The eTicket Deutschland programme is regarded as one of the most advanced and complex ticketing specifications, having been developed to facilitate cashless seamless travel across Germany. The programme is much more than an evolution of classic paper tickets to e-tickets because it leverages the latest advances in contactless technology and fare management to define the interoperable standard for all transit agencies, such that passengers can use a single smart device to load multiple tickets securely and independently without having to deal with different fare zones and ticket sale points.
Interoperable smart fare media use a single physical infrastructure to cover a range of customer devices managed by several suppliers and supporting various ticketing solutions (such as prepaid single or multiple tickets, pay-as-you-go, and post-pay for metro, bus, tram, ferry, light rail, regional and long-distance bus or rail, and even air). Different contactless media (traditional credit card-sized plastic, mobile phone, dongle, etc.) have high transaction speed, low operational costs, as well as greater efficiency and security. With the development of open international standards, this option is the preferred solution for cross-border tickets.
Need for a standardised e-ticket system
Germany’s local public transport system (OPNV) plays a critical role in the mobility of passengers in the country. In 2010, 9.67 million passengers used public transport services. Buses accounted for a major share of public transport (44 per cent), followed by trams (36 per cent) and rail (20 per cent). The proportion of public transportation is about 15 per cent of the total transportation volume, which is targeted to increase to 17 per cent by 2020.
Of the 270,000 passengers that use public transport daily, more than half cross at least one transportation agency jurisdiction and fare zone to travel to another. In an attempt to make ticket purchase a customer-friendly and efficient process, transport agencies in the 1990s explored the use of emerging smart-card technologies such as the GeldKarte (chip-based electronic purse) and the PayCard (based on the Deutsche Telekom telephone card). Given the fragmented nature of the public transport industry in the country, heterogeneous and incompatible electronic systems developed in a short period of time.
Realising the need for a nationwide, interoperable standard for an electronic fare management system, the Association of German Transport Companies (Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen [VDV]) and partners from industry and transport operators launched the VDV Core Application (VDV-KA) research project in 2002. The project, funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research, was successfully completed in 2005. The VDV Kernapplikation GmBH & Co. KG was set up in 2004 to implement the electronic ticket standard VDV- KA (described in Box 1).
Box1: VDV – KA
VDV – Core Application (VDV - KA), the open and secure German standard for electronic fare management, describes data interchange between the components of an Interoperable Fare Management (IFM). It regulates the organisational co-operation between players of an IFM system such that customers can use all systems seamlessly with a single user medium. In implementing the IFM, VDV Kernapplikations GmbH & Co KG guarantees interoperability and acts as the neutral authority, the IFM manager, registrar, security manager and application owner. The VDV - KA governs the cooperation of the parties and systems concerned and is consequently comparable to a combination of a construction manual and an operating manual for a technical device/system. It is unique in the fact that it not only governs the technical cooperation of systems, but also the organisational cooperation of the different entities providing for interoperability, security, black list, clearing, and certification.
Source: eTicket standard in Germany: VDV core application (VDV - KA), Eltis
The VDV – KA comprises three variants:
Ticket-purchasing is embedded in the VDV KA to facilitate the quick and easy launch of mobile phone ticketing. Many transport users are considering using mobile phones as active terminals at the NFC interface. For instance, the Deutsche Bahn (DB) launched the Touch&Travel pilot scheme to explore the option of replacing costly active check-in terminals with lower-cost passive RFID tags for VDV – KA transactions.
By January 2012, the standard e-ticketing system had been implemented or was under implementation in several states in Germany, as indicated in Figure 1. Since its launch, over 5 million smart cards have been issued.
Figure 1: Implementation status of e-ticket Germany (January 2012)
The implementation of VDV - KA in some German cities is discussed below.
The Saarland Integrated Transport Authority (SaarVV) was incorporated in August 2005, when specifications for the VDV-KA were nearing completion. Against this background, it was decided to undertake the VDV – KA e-ticket implementation as a demonstration project in Saarbahn. Thereby, all season ticket holders were provided with an electronic ticket which used the core application standard. The process involved procurement of 25,000 dual interface smart cards, and sending 20,000 ticketing media to season ticket holders. Customer service points, the central season ticket office and vehicles were equipped with terminals, and ticket inspectors were provided with hand-held devices. While smart cards were valid for five years, plastic cards had to be procured every year. Upon successful implementation, Saarbahn converted the demonstration project to the core application standard.
Schwäbisch-Hall and Hohenlohe
In 2006, Schwäbisch-Hall became the first district in Germany to launch the e-ticketing smart card based on the VDV - KA standard, KolibriCard. The card allows greater accessibility to the entire transport network of buses and trains in the district. It is provided by the transport authority KreisVerkehr Schwäbisch Hall (KVS), owned 50-50 by the district of Schwäbisch-Hall and local transport operators. The Stadtbus Schwäbisch Hall (SSH), a subsidiary of France-based Veolia Transport, was the partner in the pilot scheme.
The KolibriCard operates on the check-in, check-out principle. Passengers present their ticket to a reader when boarding the bus, and to check out, they present it to an identical device near the exit door.
The new ticketing system was 50 per cent financed by the state government of Baden-Württemberg. Presently, the card is being extended to neighbouring regions.
Since 2007, users in the neighbouring Hohenlohe district have been using the KolibriCard. All fares are charged in the control centres and credited to the two authorities on the basis of network-usage data recorded during the check-in/check-out transaction. The relevant customer contract partner (retailer) can verify that this data has been generated authentically, thereby guaranteeing payment security.
The public transport authorities of North Rhine-Westphalia – Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Sieg (VRS), Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr (VRR) and Verkehrsgemeinschaft Niederrhein (VGN) – were among the first to implement the VDV - KA on a large scale. In 2006-07, smart cards already in circulation were replaced by new cards compliant with the core application standard. The cards were issued to customers on the basis of annual subscriptions. At the same time, an electronic control system was implemented on all buses belonging to participating transport companies. Currently, in the region of the rivers Rhine, Ruhr and Wupper, over 1.6 million regular customers use smart cards and more than 50 transport operators participate in the scheme.
In April 2008, the district of Ostalbkreis became the third public transport authority in the Stuttgart area to use the VDV - KA with the introduction of the OstalbMobil fares cooperative. OstalbMobil customers can use their cards interoperably in vehicles belonging to the Kreisverkehr Schwäbisch Hall and the Hohenlohe public transport authorities. Similarly, their customers can use their smart cards in Ostalbkreis and are invoiced for their travel by the retailer of the smart card. The Almex division of the Hoeft & Wessel Group implemented this interoperable solution for the Schwäbisch-Hall and Ostalbkreis districts in the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg. Notably, this interoperability exists despite the differences in the way the two systems operate. In the Ostalbkreis district, the fare is deducted when a passenger boards a bus, but the Schwäbisch-Hall district runs the check-in/check-out system made by Almex, where the cheapest fare is calculated at the end of the journey (using the ‘best price’ method). Both systems have been upgraded to handle e-tickets from the neighbouring region.
In November 2011, the German subsidiary of US-based Cubic Transportation Systems announced the launch of the Nordhessischer Verkehrsverbund (NVV), a mobile phone-based service for rail and bus travel planning and ticketing. The mobile solution integrates the existing NVV journey planner application such that passengers can receive travel updates and buy their tickets from a single source. The payment service interface enables users to purchase tickets by registering their credit or debit card details or invoicing the cost to their mobile phone bill.
The company’s solution has already been adopted by Hessen’s other two transit authorities, Rhein-Main Verkehrsverbund and Rhein-Neckar Verkehrsverbund. With the addition of NVV, Hessen became the first state in Germany with a unified mobile ticketing system encompassing all modes of public transportation.
Recently in March 2012, Stadtwerke Münster commenced testing of electronic ticket validators. With these devices, electronic tickets will be checked upon entry. Once the trials are successful on trains, the system will be expanded to public transport buses. The public utility had placed an order with Germany-based IVU Traffic Technologies AG for 400 electronic validators with associated software for ticket sales and background settlement – the IVU.ticket and IVU.fare. By the end of 2012, all the utility's bus passengers will be using the new chip cards and e-ticketing service.
Earlier in March 2011, two German transport operators, DB and Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV, the transport authority for the Frankfurt region's bus, train and underground services), agreed to create a single ticketing system based on their existing near-field communication (NFC) projects. The two firms will combine systems such that passengers can use NFC-enabled mobile phones to buy tickets for both local (Frankfurt-based services with RMV) and long-distance (DB) train travel.
DB's NFC-based Touch&Travel system was first piloted in 2008 with 200 users on the Hannover to Berlin route and in the city of Potsdam. With the DB system, the passengers present their NFC phone to a Touch&Travel touch point at the start and end of their journey. The fare is automatically calculated and charged to their DB account, which is settled on a monthly basis via direct debit. The programme was developed in conjunction with technology partners Atron, Giesecke & Devrient, and NXP Semiconductors. Telefónica O2 Germany, Vodafone and T-Mobile subscribers equipped with NFC phones are able to use this service. In February 2012, DB launched electronic ticketing in the cities of Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg in partnership with Cardag Deutschland GmbH and NXP Semiconductors.
RMV's HandyTicket system uses radio chip touch points, known as ConTag points, attached to ticket machines at the busiest U-bahn and Straßenbahn stations and bus stops of the VGF as well as at selected S-bahn stations in Frankfurt, including the Frankfurt airport. These round plastic modules store passive data and provide the interface between the customer and the new ticketing service. They can be used to access real-time travel information on RMV's website, by simply touching an NFC phone to the ConTag, and to purchase tickets via the transport operator's mobile website.
The ticketing programme installed on the mobile phone is activated automatically by the ConTag and the departure point of the journey is registered. With the ConTag, the number of steps required in purchasing a ticket has been reduced from nine to three. Customers make contact with the ConTag with their mobile phones, select the kind of tickets and then confirm the purchase. The programme has been launched in partnership with Nokia, T-system, VGF, traffiQ and the Ströer DSM GmbH.
The new system will see the existing ConTag and Touch&Travel touch points in the Frankfurt area being replaced with new versions that enable users to use NFC-enabled mobile phones to purchase tickets for journeys involving both public transport operators’ services.
The government has provided significant support for the e-ticket programme. With a total investment of EUR9.75 million in the first stage (2006-09), the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS) supported the development of central systems and pilot projects to build an interoperable and nationwide fare management system on the basis of the VDV - KA. The Ministry, in collaboration with the promoter eTicket, Corporate Research Management of TÜV Rheinland Consulting GmbH has sponsored 13 projects so far. For the period 2010-15, the Ministry has made about EUR20 million available. The decision taken by the Standing Conference of Federal State Transport Ministers in October 2008 to support only e-ticketing projects that use the standard of VDV - KA has also been instrumental in encouraging the uptake and market penetration of this standard.
The way forward
Germany continues to make to substantial progress in the adoption of a standardised electronic fare management system. VDV Kernapplikation GmBH & Co. KG. has recently begun considering collaboration with its European partners in the UK, France and Netherlands for developing shared e-ticketing standards. Programmes that enable users to travel throughout Europe using an interoperable system are also being explored.
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