Innovative AND durable: how does ticketing do it?

Given that a PC or standard software is obsolete after just three years, just how do certain manufacturers of ticketing solutions manage to guarantee operators that their solution will last over 20 years, and still stay up to date? Put simply

Just as travellers are getting used to contactless ticketing, new technological revolutions are fighting to get through the turnstile. NFC (Near Field Communication) is just one example – it will soon turn mobile phones into transport tickets. At this rate, operators might start wondering whether their investments will soon be obsolete. Not at all. One of the unusual features of the ticketing business is that it boasts exceptional performance in both producing equipment and systems that last for several decades and in ensuring constant updates. "Today, a new product lasts for at least 22 years”, says Jean-Charles Caulier, Head of Marketing & Sales of Fare Collection Systems Business Unit. “It first takes two years for deployment with an initial client. We then sell it for ten years. Just like the first, the very last model sold will be maintained during ten years.”

Twenty-two years ago, the ticket puncher on the Paris Metro had already handed over to magnetic validators for tickets at the Edmonson format, but contactless ticketing was as yet unheard of. That hasn’t stopped thousands of validators already in use at the time pursuing their career and still staying up to date, thanks to the addition of electronic modules which accept smart cards. The article on Mexico City in this e-letter is one example.

A contactless facelift

Of course the most important condition for ensuring a lasting return on investment for operators is the continuity of the solutions they’re offered. For 20 years, every new generation of equipment bearing the Ascom – and now the ACS – brand – has been compatible with its predecessors. Generations of vending machines, validators and consoles have combined magnetic and electronic reading. It’s updating through accumulation rather than substitution, and paradoxically it often comes with a drop in price. "We don’t remove much and we add a lot… And that means better value for money", explains Jean-Charles Caulier. An optical illusion? No, a combination of amortised magnetic ticketing and competitive electronics.

It is of course essential to differentiate between gadgets and breakthrough innovations. "We designed the world’s first magnetic readers in 1968 and they still set the standard,” recalls Pascal Roux, Product Marketing Manager for ACS Transportation Solutions.

Nevertheless, not all patents have the same bright future: "We register four or five a year, but only a few will later have a commercial application.” says Patrick Legal, R&D engineer. In that case, why so many patents? "Firstly to protect ourselves from the competition by using technology that they can’t claim to have invented.” That explains the patent at the launch of the multi-technology BCS 400 printer, (see our article) a mechanical system capable of dealing with contactless tickets which are thicker than their magnetic counterparts. Another example is the request from China for recycling gates. That gave rise to an ACS patent which may well become a landmark for the future, in the long road towards low cost contactless ticketing. The result for the client is innovative and durable equipment based on proprietary systems.

Anti-wrinkle cream: tracking standards

The second rule is to stay abreast of changes in standards. For Pascal Roux, "The real key to durable solutions are standards.” And the best way of tracking standards is to participate in defining them. That participation is backed by expertise from the field, for example in contactless ticketing: "As a result of carrying out life-size tests in 1993, we set the maximum response time. Any slower and we would have compromised one of the key challenges of this new technology: smooth traffic flow!”

The third rule is anticipation: "Standards change too and we have no choice but to predict the unpredictable”, adds Pascal Roux. Of course new standards do not replace old ones: high bandwidth does not cancel out low bandwidth and the standard for one is compatible with the standard for the other. But it makes sense to design machines with extra large memory capacity and equip them with versatile connecting systems: Ethernet, USB, etc. The price is a little higher, but worth it a hundred times over in the years just after installation. "The memory reserve of our validators means they will be compatible with the Mastercard PayPass card for example."

The last barrier to obsolescence is human loyalty. The remarkable loyalty of Ascom’s teams – who are still every bit as loyal after the first few months with ACS – is of course an important advantage.

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