Digital Drive: Advanced AFC systems vital for efficient operations

Advanced AFC systems vital for efficient operations

Over the years, several initiatives have been taken to deploy smart technology for fare payment and collection in urban mass transit (UMT) systems. Today, the majority of operational mass transit systems in the country use automatic fare collection (AFC) systems. Moreover, the Delhi and Bengaluru metros have introduced more advanced transit-cum-bank cards, integrated metro cards (for a few lines) and online recharge facilities.

Recently, a number of new technologies and systems have been deployed for automating fare collection. AFC systems provide smart cards for contactless ticketing, resulting in efficient collection of farebox revenues and convenience to commuters. The Delhi metro is the first in the country to introduce a contactless ticketing system using smart cards. Further, the majority of under-construction and upcoming UMT projects are also planning to deploy AFC systems for fare collection. The rising demand is expected to necessitate operators identifying more advanced and suitable solutions for fare collection.

Technology options

At present, there are two technologies prevalent for implementing AFC systems – the AFC technology and the near field communication (NFC) system. The AFC technology is further divided into two systems – closed-loop smart card systems and open-loop bank card systems. The closed-loop system is a form of smart card with a prepaid stored value system that is operated and maintained by the transit agency, while the open-loop system allows users to pay for their travel using their existing credit, debit or prepaid cards, or mobile devices and there is no need for commuters to carry a transit-specific card.

The other technology, the NFC system, enables smartphones to act as smart cards. The NFC device is installed in the phone which acts as an electronic identity document and keycard. Under the system, an antenna chip is inserted in the smartphone, which functions as a smart card.

Current practices

Operational metro rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects in the country have deployed different technologies for improving their fare collection services. For instance, a unique AFC technology is being provided by AGS Transact Technologies Limited for the Kochi metro, which includes an integrated structure of collection, compilation and computing of AFC transactions. This ticketing system involves a combination of open-loop smart cards, radio frequency identification devices and quick response (QR) codes to collect fares from users, thus minimising the need for cash transactions. The contract for the AFC system was awarded to AGS Transact Technologies in June 2017.

For ease of payment in the Delhi metro, in April 2017, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) announced its partnership with Ola Money to enable commuters to recharge their metro cards directly from the Ola Money app. Another common mobility card – More Delhi – has been launched and can be used for travel on metro trains on Delhi routes, the Airport Express Line and select feeder buses as well.

Further, a combo card has also been launched by the State Bank of India (SBI) for commuters on the Chennai metro. This card acts as a debit card and a metro transit card. Similar to other bank-backed mobility cards, the combo card offers value-added services such as shopping and waivers on various purchases. Meanwhile, the Nagpur metro has also collaborated with SBI to introduce a mobility card which is based on an open-loop system. This card allows commuters to use the same card for travelling on buses run by the Nagpur Municipal Corporation and on the Nagpur metro, thereby integrating both transport systems.

In another key initiative, Mumbai Metro One Private Limited tied up with mobile wallet Paytm to facilitate mobile wallet-enabled payments using QR codes on 12 stations of the metro system. The cashless trips can now be availed of on Mumbai Metro One’s Store Value Pass.

The way forward

Going forward, various metro corporations are planning to integrate multimodal transport systems through a common payment platform so as to ensure hassle-free last-mile connectivity. For instance, the DMRC is planning to integrate its common mobility card More Delhi with DTC buses. Already established systems such as the Delhi metro are moving beyond card systems and shifting to account-based fare systems as these are easier to scale, manage and maintain and provide the flexibility to integrate with other technology platforms.

Further, as customer experience is of prime importance, metro corporations are collaborating with companies to provide innovative fair collection systems with added offers such as discounted fares