Take one consortium, a joint venture, smart card suppliers, and even Hong Kong’s successful Octopus Cards Limited and you have the makings of a smartcard that’s going to link the Netherlands’ various public transportation vehicles. Or as Jeroen Kok, chairman of Trans Link Systems (the Dutch transit venture running the project) put it: “Eventually, passengers will be able to travel from one end of the country to the other using just one smart ticket.”
The first stage of the program, the pilot project in Rotterdam, involving about 1.4 million cards, is scheduled to kick off this fall with an expected 12 million cards to be issued when the project is in full bloom by 2006. The total project is worth about 120 million Euros and, at full implementation the system is expected to handle about 1.5 billion transactions a year.
This project, the first of its kind in the world linking all of a country’s public transportation modes, is being run by Trans Link, a joint venture of the Netherlands’ transit agencies: GVB (bus, tram, and ferry), NS (Dutch national railways), RET (Rotterdam public transport), HTM (The Hague public transport) and Connexxion (bus and tram operator). Trans Link Systems also cooperates with the remaining public transport companies, united under MOBIS, according to Trans Link.
“Our goal is to enhance passenger convenience, increase social safety in public transport, reduce fare evasion and provide the various public transport companies involved with improved information management capabilities,” said Mr. Kok. “We’re looking forward to seeing our work in action, providing seamless integration of all transport ticketing and payment systems across The Netherlands.
At the beginning of this year, Trans Link created TLS Card Issuer (TLS-CI) as a 100% Trans Link Systems subsidiary company. The TLS-CI mission is to handle the issuance of the public transport smartcard while its parent is responsible for completion of the entire network.
The Rotterdam pilot project is designed to test the Central Back Office in a limited environment, using a region with a sophisticated number of public transport systems and passengers. The pilot will last approximately six to eight weeks. The test with the e-ticketing system will be conducted in the entire RET metro network and in the trains that travel between Hook of Holland and Rotterdam, said Trans Link.
Tasked with designing, developing and implementing the unified electronic ticketing and payment system is the East-West Consortium, consisting of Thalés Transport & Services division, Accenture and Vialis.
French company Thalés, through its Transport and Services division, will provide its smartcard expertise in the design and implementation of large-scale, integrated fare collection systems; Vialis, of the Netherlands, will install and maintain the system’s physical infrastructure, such as smartcard readers and ticketing and fare machines, and Accenture, Bermuda, will integrate the system’s technology infrastructure and will also operate the system’s back office, which includes clearing and settlement of revenues for the participating transport companies.
Additionally, as subcontractors to Thalés, Hong Kong’s MTRC Corporation & Octopus Cards Limited will provide help with the central back office as well as its operational experience, according to Thalés.
“We are very excited about this project, the first in Europe having dimensions that exceed typical fare systems implementations,” said Jean-Louis Olié, managing director of the Transport and Services division of Thalés. “Together with our partners Accenture and Vialis, we will be able to provide and operate a large-scale, highly modern multi-operator fare system for the Netherlands.”
The smart cards and readers will be based on Philips’ MIFARE® contactless technology. Both Axalto and ASK will supply cards for the project. Axalto reports that it will provide its hybrid Easyflow MIFARE contactless card for the project, while ASK will provide both its standard cards as well as its paper c.Tickets.
“We hope this business case will spread widely throughout Europe in the coming years,” said Emeric d’Argoeuves, ASK project manager. “Mass transit’s future is no doubt contactless as it brings interoperability and evolving solutions in today’s city world.”
“This program is a first worldwide and will be a landmark in the transport business,” said Frederic Trojani, Axalto’s public sector and transport market segment director. “The smartcard proved an essential enabler in all e-ticketing schemes throughout the world, and major references like the Navigo card in Paris or the Oyster card in London were experiences Axalto could leverage to meet Thalés’ requirements.”
Trans Link said passengers will use a smartcard that combines the functions of an electronic ticket and e-purse. This card can be loaded through machines in the stations or by authorizing the public transport company to automatically debit the cardholder’s bank account. As a passenger boards a train, bus or tram, he or she places the card in front of an electronic reader, which scans the card to calculate the fare and deduct it from the card balance. The system will ensure that all fares are credited to the appropriate public transport company. When the system is fully operational, it will accommodate more than 2 million passengers per day.
“We only wanted to use proven technologies because we didn’t want to saddle passengers with teething troubles,” said Mr. Kok. “The system also had to be easy to use because it’s essential for payment and boarding to be both fast and reliable. Our number one priority is customer convenience.”
He added: “The new contactless smartcard system will allow transport operators to reduce operating costs, like maintenance costs and cash transactions, to better manage complex season-ticket schemes and to ensure high passenger throughput. It will also save time since the transaction can be done without having to take the card out of the passengers’ wallets.”