Ticketing systems, also known as Revenue or Fare Collection Systems are mechanisms by which public transport users pay for the right to travel (Harvey 2015). Transport tickets act as proof of entitlement to travel for the user and those that control the transport system (Glover 1999). Well-designed ticketing systems are fundamental to managing public transport operations, but what does the ‘optimal’ ticketing system look like, and why is there such a diverse range? The board offers new insights about the range of choices available to transport practitioners and the implications of those choices on achieving often conflicting user and operator outcomes.
We ask the question:
How do we build something to encourage students and practitioners to talk about issues around the choices and trade-offs facing designers of passenger transport ticketing systems face; the factors influencing these choices; and how ticketing systems look in the future?
We analysed ‘artefacts’ (i.e. appropriate physical manifestations of the process under investigation, in this case public transport tickets from around the world) formed the primary data. We adopted the ‘found object’ practice to reinterpret values, metaphors or the status-quo through the outputs from objects (Chilvers and Glaves-Smith 2015; Harrison and Wood 2002). We used the approach previously to help students explore different methods for managing car use (see Enoch and Warren 2020).
This analysis comprised seven steps.
Step 1: Transport tickets (>100) from many modes and countries were collected to determine a broad range of ticketing system characteristics.
Step 2: We developed a categorisation framework based on the collection analysis and on literature (e.g. Vuchic 2005; Fleishman et al. 1996). Ticketing systems were characterised against twelve attributes – nine charging-related and three media-related (see Table 1) – and each attribute provided a number of options for the designers of ticket systems to make. Overall, 55 attributes result in 6.08 million possible outcomes!
Step 3: The framework was graphically arranged with each attribute represented like a metro line on a network map, and a series of ‘stations’ representing discrete ticketing system design options that could be chosen (see Figure 1).
Step 4: We selected 16 tickets to efficiently cover the design options, whilst covering many modes and countries of origin and these were categorised against each of the twelve attributes and ‘plotted’ for each ticket in a spreadsheet (Supplementary S1).
Step 5: The performance of each design option for each attribute was assessed against six ticketing system policy objectives – three from a user perspective, and three from an operator perspective in a spreadsheet (see Figure 2 for examples and Supplementary S2).
Step 6: The results were displayed on a purpose-built electronic ‘ticketing board’ which is 1.2 metres wide and 0.9 metres high and comprises a printed circuit board controlled by the two spreadsheet-based algorithms. Actioned by 34 push buttons, 89 LEDs, and electric wire, the board has two key functions. The first allows users to categorise each ticket (arranged around the network map). On pressing the ticket, one LED per attribute line lights up to illustrate the specific characteristics of the ticket being pressed. The second allows users to explore how each design option for a selected attribute performs against each policy objective (a dim light means it performs ‘poorly’, a medium light ‘average’ and a bright light ‘strongly’). From this, the user can visually compare how the design options for the distance discrimination attribute (i.e. flat fare, zonal fare, stage-based fare and mileage-based fare) perform against the simplicity and revenue maximisation policy objectives for example. See Figure 3 to see the board in use.
Step 7: Implications for policy makers can be determined. As of 31 July 2021, informal discussions have resulted from approximately 20 academic and transport operator colleagues and 150 undergraduate transport students.
The ticketing board reflects the huge array of different ticketing systems globally. Each system has evolved according to its own unique context and policy goals and typically created a bespoke solution. We demonstrate privately-operated systems in the UK seek to maximise revenues through multiple fare differentiation strategies and strong enforcement regimes requiring high-tech equipment for collecting, monitoring and enforcing payment. In Europe, goals of encouraging users for public policy reasons and prioritising service efficiency mean much simpler fare structures and less ticketing infrastructure, but a higher need for subsidy. Differences are also shown between modes. City-based, short-distance mass transit modes such as metro systems where changing services and paying small amounts close to, or at the time of departure may be features of use, use cash or smart card payments and a simple fare structure is adopted. By contrast, fares are often much more differentiated for longer distance and more occasional trips made on services like airlines or interurban rail.
The board exhibits recent technologies (e.g. smartphones, contactless payment) that are rapidly changing this landscape, and so promotes discussion of possible futures. Interestingly one group reported that new systems will see specialist suppliers delivering a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to pricing and ticketing, where the need to prioritise one policy objective at the expense of another may well be much reduced.
The authors thank Vicky Eves of The Open University for designing the layout of the Ticketing Board, Dick Morris (formerly The Open University) for his insights, and Paul Reeves of Loughborough University for constructing the installation.