M-ticketing for European railways becoming more popular


As is often the case with telecoms and technologies, the Swedes were among the first to do it: since 2008 the state-owned national passenger train operator SJ has implemented a successful m-ticketing platform. By early 2011, up to 40% of all tickets sold on the SJ network are made through the m-ticketing platform, while a large proportion of the remainder are sold online. Much of this success has been down to word of mouth rather than marketing.

The success is understandable: spearheaded by the airline industry, which now commonly issues e-tickets and downloadable boarding cards, rail customers now have a real alternative to tiresome queues. For customers, sales receipts can be sent via text and the ticket charge is added to their phone bill or payment card. For operators, the m-ticket solution is cheap to operate since it is driven by software, with minimal infrastructural and employment costs.

In the UK, the developer of m-ticketing software for mobile phones, Masabi, signed a deal in early 2010 with thetrainline.com to develop a mass-market m-ticketing purchase and delivery system. The system, via a downloadable app, enables passengers to search train times throughout the National Rail network and buy tickets using a credit or debit card buy from their mobile phones (almost all devices are compatible). Currently, tickets are picked up at the station but the next stage in app development, due to be rolled out in mid-2011, will display tickets on the phone’s screen along with a secure barcode which is read at the station and on trains by scanners. Essentially, to paraphrase Masabi, the system puts a ticket machine in all passengers’ pockets.

In Germany, the national railway operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) teamed with the Dutch company NXP Semiconductors in 2008 to develop its ‘Touch&Travel’ mobile ticketing scheme. The system relies on NFC technology based on NFC-enabled mobile phones. Passengers purchase tickets by passing their phones across a Touch&Travel Touchpoint. The transaction is made via the mobile phone network.

The most recent development is in Poland, where the national railway carrier PLK will later this month sell train tickets via mobile devices. Launched initially in Silesia, the system will be rolled out nationally during the year. It issues tickets via SMS using the CallPay system.

Henry Lancaster Senior Analyst, Europe