Although for the general public contactless currently evokes mobile payement and the latest developments in that fild, it also has a major presence in another quite different field; transport, particularly via the use of physical cards. This practice began in the 2000s and transport systems are now moving to contactless almost everywhere. The philosophy behind these systems differs according to geographical region however.
The United States, for example, tends more towards an open payment system. The medium used – a cell phone, watch, card, etc. – will mainly have payment functions and will therefore act as an electronic wallet. The United States has a fairly unusual relationship with public transport due to its history and urbanization. Outside large cities, public transport tends to be reserved for those who cannot afford a car. In American megalopolises, contactless is mainly seen as a way of cutting down queues. Several cities, including Chicago, are simultaneously establishing contact and contactless solutions, such as the Ventra Card. This acts both as an electronic wallet and a contactless transport card.
In Europe, a different approach is taken. The Old Continent is trying to establish a user-oriented card/media system which can be used for several urban activities, including transport, but also access to school canteens, libraries, etc. The trend is therefore to use the transport card to provide residents with other services. Using a smartphone, applications can be added to the contactless service and offer real advantages, from account management to subscriptions, ticket purchasing, car park payment, etc. For these highly industrialized countries, contactless is also an opportunity to improve intermodality between the different transport operators.
In Asia, the model is different again. There, electronic wallets are generally offered by private entities including transport operators, among others. They may take the form of cards or be directly incorporated into smartphones. They are combined with a wide range of coupon offers to encourage users to choose partner brands. These deals represent several billion dollars and Asian countries give private players a high degree of latitude. This strategy is particularly profitable for users without bank accounts, as in the Philippines for example, where this represents 80% of the population. Companies which issue electronic wallets have found this to be a perfect way of capturing cash in circulation, via commissions earned from couponing.
In South America, finally, the issue is more fundamental. The main concern in these countries remains the management of enormous passenger flows. In São Paulo in Brazil, for example, five million people need managing in the transport systems every day. The challenge is therefore to fluidify the traffic, while attempting to minimize fraud and closely monitoring the implementation costs of any new technology.
On every continent, smartphones are enabling transport operators to collect and centralize information for the eventual benefit of end users. Big data is allowing better modelling, and above all anticipation, of transport flows, road traffic, etc. It is possible to foresee a scenario in five to ten years, whereby a user encounters a traffic jam on leaving the house. A service offers the user the option of parking at a discounted rate in a nearby parking lot and travelling by public transport. Or provides information on free parking spaces as the user approaches the destination.
People will immediately understand the benefits of such services. In a city such as Paris, for example, traffic jams are partly caused because 10% of cars are driving around looking for a parking space. This type of solution could partially resolve this. And this is not science fiction – all the technologies required are already certified and on the market. All that is needed is a real political will to implement them…