Electronic Tickets: Innovative and pioneering?

I had to smile today when I read the headlines of “ScotRail pioneering smart mobile tickets”:

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It was being pushed out with some vigor, and with few of the news agencies adding anything to it, and basically just echo’ing the message.

The words “innovative” and “pioneering” appeared in the article. For me, those working on new blockchain solutions in the public sector (eg Wallet.Services) and in health care (eg Spiritus) are innovative and pioneering, and breaking down barriers in new areas.

A rail company introducing smart ticketing doesn’t quite match those expectations, especially in terms of “pioneering” … and which “involves new ideas or methods”. There’s nothing “new” in electronic ticketing, and it is only where the default position should be (a long time ago). A title of “ScotRail finally pilots smart ticketing in a catch-up with others”, might seem more appropriate. London, for example, implemented their Oyster card system in 2003, and the underground is a great deal more complex than the more simplistic network in Scotland.

I had to smile, as I buy my morning paper from the grocers in Juniper Green with my mobile phone. I get my airline tickets on an app, and which keeps me up-to-date as to when I should arrive at the gate. I travel on Edinburgh buses with electronic tickets on my phone.

I purchase all my groceries with my smart phone with Google Pay, and shop with Tesco with their app (as they are one of the few to limit the purchases for Google Pay). I get my coffee each working day from the Starbucks at Holy Cross, and pay with my phone.

I pay for my parking in Edinburgh, and wherever I travel in Scotland, with my app, and it reminds me when I should top up. It remembers my car and my credit card details, and it even asks me for my fingerprint, just to prove that it is me.

I also recently traveled to Zug in Switzerland and did not use cash or my credit cards once. On every train I traveled on, I flashed a QR code at the guard, and they smiled. In my bag was a single sheet print-out, just in case…

And now ScotRail tells me that I can now purchase tickets on my mobile phone and use it at the gate, and for this to be seen as pioneering and innovative? It’s a catch-up with the rest of the world, and where we should be anyway (and be well beyond this stage, and where we can travel across rail networks).

At London’s King’s Cross, I typically have to wait in a queue as my ticket doesn’t go through the automated gate, and I have to flash my ticket in front of them. On the flight to Stansted, too, I get a print-out of a ticket, and then have to wait at the gate at Victoria, and show it to a guard, who waves me through. Why can’t I just book a electronic single ticket (that I can print if I want), and travel over different networks with it? If the London Underground can do it, any transport network can. Basically the system just needs to know entry, intermediary and exit points of the journey, and then divi-up the payments to each provider of the route. A single standard ticket is then accepted by all providers (either initially in a printed form, but long-term as a NFC scan).

This is the 21st Century. All of our services should now be electronic, and we need to move to a world which supports payments in a secure manner. Your fingerprints and your mobile phone are much more secure than a bit of paper and a piece of plastic.

And a pilot? Are they going to stop it, if it doesn’t work? Surely not!

The last time I traveled by a train, I had eight ticket stubs, and had to get my tickets sent in the post. Pioneering, to me, would be an integrated travel infrastructure for the UK, and an innovation would be to actually provide enough seats on busy trains (the last time I traveled from London to Edinburgh, I sat on the floor from London to Newcastle).

I also heard — from a comment on the article — that the new ScotRail trains don’t have any USB charger points for mobile devices (and only had 3-pin electrical sockets), so you’d better remember to take your 3-pin plug with you if you’re up in Scotland. We step forward, and one step back. On the trains I travelled in, in Switzerland, there were multiple USB charging points for each passenger.

That said, it’s great news on the pilot, and I can’t wait to try the scanner at the gate.

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