Washington D.C.’s SmarTrip® contactless fare collection project is interesting for a lot of reasons. It is large and extremely successful. It is expanding regionally. It is advancing much of its initial technology. And it has positioned two companies as project partners that more often find themselves as competitors.
SmarTrip® is large and extremely successful …
Since the SmartTrip® project was launched in May 1999, nearly 400,000 cards have been issued to area commuters. The contactless cards are provided by Cubic Transportation Systems and utilize the company’s proprietary GO-CARD© technology. The GO-CARD© is a 13.56 mHz card, but it is not an ISO standard card.
Obviously this doesn’t matter much to the riders of public transit in the area as each month 7,500 new accounts are established and, according to Greg Garback, Executive Officer for WMATA’s Department of Finance, “our surveys suggest that 99% of the cardholders like it and will continue using it.” He adds, “they want to consolidate the plastic in their wallets.”
Today, all of the gates in the city’s metrorail system are equipped with SmarTrip® readers, totaling 2500 readers in all. Additionally, users of more than 50,000 public parking spaces operated by WMATA also make use of the card for payment on exit.
SmarTrip® is expanding
The SmarTrip® program is moving beyond the WMATA systems to include other transit entities in Washington D.C. as well as Virginia and Maryland. This will make the system truly regional including enabling cardholders to migrate seamlessly between rail and bus networks in all three areas. How much will this grow the base of SmarTrip® cardholders?
To get an idea, Mr. Garback reports that the Washington D.C. bus system alone accounts for more than one-quarter million daily riders. Already 3000 readers are being installed on the city buses. Equipping the entire region will most certainly double the size and scope of the already growing system.
SmarTrip® is advancing much of its initial technology …
But regional expansion brings with it a host of technical complexities not faced by a more localized system controlled by a single operator/transit entity. To begin, the system must be capable of supporting an increased number of pass types (e.g. demographic-based, time-based, quantity-based, value-based) as each transit entity is likely to have its own unique fare schedule and portfolio of pass types.
The card readers deployed in the WMATA rail system support only the original version of the GO CARD©, a card capable of supporting 13 card types. The Washington D.C. bus network has been deploying a newer reader from Cubic called the Tri-ReaderTM. It’s enhanced software enables the buses to support up to 64 card types as well as supporting a more robust card variety.
In addition to accepting the GO CARD©, the Tri-reader has another significant benefit. It enables the acceptance of ISO standard cards as well as GO CARD©. And the move to an ISO 14443 card has long been rumored in the SmarTrip® project. While such a change would be transparent to the users, it would increase the number of suppliers for the card and would reduce the card costs. As the system expands, it is likely that future cards will be of an ISO standard variety.
“The key to smart cards is not the card, it is the way you build the system to use the card. Building fare collection systems that grow with changing requirements is what Cubic does best,” said Jim Karam, Cubic’s Senior VP of Engineering and Program Management.
And it is also likely that the new readers will be the second generation of the Tri-Reader TM, the Tri-ReaderTM II.. The new reader is a more intelligent device, holding more of the essential operational information in the reader, rather than in a separate hub or master module that serves a bank of readers.
According to Mr. Karam, , “we combined the reader itself with a microprocessor to create a blackbox that could easily interface to the variety of external devices (e.g. the validators, turnstiles, etc). The reader itself now handles much of the information such as fare tables and auto load detail.”
The expansion of the system has spurred the upgrading of the cards and reader, so too is it necessitating the advancement of the clearing and settlement system. Until now, all funds deposited to a SmarTrip® card were deposited at a WMATA location and were used to pay for a WMATA service. Thus, the clearing and settlement of the transaction data and the funds was relatively straightforward. With the addition of a host of other non-WMATA entities, this process becomes far more complex. As an example, funds deposited in a Maryland rail system-owned value loading device might be spent for a on a Maryland bus, the WMATA subway, and a series of Virginia transit options. How does each entity get paid the money they are owed and conversely pay out the money owed to others? This is the function of the clearing and settlement system.
And SmarTrip® has positioned two companies as project partners that more often find themselves as competitors …
The processing of the transactions and moving of money between transit entities was put out for bid separately from the fare collection system and components–the bids awarded to Cubic that resulted in the card, device, and software solutions that operate the SmarTrip® system. The settlement and clearing functions were awarded to ERG, along with its partnering organizations Northrup Grumman and Scientex. Says Mr. Garback, “they will help us settle with the 16 operators.”
To outsiders, this may appear odd as Cubic and ERG are most often found competing for fare collection projects rather than working together on different parts of the same project. But according to Mike Nash, ERG spokesperson, it is really not that unusual. “ERG has worked with Cubic equipment before in Hong Kong and Singapore–and BART (San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit) is moving that way.”
It is unlikely that Cubic minds the arrangement either. The settlement functions were essential for the project’s expansion, an expansion that could result in additional sales that could reach US $100 million for Cubic.
ERG will handle the clearinghouse functions from its established facility in San Francisco, CA. This site will also handle processing for the BART project and the pending Seattle, Washington project. According to Mr. Nash, it should be operational within a year.
He adds, “ERG is the only company that can demonstrate a truly regional fare collection clearing system with multiple agencies and multiple fare structures.” They developed the system and expertise, says Mr. Nash, in their work with the pioneering Octopus Card project in Hong Kong. “We don’t make gates, turnstiles, or ticket vending machines,” he adds. “These clearing systems are what sets us apart.”
The future …
And it is this mix of interesting technologies and circumstances that sets SmarTrip® apart. The system is widely considered among the most innovative and successful fare collection programs in the world. The coming year promises to make this statement even more accurate. With the new ISO standard cards, more advanced and configurable card readers, and a new clearing system, SmarTrip®’s potential for expansion extends even beyond transit. The technical capability for the cards to be used for payment in retail and other locations will be in place. Then it will be up to Mr. Garback and the team at WMATA to determine where they go next.
Soccer fans have a ball with contactless ticketing
One of the hassles of attending a popular sporting event is getting into the stadium in the first place-long lines at the ticket booth followed by similar lines at the gate.
London-based Fortress GB has solved both problems with one contactless card.
The city of Manchester’s stadium is the first in Europe to have access completely controlled by a contactless smart card. All fans entering the stadium, either season-ticket holders of the Manchester City Football Club, or visitors, can only do so via the smart cards they’ve been issued.
“It is difficult not to sound immodest, but this has been hugely successful,” said James Rosenthal, Fortress GB’s general counsel. “Fan acceptance of the new technology has been wonderful. It has sped up entrance almost three times as quick. A line might form, but within a minute or so, it’s gone,” he added.
The police are happy too, said Mr. Rosenthal, because fans are able to get into the stadium more safely.
“It has cut down dramatically on scalping tickets. It is gone, because no one is willing to give up a season ticket for just one game, whereas before, season ticket holders could just rip out one ticket for one match,” said Mr. Rosenthal.
Fans entering the grounds simply hold their smart cards, called Citycards, over card readers fitted at each turnstile. Each read is recorded, allowing the stadium to know which fan entered the stadium when, and through which turnstile.
According to Mr. Rosenthal, the cards have a two-season minimum. At the end of the second season, fans can reload the cards for extra seasons.
The Manchester City Football Club is confident that the microchip in the cards will make them extremely difficult to forge, and lost or stolen cards can easily be blocked at the gate, just like a credit card, according to Fortress.
The card will also enable fans to earn loyalty points when presented at food and retail facilities. And collected information will allow the club to develop a clear picture of its customers, their attendance history, and their purchases.
As more clubs join the Manchester Club in adopting the technology, cross-usage of the system between clubs will become commonplace with fans of one club able to use their cards to enter away games in other stadiums.
Right now, explained Mr. Rosenthal, out-of-town fans purchase one-time-use smart cards to get into the game.
Mika Weinstein Lustig, Vice President Marketing and Business Development for Fortress, said the new system was beta tested and fine-tuned for about a year at another stadium. She noted, “this is the first fully RF-based stadium in Europe. We are now looking forward to advancing to the second phase of the project and integrating further applications to the card, such as loyalty and electronic purse.”
The project is a joint venture of Fortress, Software4sport and IBM. The smart card access system is linked to the club’s ticketing and customer resource management (CRM) system, Talent, developed by Software4sport. IBM’s Eserver Iseries runs the Talent system.
Fortress GB is a UK-based developer and provider of multi-application smart card solutions. The company is experienced in cryptography and highly secure smart cards, both pluses when dealing with projects requiring high level, access control systems.
Fortress’ stadium smart card scheme has been nominated as best new software at the Sesame 2003 Awards, held in conjunction with the CARTES Exhibition in Paris next month.
Software4sport, part of Computer Software Group PLC, focuses on providing integrated ticketing, web-sales and CRM solutions for sports clubs, associations and venues. The company uses the Talent database as its foundation and as an integration point for all business functions including ticketing, merchandising, corporate box sales, real-time web sales, memberships, and loyalty.