UK Rail Agrees Mobile Ticketing Standard

Nick Dillon, on behalf of the chaps at secure mobile specialist, Masabi, dropped me a briefing note on the state of mobile ticketing on UK railways.

It makes interesting reading:

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Hi Ewan,

I thought you might be interested to hear that the Association of Train Operating Companies, (which represents all UK rail operators) has introduced an industry-wide mobile ticketing standard based on 2D barcodes. This standard means that rail operators are now able to sell mobile tickets which can be used on other rail operator’s networks, thus removing a major hurdle to mobile ticketing.

I’ve put a bit of information and background on the standard below – please let me know if you need any further info or would like to speak to Masabi, the company which developed the standard. You can see what the barcode looks like here:

[ Ewan: Here’s some screenshots ]

State of the Market

* As it stands today some of the more pioneering rail operators have started offering mobile ticketing across some of their routes. These include National Express (who bought GNER), as well as Virgin, Heathrow Express and Chiltern Railways.
* This typically allows commuters to buy a ticket on a web site which is then delivered by an encrypted SMS or MMS to their handset and comes in the form of a 2D barcode. When they travel the ticket inspector simply uses a barcode scanner to read the ticket on their phone.
* As you’re undoubtedly aware mobile tickets have not yet become a widespread phenomenon. This is due to a few important reasons:-
o First off, it is fundamentally difficult to develop a secure ticket that cannot be fraudulently recreated which would obviously enable people to make their own free tickets
o Secondly, existing rail operator mobile ticket services require a PC to buy the ticket but for the service to be much more successful commuters need to be able to buy and display tickets on their handset wherever they are thereby creating the killer convenience factor. 88% of tickets are bought at the station You can imagine how useful it would be to buy a ticket once you’ve got on the train or on your way to the station or even when you’re at the station and there is a queue for the ticket machines
o Thirdly, it is crucial that the tickets work on mass market handsets not just smart phones. For example there’s been a lot of excitement around NFC, the communications technology used in Oyster cards, but to date NFC has only found its way into a couple of phones. Any system needs to work on all phones.
o Finally, the few mobile ticketing solutions on the market all use different systems so commuters can’t buy a ticket that goes across multiple rail operators.

The New Standard

* With these issues in mind ATOC (the Association of Train Operating Companies), which is owned by and represents all UK rail operators, decided to introduce an industry-wide mobile ticketing standard and brought on us at Masabi to put it together.
* The result is we now have a finalised 2d bar code standard that overcomes all of the aforementioned mobile ticketing difficulties.
* All the rail operators now have a system at their disposal with the highest level of security to ensure that mobile ticketing fraud can’t take place.
* The 2d bar code contains all information about the ticket so there is no need to for the ticket inspector’s machines to check any database. This enables commuters to buy mobile tickets at any point, including on the phone, so they don’t need to be bought on the web before-hand.
* The 2d bar code works on 90% of mobile handsets i.e. Any mobile phone with a colour screen or that has been introduced in the last five years. This means almost everyone can use the service.
* Finally, the standard means that a mobile ticket can be used on a journey spanning lots of rail operators.
* Over the next few months, we expect the existing rail operators with mobile ticketing services to migrate to the new system.
* The barriers for other rail operators have now been removed so hopefully we can now start seeing wider mobile ticketing offerings


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Nick, thanks for emailing that over. I reckon that will be very useful for a lot of people considering or actually already doing business in this space.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

6 replies on “UK Rail Agrees Mobile Ticketing Standard”

This could be a killer app for mobile e-commerce and it's clear a lot of thought has been put into the design of this system. I look forward with interest as to how this gets rolled out & implemented as it could revolutionise travel (no reason it couldn't be extended to coach or even plane travel if the infrastructure is there?)

They are removing barriers?

That means more free rides then, great work mobile ticketing.

They are removing barriers?

That means more free rides then, great work mobile ticketing.

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