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All tickets please - from paper tickets to no tickets

All tickets please - from paper tickets to no tickets

Lucy Whitehead & Martin Howell

Global Product Director for e-Ticketing & Transport Markets Director UK & Ireland

All tickets please – from paper tickets to no tickets


It’s sometimes tempting to believe that working in payments for transport is a bit of a niche occupation - perhaps a bit geeky. But mention at a party that you know about train or bus ticketing and you might well find yourself suddenly very popular.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has some experience they want to tell you about. And everyone wants to ask why things are, the way they are.

Ticketing for transport is almost as old as providing transport in exchange for money. Indeed, in times gone by, the dead were buried with a coin in their mouths, in order to pay the ferryman to take them across the River Styx to the afterlife. History doesn’t relate whether the ferryman had a ticket machine!

Ticketing has evolved enormously over the years, and will continue to do so. Over recent years, the purpose of tickets has changed as well. Of course, the underlying principals remain much the same – preventing fraud and avoidance of payment, as well as collecting the correct revenue.

For many years, if we’re honest, ticketing was a consequence of, not trusting the driver or conductor and not actually trusting the customer. And that is what’s changing.

Ticketing – or more precisely - payment for public transport, is now seen as a crucial element in making transport attractive, easy to use and accessible for customers. ‘Open payment’ using cEMV contactless bank cards focuses on customer experience – not protecting operational processes. This is a welcome and important change – but now we need to consider…. what’s next for open payment?

But let’s take a step back and look at where we’ve come from. What is the fundamental point of a ticket? It provides proof that you have paid for the journey you are taking. It provides the traveller with assurance that they have ‘the right’ to make the journey.

It ‘opens the doors’ to the transport network and it is a critical part of the process of ensuring transport providers get paid for their services.

It is strange but true that tickets occupy a special place in people’s hearts. A ticket can be a reminder of a first date or a special holiday or a fantastic gig you were at. And just as everyone has a transport ticket story to tell, many people are also very interested in the history of ticketing and how it has developed.

Tickets as proof of payment go back to the mid-15th century, whilst in London, for example, they were initially issued to counter the suspiciously baffling apparent lack of passengers on horse drawn trams – at the same time as drivers appeared to be becoming very well-dressed….

Magnetic tickets arrived in London in 1966 and Paris in 1969, but it has usually been the need to fight fare evasion that has driven innovation. Closed loop smart cards were first developed nearly fifty years ago, but only became commercially viable in the 1980s. Octopus was introduced in Hong Kong in 1997 while Oyster arrived in London in 2003, at the same time as the entire London Underground network was gated.

There is an apocryphal story that one weekend in the early 2000’s, Chorleywood station in London (departure point for many prosperous and well-heeled commuters) was gated, without warning. The lengthy and unprecedented queues for tickets on the following Monday morning told their own story…

It was around this time that the role that efficient ticketing (or payment) in increasing customer usage of transport became apparent, and authorities around the world began to look at how their customers paid for their travel differently. Technology proliferated, with the principal purpose of tickets – essentially, that you are the person who has paid to travel – becoming more focused on ease of use, convenience and speed.

Print at home, mobile tickets, QR and bar codes and even biometrics have all gone into the mix of improving customer experience and increasing efficiency.

Open payment arrived in London in the Olympic year – 2012 – after Transport for London realized that even the closed loop Oyster system was actually an unnecessary currency conversion exercise – why should customers have to swap their ‘currency’ for TfL’s ‘currency’ to travel on TfL services?  Open payment has been an unprecedented success for residents and visitors alike and is the Holy Grail for other operators around the world. And it was then a short hop to account based ticketing to transform customer experience even further.

Today’s move, around the world, towards Mobility as a Service relies on easy selection of journey modes, simple payment and assurance of best value, as well as swift and accurate settlement of revenue to operators – none of which would have been possible with the continual evolution of transport payment over recent years.

So what does success look like in the transport payment world?

For customers, it has to be fast, easy to understand and to buy, with an absolute assurance of best value without having to know any arcane tricks or insider knowledge. It should be transparent and 100% reliable and trusted.

For customers it needs to be quick, for operators it needs to be efficient, lower cost to administer, prevent fraud and fare evasion, and fast at allocating revenue correctly.

The evolution of ticketing has been driven by a need to prevent fraud and fare evasion and accurate collection of revenue – which simultaneously managed to deter both passengers and staff. Thankfully we are now in an era that puts customer experience first, which can only be good for attracting people back to transport, particularly following COVID.

Worldline are world leaders in payments, experienced in using state of the art technology to provide the simplest experience, secure and fast, for customers, operators and authorities. Find out more about how Worldline can support your own journey to a new payment experience for customers.

Download our brochure on WL Tap 2 Use, our Open Payment solution for transport, here.

For more information, please contact our experts Lucy Whitehead and Martin Howell.