End of the line for paper tickets
Four ways to innovate

Explore • Pulse #1 • 3 min
By Jean-Pierre Montal

For travellers, having to queue at a ticket office or machine is inconvenient and annoying. However, it could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the latest advances in smart ticketing technology. Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of four solutions offering viable alternatives.


After payment through an app, the traveller’s ticket information is sent straight to it as a 2D barcode, or QR code, which they simply scan at the barrier, allowing them to travel as a regular ticket does. M-tickets are already used by the Athens, London and New York underground systems.

Simple: m-tickets can be bought easily, right up to the time of travel – without having to queue. Reliable: m-tickets can never be lost – unless you lose your smartphone!

M-ticket apps can only be used on smartphones (and in 2016 only 50.6% of the world’s population owned one) (Source) and require an Internet connection.


As they enter a network, commuters touch in using their contactless bankcard or smartphone. At the end of their journey, they touch out in the same way to trigger payment, which is charged directly to their bank account. Open payment is in use in Beijing and London.

Flexible: all that’s needed is a contactless bankcard.
What’s more, payment matches the journey and is made immediately.

Specific network equipment is required (such as validators with integrated bankcard readers, as well as large data processing capacity). This solution is mainly aimed at occasional travellers who don’t need a travel pass.


The customer simply sends a text message containing a specific code and then gets a message back enclosing all the ticket details: type of ticket and validity date, together with a QR code, barcode or digit-based code which an inspector can scan. SMS-based ticketing has been rolled out in several towns in France (Belfort, Rouen and others), Switzerland (Geneva, Zurich and Berne) and Italy (Milan, Florence and Pisa).

Accessible: text messaging doesn’t require a smartphone. And if the user’s phone runs out of charge, ticket inspectors can check their ticket details using their dedicated app.

SMS-based tickets work well on open networks (buses, city bikes, trams, etc.) but are less effective in closed networks, requiring scanning codes for entry.


Commuters use a travel card that’s valid for an entire network. Each journey is logged and payment is calculated and debited at the end of the month. This system is already in use in Seoul, South Korea, and in the French town of Besançon, which helped pioneer the solution.

Customised travel: monthly charges are automatically adjusted based on the lowest fares available to passengers (for example, “regular traveller”, or all-inclusive “1 and 2 zone” fares). It’s also extremely easy to use as the card is valid on all public transport services in a given area.

Like open payment, post payment systems require substantial operator investments.


Will smart ticketing result in more fare evasion? 

Some experts think that by offering quicker, easier-to-use and in some cases cheaper means of purchase (like sms ticketing or post payment, for example), smart tickets are more likely to be adopted by the very travellers most likely to commit fare evasion, such as teenagers and students. So, the result could be less fare dodging. Nonetheless, there is a danger that ticket validation will disappear under smart ticketing, which might cause a rise in fare evasion. Stamping a ticket is such a socially essential and symbolic part of travel that the gesture will have to evolve with pricing and ticketing systems, in order not to be a serious impediment to technological development.


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