Automation Takes Over: Innovations in fare collection systems

Innovations in fare collection systems

As a greater number of cities are opting for metro systems as the preferred mo­de of public transport, the market for auto­mated fare collection (AFC) systems is also grew. From 2006 to 2020, the market in­c­reased at a compound annual growth rate of 15 per cent. As of January 2021, the AFC market size is estimated to be close to Rs 19.5 billion. Growth has picked up in recent years as more projects have become operational. This has also led to the introduction of innovative solutions for fare collection, further supported by “cashless” transactions through mobile wallets and quick response (QR) codes.

Till 2006, about 75 metro stations – 59 of Delhi Metro Phase I and 16 of the Kol­kata North-South metro – had been operatio­nali­s­ed. These stations, together, had installed AFC systems worth Rs 3 billion. During the period 2007-14, another 136 stations were operationalised, with AFC systems worth Rs 5 billion installed. During 2015-21 (till January 2021), the installation of AFC systems picked up pace with about 346 stations being completed. The­se stations deployed infrastructure such as AFC gates, ticket vending machines and QR code devices worth Rs 12 billion.

Recent trends and developments

Open-loop cards based on the EMV (Europay, Mastercard or Visa) contactless technology are emerging as an alternative medium of ticketing to ensure seamless travel. The Kochi metro was the first to deploy EMV cards. It launched the Ko­chi1 Card, a prepaid card attached to a single wallet, for making transactions related to purchasing tickets or payments at retail co­un­ters. The card was developed by Axis Bank in partnership with the National Payments Corpo­ra­tion of India.

Noida Metro Rail Corporation Limited (NMRCL) has launched the RuPay contactless smart card on the Aqua Line, which can be utilised not only for ticketing but also for making all kind of purchases. The card has been issued by the State Bank of India (SBI) in association with SC Soft/Aurionpro and NMRCL. Mean­­while, Maha Metro, in partnership with SBI, has also introduced an all-in-one MAHA Card for Nagpur city, which caters to commuting needs as well as other daily needs within the city.

QR codes are also rapidly replacing single journey smart tokens, thus saving huge operational costs for transport operators. With this technology, commuters no longer have to carry smart cards, as the QR code will be displayed on their mobile phones, to be tapped at the AFC gate of any metro station.

Upgradation off collection systems

Account-based ticketing is a payment system that has been gaining traction in urban mass transit systems. It is a back-end system wherein the fare calculation and transaction are performed against an account in the back office that is not necessarily EMV chip compliant. Th­is payment system can further be open loop or closed loop, depending on the requirements of the system operator. Under this technology, smart cards for commuting are integrated with contactless debit or credit cards, which can then be used for electronic payments. Commu­ters can make payments by using QR codes, after which the ticket will be stored in the cloud and fare payment charges will be included in commuters’ debit/credit card bill.

In a bid to avoid vendor lock-in and to create an affordable, interoperable system, an in­digenous AFC system is being developed. To this end, the central government launched the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC), called One Nation, One Card, on March 9, 2019 for all types of digital transactions. The first indigenous AFC gate – SWAGAT – was also launched along with SWEEKAR, the supporting AFC system. SWAGAT, which is an NCMC-compliant AFC gate, was launched as part of the inauguration of Ahmedabad Metro Phase I in March 2019. It will soon be set up on one of the lines of the Delhi metro.

This card supports all payments for the metro, buses, suburban railways, tolls, parking and retail, and is available on all prepaid, debit and credit platforms. It also allows offline tran­sactions. The card has been merged with the RuPay card to allow people to not only pay their commute charges but also withdraw money. The NCMC service was launched for Delhi Met­ro’s Airport Express Line in December 2020 and is expected to cover the entire Delhi metro network by 2022.

Future outlook

Contactless smartcards will continue to remain the most preferred method of paying fares across the country despite the introduction of advanced fare media such as mobile ticketing and contactless bank cards. However, mobile ticketing is expected to increase due to the high proportion of smartphone users in the country. Lower capital expenses and ease of deployment compared to the installation of other ad­vanced fare media is another major reason for the strong uptake of mobile ticketing.