Though there are varying types of cards used to create convenience for customers, there are disadvantages to some types of cards that have magnetic stripes and require a manual action versus smart card technology. The magnetic stripe cards are either fed into a reader or swiped on a reader. The magnetic stripe technology requires increased maintenance and is often connected to higher failure rates because there is significantly less memory available on a magnetic stripe than on a smart card.
Fraud rates are increased with magnetic stripes, as it is a simpler technology and more susceptible to error. The magnetic striped cards are also susceptible to fraud because they can be stolen and used by someone other than the owner. With the smaller amount of memory that is usually on the cards with a magnetic stripe, they do not always have the capacity to input owner information and the balance of the owner.
This type of fraud can cost transportation companies millions of dollars and is a large enough hassle that transit agencies want to find another way of helping customers. Plastic cards in general may also have on average a higher rate of being broken than other options as the cards have an embedded chip that is fairly flexible — the larger the chip, the higher the probability of breaking. Plastic transit cards are often carried in wallets or pockets, which are not ideal situations for a chip.
There are safety and memory advantages to smart card technology, including the capability to complete a faster transaction. Contactless smart cards use an antenna embedded in the plastic card that is not active when it is away from a reader. When the card is presented to the reader, the antenna picks up a magnetic field, activates the card, and conducts a protocol exchange with the reader to determine whether or not the card is valid and completes the entire transaction. This entire process takes about 200 milliseconds.
As a result of the increased memory capacity and capabilities, the smart card is a widely accepted technology in transportation today. The pending updates will soon be in the form of near field communication (NFC) — a short-range wireless connectivity technology that has evolved from a combination of existing contactless and interconnection technologies.
NFC Transit Connections
Products with built-in NFC will dramatically simplify the way consumer devices interact with one another, helping people receive and share information and even make fast and secure payments. NFC is both a “read” and “write” technology. Communication between two NFC-compatible devices occurs when they are brought within 4 centimeters of one another: a simple wave or touch can establish an NFC connection, which is then compatible with other known wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. NFC can be used with a variety of devices, from mobile phones that enable payment or transfer information to digital cameras that send their photos to a TV set with just a touch.
Though the contactless smart cards are what a majority of mass transit stations are hoping for in the near future, pilot projects are being implemented that would only require a user to possess an NFC-enabled mobile phone with a “transit” application to board any mode of transportation. In this scenario, passengers could board a train, metro or bus with their phone, which would initiate an exchange between the antenna in the phone and the validator and cause a transaction to occur. As an added convenience, because the phone has an input (keypad) and output (screen), the user now has the ability to view ones’ transaction log, balance and top-up the card online.
Technology companies are taking the idea of a mobile phone as a “virtual ticket” a step further: their idea is to implement a mobile phone application that would act as a personal transit assistant, including ticketing information, scheduling, possible delays and account balances. Transportation agencies could connect with their customers in a whole new way that would add convenience and efficiency for both the passengers and transit agency.
Mobile phone companies are already starting to plant the notion with their customers that working to change a ticket on-the-spot or modifying an existing ticket time is simple and nearly effortless via their phone. Recently, a worldwide cell phone provider released a commercial in the United States of a young man captivated by a woman on a nearby train. The commercial shows the young man changing his ticket details with a few simple touches of his phone in order to sit next to her on the train leaving the station. This story is one of many that cell phone providers in the United States — and around the world — are using to catch their customers’ attention to the world of ticketing options.