plus, it’s scalable. “Technically, we can offer all combinations of Check-in, Check-out, Be-in, and Be-out, and also expand them later on.”
Picture credits: Siemens AG
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